A band of self-professed geeks and advertising super friends have uprooted your favorite superheroes and put them in ironic situations right here on our home turf--the gritty streets of Manila. They are known as Electromagnetic Tentacle

I did an interview with them for Inquirer which was published a while back. Due to space limitations, I had to cut out a lot of our conversation. So, I decided to share the entire thing here on my blog. Perfect, since they’re celebrating their 1-year anniversary this month! 

 Carl “Iceman” Urgino, Janlo “Cougar” Cui, Javey “Maverick” Villones  and Joe “Merlin” Dy 

Musamanila: How did you guys start this venture?

Joedy: Actually, we were all officemates in JWT for quite some time. Carl, Javey and I met one afternoon in Starbucks sometime last year. We’ve been wanting to do a t-shirt business for the longest time but we’ve never taken it seriously. So we decided to meet up one day and crank out some ideas. We were all creatives and so we figured we’d never get this done so we called in an accounts person, Janlo.

Janlo: So they brought me in and we talked about suppliers and we just started. Without thinking and before anyone could back out, we were paying to have the shirts made.

Musamanila: What was the first t-shirt design? What inspired it?

Joedy: There’s a guy from Threadless, his name is Glenzz, he does particularly pop-culture inspired designs. Javey actually suggested putting a Pinoy twist into the shirts. After he said that, the ball just started rolling. One of the earliest was Aquaballs and Bakalman.


Musamanila: You guys seem so synched. Are you guys all geeks? 

Janlo: They’re all geeks. I’m married to one so I’m just a geek by assimilation. They just keep talking about it so I absorb it. One of these days, I’ll end up talking like them. 

Musamanila:  Is the T-shirt business all it’s cracked up to be? Are you making enough to retire from advertising?

Joedy: I wouldn’t say we could retire.

Janlo: It’s more like it goes around. We’re not losing money, we’re making enough to reinvest in a second wave of shirts. But the cool thing there was even our bosses were interested in the shirts.

Joedy: We’ve definitely profited. But, our goal is really just to have fun and to grow it.

Janlo: We need to just follow up with our five-year plan.

Joedy: Really? We have that?

Janlo: More like a dream.

Joedy: You hear about guys with t-shirt businesses that take off but we’re not harboring any unrealistic fantasies. Though it’s been encouraging because the response to the shirts is quite positive. We’ve gotten requests to open up a store but we can’t at the moment.

Spider Fight

Janlo: The first comic book convention that we did was so encouraging because we didn’t expect so many people to buy. The best things we get from the business are the laughs of people who pass by our booth. They even bring back their friends just to laugh.

Joedy: At some point, we even thought of putting up a sign: Piso Bawat Tawa (One peso for every laugh). You laugh at it, you bought it.

Musamanila: What’s geek chic, if there is such a thing?

Javey: Geeks like to show off who we support; the rarer the shirt the better. That’s why our shirts with the Pinoy twist work, because it’s precisely the humor of the convention crowd. Sample ng geek, ako (is me). I don’t usually buy sneakers but when Adidas Star Wars came out, napabili ako (I ended up buying).

 Super Tubero Brods. 
Invisible Jeep

Musamanila: Why the name Electromagnetic Tentacle?

Joedy: We were experimenting around with weird names. It’s a reference to “Voltes 5,” and the “tentacle” came about because we used to play poker a lot, and we like making bad puns. And we used to say, “10 to call” which then evolved into “tentacle.” I’m tempted to say it was inspired by Hentai because that would have been a lot cooler.

Musamanila: Who would you want to endorse EMT?

Joedy: We’re happy with our current lineup of friends, like Jay Tablante, who is a famous Cosplay photographer. When he goes for interviews, he wears our shirts.

Janlo: Does he do that to support us?

Joedy: Feeling ko kasi, ‘yun yung gusto niyang pagpawisan (that’s what he chooses to sweat in). Kidding aside, he wore it to the Singapore Comic Con where he got interviewed for TV.

Musamanila: I don’t think we have a mainstream Geeks to represent the Philippines. Is there anyone you’re thinking of getting in the future?

Joedy: We’d want to get Pinoy artists; some of the top DC and Marvel artists are actually Filipinos who are based here in the Philippines. Some of them have actually expressed their delight, umm… approval, basta natuwa sila sa mga shirts (they were amused by the shirts). Budgette has a very strong following in the geek community. Also, the guys at Sputnik. We’ve gotten a lot of support from our friends, from our families, and colleagues. But we get a big kick when we see the shirts being worn by strangers, because we know that they didn’t buy our shirts because they’re our friends.

