5 Questions with Bong Abad of Gawakoto

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In addition to doing great design/illustration, Bong Abad runs a jiu jitsu apparel brand called Gawakoto. I really dig his work, it synthesizes comics, Filipino culture, and solid design aesthetics. He recently moved from England to the US. He was gracious enough to grant me a short interview. His brand, and a highlight of some of his illustration work can be wound at http://gawakotoclothing.co.uk/.

Bong, when I first saw your “Save the Earth” shorts, I saw the color palate, and I thought “whoever designed that must be Filipino” I checked out more of your work, and started to really appreciate how you retain the pencil texture in your finished product. I also like how you aren’t afraid of color, but not in a derivative way (such as copying Scramble, with whom you’ve worked in the past). Your work is obviously informed by comic books. What are some of your influences, art and design wise?

I like art in general—fine, modern, street etc., but I’m mostly fond of comic book art. I’ve been a comic book fan since I was a teenager. It is fair to say that I’ve learned most of my drawing & design skills from comic books. Although some people regard comic book art as ‘cheap’ art but for me, it’s ‘fine art’. If you look at the works of Bill Sienkiewicz, Steranko, old comic masters like Alcala, Buschema and Pinoy master Redondo, you can see the amount of talent and draftsmanship to pull off a comic book page. Even though I don’t do a comic book per se, I see my work for my brand and commission work as comic book art. I approach it like I would do a comic page or cover — Is the story clear? Does that layout read clearly? Does the main character get the focus it needs? These are just a few things I consider when I’m designing a rashguard or a gi. Taking into consideration of course, the limitations of manufacturing such products.

In terms of influences, majority are comic book artists such as Sienkiewicz, David Mack, Jim Lee, Whilce Portacio, Jae Lee & Dale Keown just to name a few. I try to learn from everyone as long as it complements my own style. Although, I am not sure if my work is distinctive enough. Maybe someday.

You, like myself, are a family man. You recently moved from England to San Diego, pursuing professional goals, and continuing to run Gawakoto and train BJJ. What are your strategies for balancing family/work/personal life?

I’d say time-management, but the truth is, you have to have an understanding wife or partner who supports everything you do. I’m lucky that my wife and children are exactly like that. They’ve supported me with the crazy decision to start a brand,  and continuing to risk injuries training jiu-jitsu.

What are some hurdles you’ve encountered in moving a premium bjj apparel brand from Europe to the US?

The brand is still, I’d say, in its infancy even though it has been here for over 3 years. The market is saturated despite being ‘niche’. So, to try to be in the forefront of many good brands, it’s difficult. Since I moved to San Diego, I realized that I need to market the brand more extensively than before. I’ve met and conversed with a lot of jiu-jitsu practitioners and still yet to introduce and explain my brand.

I am hoping in the next few months or so, the brand will be able to operate in both sides of the pond—UK and US. I’ve still yet to learn the nuances of running a business here, in the US.

What’s coming up for you and Gawakoto?  Are there any projects you’re especially excited about?

The Kalabaw Republic gi Call to Jiujitsu – Cthuhul-inspired spats, shorts & tees Kinnikuman (muscle man) collaboration TM collab – no details yet

Finally, I haven’t regularly read comics for about 15 years. In your opinion, what are some must-read series/story arcs?

Inhumans by Jae Lee & Paul Jenkins
Batman: Hush by Jim Lee
Hawkeye by Matt Fraction & David Aja
Daredevil: End of Days by Sienkiewicz, Mack & Jaunson
New Batman by Snyder & Capullo
The Crow by J O’barr
All star batman & robin by Jim Lee & Frank Miller
Kabuki by David Mack

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