Star Wars Artist Bong Dazo Can Swing
by David Lawrence
Now Bong creates custom action figures with lightweight polymer clay, but growing up a little water and dirt was all he needed to get down and dirty enough to create his first masterpieces.
“I was making figures out of mud,” he reminisces. “Cowboys, Indians, I even had a damsel in distress made from mud. That’s a real collector’s item, huh?” The figures he crafts today aren’t child’s play though. A custom Beatles Sgt. Pepper figure Bong sculpted recently attracted a $4000 bid on eBay.
One day the rain stopped, and Bong ran out of mud. That was when he began drawing. “I filled my notebooks with Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and others. I learned it was a lot easier drawing a cape than making one with mud! I guess that is where I started my career as an illustrator.”
Back then Bong lived on Samar Island, in the central Philippines. He and his sister ran wild in the creeks and the mountains, while his mother ran for something else.
Bong tells the tale. “My parents separated when I was young. After they split up, my mother decided to run for mayor of Samar. She won!” Though he came from a family of lawyers and politicians, he heard a different call.
Today the busy artist lives in the city of Meycauayan, a town of 175,000 people located about 12 miles north of Manila, the capital city of the Philippines. The city was founded in 1578 by Catholic missionaries and was named after large bamboo groves in the town. It is best known today for intricate hand made golden jewelry that is sold around the world. “Here, gold is the art board used to create precious things for the rich and famous,” Bong observes
Bong works in a small, neat studio filled with books and pictures he uses for reference as he works. The walls are covered with Star Wars posters. The only sound heard as he works comes from an transistor AM radio, on which he listens to music ranging from Steely Dan to Creedence Clearwater revival to Steely Dan to the light rock of the early 1960s. Music is important to him, and in his younger days the 45 year old artist played lead guitar in a band.
“The band was called Bluestar,” Bong remembers. “We were a ragtag bunch of college dudes, doing covers of songs by the Police, Dire Straits, Uriah Heep, Deep Purple, just about anything a band had to know to make a peso.”
The music days were a long adventure Bong has never forgotten. “Our last set, every night, we let people from the audience come up and sing their favorite song, with us accompanying.” One night, a drunken policeman, waving a loaded pistol climbed on stage with the band. “He wanted to sing Soldier of Fortune by Deep Purple. Hey, that’s okay, but he sang it twelve times! We were afraid he’d shoot our singer if we stopped.” That scare finally ended when the tipsy officer passed out right on stage.
“Another time we were playing in a bar with an upstairs brothel,” Bong recalls. “We were up on stage playing Billy Idol’s White Wedding when the police raided it. The place is in chaos, and four naked chicks came running down and tried to hide in the drum kit! ”
These days Bong is too busy for late night adventures. “I work eight days a week,” he claims, finishing the statement with a Beatles style “yeah, yeah, yeah” to punctuate the joke. A typical day begins with a jog from six to eight, a bath, some breakfast, and then straight to work in the studio. “I work till my belly grumbles,” Bong explains “then I eat and work some more, till my eyes feel like lead and I go to sleep.”
It was an issue of Spider-Man that pointed Bong toward his life’s work. “The first comic book that I read featured Spider-Man fighting the Shocker. I knew then I wanted to be a comic book illustrator. I kept polishing my work, using Marvel comics as a guide.”
As adolescence came, Bong nearly deserted comics to work in other fields. He worked as a textile artist and as an animation lay out artist, but continued to do a bit of work in local comics. He’d almost lost interest, till artist Jim Lee began his work on the X-Men. He sums up his reaction to Lee’s work in one simple word, “Wow!”
Bong’s current project, Star Wars, is another longtime favorite. Despite his years of hard work, he still considers luck a big factor in landing the job. “It was like lightening struck, like winning the lottery. There are a lot of great artists out there.”
Although exciting, Star Wars requires a lot of extra effort from Bong. Reference is required not only for an entire galaxy of characters but for props, like weapons and spaceships, as well.
Bong credits the editors at Dark Horse for much of his Star Wars success. “They are very helpful with everything about this comic and I always follow up on their advice. They have earned the trust and respect of Lucas film, and that is very important.”
Bong works in a wide variety of styles, from high contrast to cartoon. Manga is one of his favorites. “The loose anatomical structure, the basic face shape and almond eyes; it’s just pure enjoyment to work in it.”
Bong lives with his beautiful wife, two talkative and energetic children, and a pack of semi-wild dogs imported from his childhood home of Samar. His wife, who he met in college, is an excellent cook, having been a chef in Chinese restaurants, perhaps explaining why Bong needs to jog. As for the dogs “They are very unique. They bark and howl at the same time. At night, you fear for your bones.”
I think he was joking about the dogs. At least I hope so.
(Bong is represented by Glass House Graphics. To inquire about availability and rates, contact David Campiti via firstname.lastname@example.org)