Monday, April 08, 2002

ALAMAT COMICS: Is this the start of something big?
By Betty C. Uy
Manila Times, 10 January 1996, Section B, page 18


There is a good reason to cheer on the local comic book industry. Despite perennial production problems and the market dominance of established foreign titles, local comic book publishers are slowly gaining ground, producing titles of increasing polished quality. Now available at comic book stores, for example, is the first issue of Alamat 101, a three-in-one book (The Flying Phantom, Anino, and Timawa) by the publishers' pool Alamat, which hopes to whet the public's appetite for locally-produce comic books by coming up with titles on a regular basis.

Although Alamat 110 and the other titles in Alamat comics (Comics 101, Exodus #1, Flashpoint #1-4, Indigo Valley/P-Noise #1, Memento Mori #1-2, Shadow Comics/Scions #1 and Wasted #1-5) have yet to match the gloss of Marvel or Vertigo, they have manager to make the public aware that there is a nascent local comic book industry, which with the proper attention, could compete with the X-Mens of the comic book universe.

"Right now, the main selling point of Alamat is that it's made by Filipinos," concedes Alamat's Ferdinand-Benedict "Budjette" Tan. "Curiosity makes readers pick it up and say, `Uy! Gawa ng Pinoy! Ano akay `to?' "

At the very least, an says, people are aware of Alamat's existence, either by reading the titles firsthand, by hearing about them or from just plain seeing them in newsstands and bookstores.

"But like I've been telling everyone in Alamat, we have that advantage but we cannot rely on that in succeeding issues, " he goes on. "We have to produce good art and stories to keep them buying."

While the problem is certainly not in the creativity department-- Alamat has a steady supply of artist, writers and colorists who "love comic books and don't complain" (about the industry situation)-- it is the inevitable production hitches that constantly bog down its operations. Publishers have to work on the books in their spare time (all still need their day jobs) so more often than not, deadlines are not met. "Ideally, in a perfect world, it should take four to five months to produce a book," explains Tan. "One month to write it, one month to do the pencils, one month to ink it, one month to color it, and another month to letter it. Usually it only takes two weeks to print it for a thousand copies, but of course, everyone has work and go to school so it usually takes longer for us to produce the book."

Publishers also have to deal with the considerable financial costs of putting out a title. The production cost of one issue per thousand ranges from P30 to P40, an instant P30,000 to P40,000 outlay. This is fine if you get your money COD (courtesy of Daddy) but a daunting sum to throw up in the air if you're a tax-paying, corporate-indentured citizen of this republic.

And because of the financial and time constrains, only the covers have color. Inside pages are in stark black and white, not exactly a hit with the visually-oriented readers. "Bakit black and white?" is the number one question readers ask of the Alamat staff. "If we have the money to produce a full-color book it will come out good," Tan says confidently.

Production problems notwithstanding, Alamat is one of the best reasons around why comic book buffs should start considering local talent. Although most of the stories are heavily influenced by American comic book idioms, there is a healthy dose of local sensibility in the titles. Gerry Alanguilan and David Hontiveros's Timawa, for example, incorporates relevant sociology (scenes of urban squalor, references to rapist-mayors and victims of heinous crimes) in the exposition of that central comic book theme of the triumph of good over evil. The heroes of P-Noise are a hodge-podge of Filipino characters, from a pre-Spanish era nobleman to a re-tooled Marine (rescued by science from death and made into a flesh-metal-and-plastic killing machine), from an Olongapo city mestizo to a barrio boxer, all recruited for a paramilitary operation called "Project: Maharlika."

At first glance they all look like copies of foreign comics," says Tan. "But we'd like to believe that the mere fact that Filipinos are doing it, we're putting in things that we learned because we grew up as Filipinos. These comic have filipino values."

For Tan and the other movers behind Alamat, combining their talents in an umbrella organization of comic book publishers (Cheap Thrills, ARCHON, Flashpoint, Memento Mori, Exodus, and Lakan) is the best strategy for the industry at the moment. That was point out to the rag-tag group of publishers in November, 1994 by visiting comic book superstar Whilce Portacio (of X-Men fame) who suggested that "instead of competing with one another, why don't you join together under one name, with a logo that everyone will recognize as proudly Philippine-made?"

Now, several comic books and exhibits later, the exhilaration of actually producing viable comic books has worn off. Alamat is now faced with the nitty-gritty details of survival and slugging it out with the established foreign titles. "Reality has come in and has bitten us, " says Tan. "We finally realized that it isn't enough to know the artistic aspect of making a comic book but also the business side of it." The core staff has now divided itself to handle certain aspects of the business: marketing, advertising, and soliciting. To be sure, this side of the coin is not as fun as producing the comic books themselves, but the Alamat team has learned to balance the artistic and business scales if Alamat titles are to sell.

Still a distant goal is seeing Alamat titles take prominence on comic book shelves. Right now, they hardly can be noticed amidst the Spiderman, Batman, and X-Men titles. The Alamat group wants to turn the table around by producing many books as possible and consequently having their own shelf space, with American comic book pushed to the corners.

Professionalism, art, and refinement in writing are areas of improvement Tan wants realized. "We all suffer from the same faults of missing deadlines because we find excuse and we have lots of them. What we really like to do is make this a full-time job for it to really earn money and for us to quit everything that we're doing. And for those who have not yet graduated, to graduate."

Expanding the market base is another consideration for Alamat. There are plans to distribute the comic books outside Metro Manila. Negotiations for distributing in the United States are in progress.

At the moment, the struggle is on to keep producing those titles. In February, ARCHON will launch its comic book back-to-back with Pol Medina's very popular Pugad Baboy. Lakan and Memento Mori (which is mostly made up by art and film students) and Exodus also will release different titles within the year. This output, of course, will not be enough to knock X-Men off the top of the public's reading list, but with perseverance and genuine talent, we have not doubt Alamat will get there.

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