Books & Art

The Cool Story Behind the Viral Kalsada Heroes

The introvert creator describes his work as his 'sanctuary.'
IMAGE Eman San Andres
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Eman San Andres is an introvert. That’s why, when his creations went viral the past week, he was shocked. San Andres is the brains behind the Kalsada Heroes digital art series, which includes 11 characters such as Mamang Sorbetero and Magtataho.

Photo by Eman San Andres.

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When asked how he feels about being featured on national TV for his work, San Andres says, “To be honest, it felt really overwhelming; it’s a lot to take in since I never expected that it would go viral. It was also shocking since I am really an introvert.”

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It all started when San Andres decided to change his rates for art commissions in January 2021. “So I made a new commission sheet and I wanted to be creative doing it. I saw a series of Filipino Vendor concepts by digital artist Mr. Patrick Ganas and it inspired me so much,” he explains. “I thought the idea was genius and it would be a good chance to highlight our beloved vendors. So I thought I would give it a twist and make them superheroes since they are also real-life heroes in our everyday lives; they feed us, they give comfort, and their sacrifices are very inspiring.”

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Once the Kalsada Heroes went viral, suggestions for additional characters like sweet corn, peanut, and bottled water vendors came pouring in. However, San Andres has decided to stick to the characters he’s created for now. This is because he’s planning to create a story about his characters and turn it into an animated film or comic in the future. 

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He envisions his protagonists fighting the kind of bad actors we commonly encounter in real life, along with monsters from Philippine mythology. “As a growing creator, I want to give importance to contemporary issues so the rest is still in progress,” he says.

Alongside his street vendors, San Andres has also created a mysterious character named Salamangkero or Mang Iko. There isn’t much information about him in San Andres’ posts, so we asked him about the story behind Mang Iko. 

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“The Salamangkero was just an unexpected [character] I created out of nowhere, but it turns out he plays a huge role for the whole team. He is the equivalent of the entity that gave Darna the power of the stone,” San Andres explains. “His backstory is that he was also a part of a heroic team in the Philippines, and he needs to find a new team to take over and shoulder the duties of a hero. He is the source of power and he is the mentor of each character. In the Avengers, he is the Nick Fury.”

San Andres also draws the Kalsada Heroes in streetwear from time to time. They certainly clean up nicely, and he imagines that’s how they’d dress if they needed to go undercover to investigate a villain in a dangerous location.

Mamang Sorbetero, Magtataho, and Sweet Buko Juice in Streetwear

Kwek Kwek and Balut in Disguise

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San Andres has recently redesigned Magtataho, as well, and is planning to do the same for the rest of his characters. “I think it gives an interesting element to a character to have an ‘ultimate’ mode for much bigger villains,” he says. “I am actually thinking of integrating it with how selfless they can be, a measure of different moral virtues; like the concept of how Thor and Captain America were worthy of wielding Mjolnir.”

Aside from the novelty of the concept, the quality of San Andres’ artwork certainly adds to its appeal. He’s been drawing since he was five years old and is currently taking up Multimedia Arts at FEU. “It has always been my passion and it’s my sanctuary,” he says. “My current art style is just a culmination of different styles I have been eyeing on social media. Right now, I am settling into this kind of style and I actually only started learning digital art last year. I think I just really wanted to learn new things, that’s why I’ve made quite decent progress over time. It’s all I have been doing since the start of the pandemic and yes, practice really makes perfect.”

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It’s great to see how San Andres honors our everyday heroes, especially those whose trade puts them at risk during the pandemic. If you’d like to see more of his art, follow him on Twitter and Instagram

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