Kakosa CULTURE CRASH
interview by Bosyo and Quid
CultureCrash is a rarity in this day and age. It is a Filipino comic book that is published regularly in high quality full color print, is distributed to a wide array of establishments and is commercially successful. It is rendered in a Japanese Manga style but the dialogue, setting and characters are Filipino. Owning its own printing press and having an extensive distribution alone cannot account for its success in the last two years. There is a powerhouse of both literary and graphic talent that fuels the CultureCrash team. They enjoy a fanatical fan base that regularly contributes artworks. They have tapped a young urban middle class market that is caught between its fascination for Japanese culture and its need to appreciate something it can call its own. How appropriate that this new generation has found it in a comic book called "CultureCrash".
The CultureCrash crew is composed of: Jescie James, publisher of CultureCrash Comics and writer of "One Day, Isang Diwa". Elmer Damaso, creator-artist-writer ng "Cat's Trail" and artist ng" One Day, Isang Diwa". Taga-Ilog, creator of "Pasig" and half-art of "KuboriKikiam". Michael David, a.k.a. Tiga-kanal, story and half-art ng KuboriKikiam.com. Dexter Lira, otherwise known as Evil Dex, who write articles and sometimes edits and colors. And Bobby Villagracia, colorist and new media artist. Absent from the interview was Jerard Beltran, creator of Solstice Butterfly.
Kakosa: What is your work flow in rendering digitally your pencil sketches?
Elmer: Una may clean-up. Mostly yung artist talaga ang nagki-clean-up. Sila ang may alam talaga ng gusto nilang gawin. So may flat coloring. Tapos noon may secondary coloring, yung shading. Pagkatapos noon background art. Kasi yung background art painted.
Kakosa: So at what stage does it become digital?
James: After inking.
Kakosa: How was CultureCrash formed? Was there a qualification o dahil magkakaibigan na kayo kaya nabuo?
James: Actually, pinili ko lang yung work.
So they went to you and applied?
James: Hindi. Ni-hunt down namin sila. Kasi si Ilog for one, talagang gumagawa siya ng independent comics. Tapos nakita ko yung isang work niya. Sabi ko, "Let's get this guy!"
Elmer: Atsaka si Ilog kasi nagha-hang out siya sa tambayan namin sa Fine Arts. Eh nakita ko rin yung work niya. So, nung pinakita ko kay James, Impressed siya kaagad.
Kakosa: Ano yung hinahanap mo sa isang artist, sa isang writer?
Elmer: Character nung artist, it's the whole package. Maganda ang art, maganda yung packaging, yung storytelling mo, maganda yung kuwento, consistent.
Kakosa: Sa work process ninyo, I presume character study muna tapos storyline. Do you follow that strictly? Are there times ba na dinederetso ninyo into paper kahit wala pang storyline or character?
James: In my case, script muna. Page flats. Actually yung page flats, lahat kami dumadaan doon. Tapos ako deretso sa script. Tapos sila more on visual artist sila. Kasi ako writer ako, so nagsisimula ako sa script talaga. Sila visual artists, sisimulan nila thumbnails, images agad. Kung ano'ng gusto nilang makita, ano yung gusto nilang mangyari, flow ng kuwento. Then after that ilalagay na yung words. Pero, iyon ang nangyayari sa amin, pag nagawa na yung thumbnails, ipe-present nila sa akin yon. Or as a group sa amin, parang ganyan, ididikit siya, parang sa animation din, storyboard. Tapos gagawin isa-isa.
Kakosa: Is there ever a time na nasasagasaan yung kwento ninyo dahil yung pagination kailangan divisible by 8 or divisible by 4? How do you deal with that?
James: Actually, hindi naman. Pero na-restrict kami kasi ang allotted pages sa amin hanggang 10 or 12 lang, Eh ang gusto namin 22 pages.
