Text by Rebecca Pike | Images by Jonas Maon
Mild-mannered Honolulu Police Department officer by day, creator of the Mana Comics universe by night, Chris Caravalho sees the superhero within us all.
“When I was a kid, I would rummage for loose change in the couch and ride my bike over to the spin rack at 7-Eleven. It was my way to escape. I started to think, ‘It would be cool if there was a local superhero who looked and sounded like us,’” Caravalho remembers.
Throughout Caravalho’s childhood, his family moved all over O‘ahu, residing in Hawai‘i Kai, Wai‘anae, Papakōlea, Kalihi, and finally Kailua, where he now lives. “Living in different areas gave me an understanding of what kind of people and cultures we have here,” he says.
In a joyful alchemy of imagination and nostalgia, Caravalho distilled the melting pot of Hawai‘i into a single character, then another, then another. He called these entities the Aumākua Guardians of Hawai‘i. In Hawaiian culture, ‘aumākua are ancestral spirits who have passed on, but remain among us in other forms. Traditionally, the forms the ‘aumākua take are native animals like sharks, owls, hawks and turtles. “But this is the face of Hawai‘i today,” he says.
Caravalho writes and sketches by hand each comic in his Kailua studio before sending it to a colorist in Florence, Italy. Then he works with a local layout artist and letterer to finish the books. “It’s like you’re cooking something,” he explains of his character creations. “You add a personality on top of powers, then you add a weakness.” Mighty Moke, for example, is a character with superhuman physical strength, but he is not mature enough to know how to wield this power. “I really root for him, because he’s more than just some dumb local guy. I see a lot of potential, and I think people are going to love and respect him,” Caravalho explains. Super Size Sole is a kindhearted Samoan family man; Sistah Shark is from Waimānalo, juggling a part-time job at Sea Life Park with her studies at Kailua High School. Phantom Surfer is a salty, crime-fighting enigma. Portuguese Man O War engineers his suits to deliver electrical blows that temporarily stun his opponents. Geckoman’s gear is equally as high-tech, allowing him to perform his superhero reptilian parkour that locals witness daily on a small scale in their real lives.
Taking no shortcuts, Caravalho writes about sensitive issues, both personal and political. In early installments, the ‘Aumākua were thrust into the past, and witnessed the illegal overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy. Other issues have featured a condescending bully who mistreats Mighty Moke because the superhero speaks Hawaiian Pidgin English. Caravalho says his readers identify with his characters, especially those who often feel misunderstood. “That was an emotion that I wanted to conjure—being mistreated because you’re different,” he says. “I know what I want you to feel emotionally. If I have conjured that, I have succeeded.”
Are his characters ordinary or extraordinary? Is anyone absolutely one or the other? Caravalho wants to talk about the amazing capabilities of individuals whose talents are latent, or are not traditionally valued. “I’m introducing new characters, one of whom has a special need. She’s kind of like a kahuna chanter. She’s autistic, and she can’t verbally speak, so she uses her tablet to cast spells. I wanted to represent kids with special needs. As a culture, their successes are often overlooked,” Caravalho says. “[I want] to say that, ‘You matter too, and you can do a bunch of cool things, too.’”
For more information about current and upcoming releases, and to find out how to contribute to Caravalho’s Kickstarter, visit manacomics.com.
Experience the Action
Join costumed comic book fans, creators like Chris Caravalho, panelists, and exhibitors at Amazing Hawaii Comic Con, taking place May 20-22 at the Hawaii Convention Center.
For more information, visit amazinghawaiicomiccon.com.