Lawrence Panganiban creates his own fictional universe
By Fiona Patricia S. Escandor
IT was fan fiction that started it all for Lawrence Panganiban. Fan fiction, or basically a fan’s account of what they would have liked to happen in an existing fictional universe, was something he got into when he was a teenager, right after finishing the anime series, Gundam Wing. With a hankering to learn more about its protagonists, he read some fan fiction online and eventually started dabbling on some of his own — his first try at writing and the prelude to his life-long fascination with storytelling.
In 2014, the budding writer reached a milestone when he had his first original work published, the comic book, Strange Years: Battle of Tarn. Loosely based on a plot he has been tinkering since he was in high school, it was made in collaboration with illustrator Jon Albert La Fuente and story editors Davidson Cua and Frank Montuya. The story revolves around a mercenary couple on a mission and their journey filled with mystery, action, humor and fantasy — reminiscent of the stories that have inspired Lawrence since he was a child.
“I grew up with anime, video games and cartoons,” Lawrence shared. Like many kids in the pre-Internet era, Saturday mornings for him always meant staying in front of the TV, watching his favorite superheroes saving the world, or sometimes doing the saving himself in a video game. While many see it as a hobby, Lawrence saw it as much more — it was what inspired him when things got too tough in real life, and eventually what made him discover his craft.
“A lot of the inspiration I get in my life, especially when I face adversity, comes from these stories,” he said. Throwing in a bit of reference to one of his favorite shows, he continued, “Like how the pilots of Voltes V battled an alien empire with just one robot, and saved the world… That inspired me that no matter how hard life gets, you can overcome it. I wanted to write stories of my own because I wanted to reach out to people the same way (these) taught and inspired me. Storytelling is not just there for entertainment.”
Like the heroes in the stories he has read and seen, Lawrence’s journey went through its own conflicts — one of the most predominant was when he pursued a path in biology, a career he was set on since he was young. He said, “My original ambition was to become a herpetologist, a biologist that specializes in the study of reptiles. My first love has always been animals, especially reptiles. I always enjoyed going with my family to the old Cebu Zoo and Crocolandia. I could spend hours there, and I also enjoyed watching documentaries about it.”
He would tell people that was what he was going to be growing up — and when it didn’t work out, it crushed him. “It affected my confidence significantly,” Lawrence shared. “And if it weren’t for my parents who helped me at that time, who knows where I would be now? Thanks to them I realized what I could be — a writer.”
While he is still fond of animals (he has two 10-year-old crocs at home, after all), Lawrence realized the science world was not for him. Instead his penchant for writing was reignited. Backed with just a couple of English literature credits in college and exposed to writing tutorials online, he started writing his own pieces, and eventually Strange Years was born. “We had a lot of fun making it,” he said. “Every time we would meet up, talk about the story line or draw a character, it just felt right. I told my parents the progress and they pushed me on.”
Collectively, the team behind Strange Years is under the local creative studio Enigma Workz, founded by Lawrence himself. “We’re a fledgling creative studio trying to sell a story, but I believe what we have here is a good start,” he said. “Currently we’re focused on comics since our current talent pool is geared towards it. However, down the line, we’re looking into animation and motion comics, an interesting new medium we’d like to explore. We don’t want to be restricted with a label — hence the name.”
“Looking back, it’s been amazing getting the book done and having it printed,” he said. And right now they’re already working on the second piece in the series, which they hope to complete within the year.
Theirs is an admirable venture born out of a childhood fascination, out of an activity often just seen as a hobby — and by some parents, a distraction. “I can understand why parents would be concerned,” Lawrence voiced out. “There are some games and shows that have questionable material. But video games or cartoons are not bad per se; there are some good lessons you can get from it. It’s just a matter of filtering what is appropriate to give children of certain ages.”
Taking a page from his own story, he said, “I strongly believe that we should expose kids to stuff rather than just hide away because eventually they will have to face the harsh realities of life, which these stories can prepare them for in a way they can digest.”
Photos: Alfred Gregory E. Bartolome | Grooming: Carlo Damolo and Jerwin Bastatas