Elmer: For me, meron time dati kasi na pin-plot ko na yun. Episode 1, 2, 3,4,5,6, ganun. Tapos alam ko na mangyayari for those issues. Kaso ang nangyari dyan, dahil sa page limitations, ano tuloy, parang humaba lang yung kwento. Doon kami nagkakaproblema. Napahaba siya, na-stretch.
Elmer: Ang nagiging problema namin ang konti ng pages. Kasi minsan ang dami naming gustong mangyari for one issue, there are only 12 pages to artistically deliver. Eh alangan namang mangyari ng mangyari bara-bara.
Outside your group, sino ang pinaka ina-admire ninyo na Filipino comic artist?
James: Larry Alcala. Siyempre hindi mawawala yon. Ariel Padilla. Pol Medina, Larry Alcala, Marco Dimaano, si Arre. Tsaka si Lyndon Gregorio. Actually hindi ako familiar sa work niya. Pero nung in-interview namin siya, binasa ko yung Beerkada, natuwa ako dun.
Kakosa: Ano sanang gusto ninyong mangyari para ma-improve yung local comic book industry? I mean, what's your wish list?
Kakosa: Have you approached any?
James: Yes. But the problem is like this: For example isa akong big company tapos ito advertising agency ko. Pagkabinibigay ko sa kanila, may budget na ako. "This is your budget for ads for TV, for billboard, for magazine." There's nothing for comics. Kaya pagka nagustuhan ng ad agency yung publication, it's uphill. Kasi i-introduce nila to some 40-year old, 50-year old in-charge person na doesn't understand it.
Kakosa: Well, ever thought of sponsorship? Or tie-up?
James: Sinong nagta-tieup sa amin? Multi-national company, AXN. It's ironic that the only people interested in us are outside the country. Someone from Japan, Hongkong and from Singapore, but no one from the Philippines. Nakikita pa ng foreigners yung potential and yung quality of work namin imbes na yung mga mismong nandito. Karamihan naman sasabihin, "Original kasi eh". Pero nagkaroon na rin kasi ako ng comment na, "Well, ba't di na lang ako mag-sponsor for Pokemon, mas sikat, di ba?" And there's this multinational Japanese animation company that says, "Wow, this is good! This is fresh!" On one hand Someone from a big giant company from Japan is praising your work while on the other hand local Filipino corporations are trashing your work.
Kakosa: Balita ko you're making money na with CultureCrash?
James: Sales. Sales alone.
How good is it?
James: It's okay.
Kakosa: Enough to buy all of you new cars or something? Puwede na ba kayong magkaroon ng attitude?
James: Hindi, basically when we were getting into this, alam naman namin na this is going to be uphill. Although phenomenal na siguro yung performance ng CultureCrash, to a point meron din kaming fault. Kasi yung production namin, actually kung monthly kami lumalabas ang dami na naming pera. Ang problema, iyong profit for one issue pinapatagal ko ng 3 to 4 months.
Kakosa: Ah kasi nae-extend kayo, nagba-bimonthly pa kayo.
James: Pero isipin mo, kung monthly namin kinikita yung kinikita ngayon, okay na.
Kakosa: I think you have a market. I just bought your latest issue, of all places, sa Tropical Hut.
James: Buti nga laging sold out yung issues namin. Kung hindi we won't be here.
Kakosa: Sa criticism ng work ninyo, what do you want to hear first, the good or the bad? Okay, the bad muna. The bad is that, if you are not familiar or neck-deep into Manga, the narrative is hard to catch on pag nagsisimula ka pa lang. Like, I only found out about CultureCrash after the first 3 issues.
James: Well, for one thing kasi, it's a serial. So it's an ongoing story. Hindi siya kagaya ng Archie na you can jump on anytime, tapusan. For one thing, we want to tell a story. I mean that's the most important thing. We really have to tell you right now that it is very important to us to tell the story. So, in that part, yung artistic ano namin, we stand for that. Dun sa part na yon, yung preference namin. Kasi ang gusto rin naming mangyari ngayon, maka-jump yung iba. So nag-iisip kami ng paraan ngayon kung anong mas maganda. Yung ginawa ko sa Issue #4, may story re-cap. We're going to do another story recap either this issue or next issue. So ayun, sagot na yung question mo doon. Kasi actually ayaw nga namin ng ganoon eh. Iniiwasan nga namin yung pagka binasa mo, naguluhan ka. Iniiwasan namin yon.
