Arya and Faye Chelabian have been married for seven years and have an infant daughter, Zena. Arya has a day job leading a team for a digital content developer. Faye is a stay-at-home mom, looking after Zena. The Chelabians are also the creators, storytellers, and visual artists behind “Kawangis Komiks.”
Prior to ”Kawangis Komiks,” the couple worked in individual jobs and put up a food business. It wasn’t until 2015 when their mutual interest for storytelling through comics was born.
“Our common interests are comics and anime,” Faye shares. “We wanted to create something uniquely Filipino.”
The stories of “Kawangis” are focused mainly on Filipino folklore and mythology. But the couple noticed that most of the stories tended to have horror-based themes. “We had the desire to create comics centered on culture and values.”
Traditional Stories for a Modern Medium
Artwork from “Incognito I”
“Ma-I,” one of the titles in the franchise, focuses on retelling Filipino folk takes.
“It was a concept I’ve had brimming in my mind since I was in college,” Arya recounts. “I love Filipino folklore. It amazes me how we have stories for everything.” Arya’s desire for “Ma-I” is to help children be reacquainted with the stories that the previous generation grew up with.
“The generation today knows more about foreign mythology, not about our local stories.” Since most of our local fables and folktales were passed down orally, Arya thought of recreating a different rendition of the local stories. With that, Ma-I was born.
“Some stories are changed in ‘Ma-I’,” Faye quips. “In [it], we’ve rewritten some to talk about timeless values, such as redemption, sacrifice, and speaking life to others. It’s really recapturing our stories.” Arya adds.
Prior to launching “Ma-I,” the Chelabians attended a children’s writing workshop, fleshed out the story, and submitted the initial manuscript to a local publisher that Faye used to work for. “The company took it under their wing as an experimental project.” They released five books initially, and the couple found an audience for their craft. After a period, the Chelabians decided to self-publish.
“We grew from there,” Faye shares.
“Incognito,” on the other hand, was a story Faye had in mind since she was 14 years old. It talks about history. The characters are based on national heroes, but with an alternate history in a different world.
“Ma-I” is targeted for children, “Incognito” is for teenagers and adults.
The Creative Process
Work in progress from “Incognito I”
Arya and Faye consult with editors who help them solidify and strengthen their stories.
“If our editors think (a certain element is necessary), we let it be. We take into consideration how the message will come across to the reader. It’s not about us and what we want; it’s how the story has to be out, and how the readers would enjoy it effectively and how they can grasp the story we’re telling.”
Faye adds, “If an idea is scrapped, it’s not entirely useless. You can use it somewhere else.”
“We call it shelving ideas,” Arya chimes in. “We shelf the ideas and use them in a more appropriate story or situation.”
Faye keeps an idea notebook with her wherever she goes. “Every writer should have a basket of ideas for the future,” Faye smiles.
The Future of Kawangis
“Ma-I” cards. The husband and wife team also offer other comic merch
Currently, Kawangis has been part of local comic conventions. “Ma-I” even has its own card game. “Our goal is to reach different target markets,” Arya shares.
”We’re hoping to saturate more schools,” Faye adds. Currently, the comics are being used in a number of high schools for values classes, as well as book reviews. Parents also use their books in homeschooling kids to teach the Filipino language. “Since it’s (illustrated), the children are more interested, and the language is conversational and easy to understand.”
“A lot of these began without us actively pushing for it,” Faye says. “We hope to do more of that in the next few months.”
The Chelabians’ goal for 2019 is to put up a subscription-based magazine. Arya and Faye are also hoping to have more opportunities to conduct storytelling and comic creation workshops, especially in schools and homeschooling groups.
Arya and Faye continue to collaborate and help others. In the process, they help preserve Filipino tradition and teach the next generation timeless values.
Learn more about Kawangis Komiks at kawangis.com.
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If she's not writing, Karess reads, paints, laughs with her friends, or takes photos of stray cats. Currently, she holds a healthy obsession for washi tape and bullet journalling.