Van Partible definitely draws from his experiences, and that includes his being Filipino.
The Filipino-American animator (born Efrem Giovanni Bravo Partible) is the creator of the Cartoon Network original animated series Johnny Bravo, which is about a muscle-flexing and karate-chopping Mama’s boy, who’s convinced he’s God’s gift to women, dishing out disastrous pick-up lines like “Enough about you, let’s talk about me, Johnny Bravo.”
The 40-year-old artist never thought that the title character of the series, described by fans and critics alike as clever, funny and totally irreverent, would become an iconic cartoon. “The character was based a lot on my love for Elvis. I also make a character based on all the things that I know and love, so he had moves like Michael Jackson. His cool came from Henry Winkler’s character from the American sitcom Happy Days. His poses came a lot from my (former) roommate, who was pretty much into his body. And I also had a lot of friends who got women all the time, and I wasn’t so much of a ladies’ man, so I thought, it was fun to make fun of them,” Van told The STAR in a phone interview.
Why the character has had connected with viewers, according to Van, is because “there’s a part of Johnny Bravo in every guy — a part that wants attention. He’s just looking for someone who notices him and who thinks he’s cool.”
The phone interview with Van was arranged in relation to the forthcoming premiere of Johnny Bravo Goes To Bollywood, wherein Johnny, with his beefcake swagger, pompadour ‘do and all, pursues his big Bollywood dreams, and along the way, maybe — just maybe — finally gets lucky in love. This comeback special of Johnny Bravo, which ended its original run in 2007, is Cartoon Network’s first full-length made-for-TV musical to be aired on Nov. 27, 4 p.m.
Johnny Bravo was Van’s senior year thesis project as a studio arts student at the Loyola Marymount College in California. A seven-minute short originally titled Mess O’ Blues, he sold it straight out of college when Cartoon Network was looking for shorts to debut in the animation showcase World Premiere Toons in 1995. The character became an instant hit that Cartoon Network commissioned a first season for Johnny Bravo which commenced in 1997.
The series enjoyed four more seasons, and while there were inherently, albeit subtle, Filipino attributes in the Johnny Bravo character (i.e. him being close to his “momma”), Van said that it was in the fifth season that he consciously added some Filipino flavor into it.
“I wasn’t much in touch with my Filipino roots when I first developed Johnny Bravo,” Van admitted.
That changed after watching the movie The Debut, directed by Fil-Am filmmaker Gene Cajayon about a talented high school senior who enrolls in an elite arts institute to realize his dreams of becoming an artist, but in the process, struggles for acceptance in America and thereby, rejecting his heritage.
Because the story struck close to home, Van said, “It really got me thinking about my roots. So on the fifth season of Johnny Bravo, I thought I wanna hire more Filipinos. I hired voice actresses that are Filipinos like Tia Carere, Lea Salonga and Dante Basco. There’s also one episode that had a caricature of me, saying some things in Tagalog.”
It was a long-standing family affair with comic books that paved the way for a career in the animation arts. “We collected comic books, my brothers and I. My dad collected comic books when he was in the Philippines, so we pretty much carried on the tradition to the point that by the time I graduated from high school we had about 15,000 to 20,000 comic books. I started out just copying the characters from comic books. It was a natural introduction to all kinds of media from movies to TV,” said Van, whose other brothers are also part of the US film industry but doing live action work.Van’s father is a certified public accountant, who still runs his own accounting firm in the US, while his mom used to work for the state. They immigrated to the US in the early ’70s. “How Filipino am I? I’m pretty Filipino,” Van, who’s married and a father of two, said. “I was born in Manila and we still have lots of relatives in Bagnotan in La Union. My father moved to the States 18 months after I was born because he got a job. He brought us to the US nine months after,” said Van.
Was it hard breaking into the industry as an Asian, and specifically as a Filipino? “I never gave that a lot of thought. At the beginning of (Johnny Bravo), I was so far removed from considering myself to be Filipino; I was just trying to get into the industry based on talent,” Van shared. “I felt like, okay, either I’m going to get in or not.”
He said that whatever struggles he had to hurdle were not due to being Filipino but due to a “lack of experience or lack of talent.” He cited the design problems that cropped up during Johnny Bravo’s first season because “my design vocabulary wasn’t the greatest.”
“Those were setbacks, but I just got better with what I did (because) I always challenge myself to do better, and that’s pretty much what I keep on doing,” he said.
Van is also aware that there’s a budding animation industry in the Philippines and he’s willing to lend his expert advice and help if sought out. “I knew that there’s Phil Cartoons, but I’ve never really talked to people there in the Philippines. I’m more than willing to help, and it just depends on what capacity and where I can help.”
He, nevertheless, gave this advice to aspiring animators. “In order to break into the animation industry, you really have to have a good portfolio. That’s the first step: It’s knowing your craft, and then, being a person other people would want to work with. That’s what I feel: Many percent of the jobs out you can get through people that you know.
“You can get your foot in the door if you have a really good portfolio but staying long in the industry is by who you know, and how you get on to the projects. Reliability is key. If you have talent and you’re reliable, you’re someone people would want to hire,” he ended.
(Story courtesy of Nathalie Tomada of the Philippine Star)