Siguro it's also the nature of your medium. Kasi ang Japanese Manga very layered yung storya. Ang daming characters as compared to, let's say, a Western-type of comic book.
James: I think that's a misnomer. Kasi meron din namang Japanese Manga na gags lang. All the way gags lang na parang ageless ang humor like Sanrio comic book. Nagkakaroon lang tayo ng misconceptions kasi ang kilala lang ng Pilipino na Manga ay yung mga sikat na talagang serious na ganun. Pero all the while nakakalimutan nila na ang daming layers diyan. Malawak ang storytelling.
Kakosa: May comment si Gerry Alanguilan. His original criticism was, "It's great. Great comic book, great art, great story. But is it Filipino? Is it uniquely Filipino? Is it original?" Ang stand niya ngayon is, it's not so much as being Filipino but arriving at your own distinct style.
James: Ang ayoko lang kasi sa ginawa niya, he took a stand. He put it in writing and then he changed it every month. For one thing, yung stance niyang iyon, it's exactly what we told people who were asking us and who were in contact with him. It's not looking for a Filipino style. He's looking for a distinct personal style. Our goal here is actually to help all the other Filipino artists. We just want to help everyone.
Kakosa: Iilan na nga lang sa comic book industry, nag-aaway-away pa.
James: Yun nga eh. it's very Filipino.
Elmer: Hihilahin ka pababa.
James: Yung sinasabi niya is finding your own distinct style. Okay, let's scour the entire world. There is probably one person out of 7 billion people in the world who draws so much like Gerry. You know, pero hindi lang nga sikat. Hindi pa lang naman siguro na-pupublish. It's a question of who gets published and who gets famous, para sa akin.
Elmer: Yung anime, it's everywhere. So, once you see big eyes, anime na iyon.
James: Mickey Mouse had big eyes.
Elmer: Yung "Witch" na comics ngayon? It's actually a Walt Disney artist. Tapos pinasok nila yung anime style.
James: Sa tingin ko meron nang distinct style sila Elmer atsaka si Ilog. For one thing, si Ilog, can you tell me someone who draws like Ilog.
James: Kumuha kami ng influence from the Japanese and they're anime. Kasi yung drawing nila is more on the American style, quite frankly.
Oo, kasi syempre iba-iba ng influence yan.
James: And his reason is American 'to, which is the melting pot of the industry. The American comic books sells at most 100,000 - 300,000 na bestseller ngayon, a title, di ba? Comic book.
Kakosa: Actually, I've seen recent graphic novels published sa “Heavy Metal” that combined Manga-type and heavy metal-type.
James: And that doesn't distinct us Filipinos na hindi tayo melting pot. I mean, we've gone through 300 years of Spanish period, we've gone through an American colony.
Elmer: And the Japanese.
James: How can you put a claim on a concept so incredibly foreign to us? Comic books and comics in general were brought to us during World War I. "Kenkoy", If you look at it, it's so much like an American strip. Yeah, it's used for propaganda. The concept itself is foreign. I think what we have to stop and think about here is, when we look for our own style, we should put our own restrictions in one box and throw it away. We should be free-minded. Art is so personal. There should be no restrictions. There should be, for something like nationalism, countries or barriers, there should be no barriers. We should remix everything and hold no limitation to your imagination. You should not put yourself in a box.
Kakosa: And I don't know if you've noticed pero it's amazing that something like comic books which is about fantasy, which is about also about children although not restricted to them, can touch on something on a nerve, about cultural identity and nationalism.