Musamanila: How many shirts have you sold so far? And are the older editions still available?

Joedy: The older editions are almost sold out. A couple of shirts are completely gone.

Janlo: I think we’ve sold around a thousand, actually, more than a thousand.

Joedy: We only produce a hundred of each design. Maybe, we’ll produce a limited reprint of each.

Green Parol

Musamanila: I want to delve more into the geek culture. Were you guys always geeks? What’s it like to grow up a geek in the Philippines?

Janlo: When I was in college, I was surrounded by guys who were all geeks. In their own circle, they were cool. They were popular in school but whey they’re together, they kept talking about those comic book characters, always drawing everywhere. They’d get popular girls coming up to them asking them, “Hey, can you draw for me?” People would see them drawing popluar characters so they’d approach them. Girls especially would ask, “Uy, pa-drawing naman ng ganito? Can you do me in this…?”

Group: (Laughter and chuckling)

Javey: It was different for me. I was a mathlete so they’d always go, “Pakopya naman ng assignment (Can I copy your homework)?”

Joedy: This is me just guessing. I’m not really an authority but I think it was in the 80s when you had all these cartoons coming in from the US and from Japan. Filbars started importing comics more. That’s actually when you started seeing more geeks. The kids of that age are the same. Even the bullies, they’d be bullying you but they’d be holding on to their G.I. Joe action figure. So geek pa din.

Musamanila: There seems to be a geek resurgence right now. I noticed that even mainstream bookstores have a sizable comic book section.

Janlo: They’re developing it because they recognize that there is market.

Javey: From personal experience, it’s easier to be a geek now, because before, your only access was the comic book store, and you really had to seek friends with the same interests which is hard. But now, with the Internet, they’re everywhere.

Joedy: Somebody said before that when the Internet boomed in the 90s, geeks just started becoming more and more relevant.

Janlo: People need them, I get that sense that when you say a person is a geek, it’s a cooler term now then it was back then. It’s not a negative thing anymore.

Dirty Harry

Musamanila: Any advice for creatives wanting to put up a business?

Joedy: First tip- Get a suit (accounts person). Carl was my partner and he was an art director. We’ve been wanting to put up a shirt business since 2006. But being creative, walang nangyayari (nothing happened). When we pulled Janlo into it, that’s when it actually everything happened. We had all these ideas but she would set the deadlines.  

Janlo: No turning back, after that.

Musamanila: Actually, creatives really need someone to reign them in.

Joedy: Once we saw the shirts printed, there was a bit of a shift in your head. Because before it was just an idea but when you see it made and made the way you want it made, may reward siya (there’s a reward) and it encourages you to do more. I still remember when it first came in. We were in a pitch in JWT. Thank God our bosses were a little bit lenient. They saw it coming in. We were hauling in a big bag of t-shirts.

Musamanial: Why did you have it delivered in the office?

Joedy: We needed an office address.

Janlo: It was a last minute delivery, the night before the comic con and we lived in different areas and the office was the most accessible. And it just so happened there was a pitch happening that night.

Joedy: But the cool thing there was even our bosses were interested in the shirts.

Musamanila: Did you guys make a sale that night?

Janlo: Actually, we did.

Joedy: I still remember holding it up for the first time, actually the test print when we met with the supplier, I got the feeling. It’s a rush knowing totoo na ‘to (this is real). It’s no longer a jpeg. 

Janlo: It’s actually a shirt that someone is going to wear. 

Bahala Man

Musamanila: It’s cool your bosses encourage you to do this…

Joedy: It’s called daylighting. There’s a new trend where companies encourage you to work on your day job on something you are passionate about. It’s there to encourage work-life balance. But we call it, work-work balance. My boss, Dave Ferrer, would actually encourage us by saying, “Tuloy niyo ‘yan. Tuloy niyo ‘yan!” (“Continue that. Continue that.”) It’s good we had support from the boss.

Janlo: There was such big support that even their CEO shared it in a marketing convention. He wore a shirt under his suit jacket and he talked about it to hundreds of marketing people.

Joedy: Even the clients were supportive. We’ve even had clients order from us. I remember the J&J clients delayed our offline meeting because they were ordering shirts. Even the head of marketing was like, “That’s really nice. Do I get a free shirt?”. Interactions like those are actually quite rewarding.

Musamanila: Actually, a thousand shirts is a lot. It’s like having a thousand artworks out there. That's definitely something to be proud of.