Elmer: It's the most widely read medium in the world. It's the number one literary form globally. Halimbawa meron tayong isang Filipino artist pero ang education niya purely western. Tapos nagpunta siya sa isang western country, tapos western paints, western canvass, tapos western na rin yung subject niya. And he wins the second or grand prize in the most prestigious award. Pagbalik niya, Filipino artist ba siya? "Spolarium" di ba? If you look at Spolarium and you have no idea about the background, will you tell me that it was painted by a Filipino? And yet he is a Filipino. He is hailed as a national artist di ba?
James: Lea Salonga.
Elmer: Lea Salonga, she is a US citizen. (laughter) And we are proud that she is Filipino. O di ba? Broadway musical.
Elmer: I think it's stupid to pull down your countrymen for personal preference. I think we should just stop all that and see that the comic book industry here needs help. And we are trying to do something about it. And it would be great if we could help each other out. We wanted to feature, ito ha, for the first time ngayon ko lang ilalabas 'to. Prior to Gerry's publication, we were suppose to feature him. Because we wanted, napansin kasi namin yung "Wasted", yung mga yan, alam mo hindi sila masyadong bumebenta. Kung i-feature kaya natin sila every issue para ma-help yung sales nila. Just before he published that on-line thing. And we were planning a series. Arnold Arre, Marco Dimaano...
Kakosa: Okay nga sana 'no? Kung magkakaroon ng unity sa Filipino comic art.
James: Actually, you can't argue, we are the bestselling comic book in the Philippines. Made by Filipinos, for the Filipinos. And we wanted to help people out. Tutulungan mo, sabay... So I don't think some people don't see the big picture. Comics isn't just visuals. It's the perfect marriage of imagery and literature. Yang CultureCrash. I have gone around the world. I've never seen a publication that is like it or similar to it.
Kakosa: Anyway, I think it's good nga para magkaroon ng catalyst na pag may naglabas.
James: We wanted to help them out.
Elmer: Hindi naman tayo ang lumaban doon di ba? Pero syempre nasaktan din kami sa sinabi niya.
James: Oo, kasi for one thing, obvious na kami yung tinitira niya eh. I mean, sinabi rin naman niya eh.
David: Kasi kahit papaano, bata pa ako. Kahit sinong Pinoy na makapaglabas, idol mo na eh. Pupunta ka sa mga conventions tapos magpapapirma ka sa kanya eh. Kay Gerry atsaka kay Whilce. Tapos biglang, ano nagsasabi siya ng ganun.
Kakosa: Napansin ko lang, some of you actually learned how to speak Japanese. So how deep are you into this genre, this subculture?
Elmer: Dati talaga kasi "Otaku" ako. Yung Otaku is fan boy. Talagang into Japanese ako. Nagsimula ako niyan pinahiram ako ni Gio.
Kakosa: So lahat kayo Otaku?
James: Dati. Pinahiram pa ako ni Gio ng tape. Tapos since then naghanap na ako ng comics, magazines, toys, CD's, babae (laughs).
Kakosa: Tell me if I'm wrong, kasi there's this pre-conceived notion na, "It's another Play Station 2 / Hentai / Manga fanatic." Yun yung stereotype ng tao eh. so am I right there?
James: Before siguro, you're right.
Kakosa: Why do you say before?
James: Ano kasi, siguro nung nag-start na rin tayo ng CultureCrash, di ba?
Elmer: Ironically, nung pumasok ako sa CultureCrash, ako nag-stay out ako sa anime. Ayokong ma-influence ng kahit ano.
Kakosa: Ah, you wanted to develop your own style. That's very important na malaman ng tao.
Elmer: Ayoko kasing, baka pang may napanood ako, subconsciously, sa ayaw o sa gusto ko, baka pumasok sa utak ko yon, sa kuwento ko.
Kakosa: You love Manga, the Japanese culture it brings. But now because you're doing it yourself, you're now staying away from it. So you can generate your own.
James: Yung setting ko nasa Pilipinas eh. Kasi magiging foreign yung dating ng kuwento ko if I stick to the Japanese style.