Local comic book creators fight foreign superheroes
By Candy G. Villanueva
Inquirer News Service


IF DARNA were pitted against Wonder Woman, she probably would have a good fighting chance. Sadly, in the comic books stands, Darna and a group of other Pinoy comic book character underdogs don't stand a chance against the superheroes of D.C. Comics or Marvel Comics. The Philippines is home to dozens of talented comic book creators but unfortunately, the comics stands are dominated by foreign names. However, thanks to several brave and talented comic book creators, like Zach Yonzon, our local heroes are slowly taking charge of the comics battleground.

Zach Yonzon is editor in chief of Mango Comics, a new comic book company based in Tagaytay that recently released a new version of the Filipino classic, Darna. Yonzon is also one of the creators responsible for drawing and writing comic books or what they call sequential art.

Endangered art

Local comic books used to have a great following but due to the overwhelming rise of different forms of entertainment, our local comic book heroes nearly became part of the endangered species. Still, Yonzon believes that there is hope. "The readership of comics remains constant and, we believe, is slowly growing again. This is evidenced by the success of companies like Culture Crash, PSICOM, and Summit Publishing, who have great titles out on the shelves."

Aside from the marbles and the slingshots, comic books are a part of most growing kids. Many of these kids have grown up but have never outgrown their dog-eared comic books. It has become part of their lives (as attested to by countless adult comic book collectors) and their jobs. Zach, his dad and many other comic book creators are among this group. Yonzon enthuses, "My dad is publishing and writing comics! He buys comic books, or toys or DVDs of cartoons for research. A 54-year-old guy buying and writing comics is just the coolest thing."

Sources of inspiration

There is no such thing as a typical day for a comic book creator according to Yonzon. Most of it is spent lounging around waiting for the creative juices to flow. Lounging around could mean the mandatory caffeine fix at the coffee shop, watching DVDs (apparently the source of some ideas) and playing video games (another abundant source of inspiration). In between, when the inspiration hits, a creator would whip out his tools, a PowerBook in the case of Yonzon, and write or draw.

But for Yonzon, like most creators, the source of inspiration is a bit closer to home, his heart. "I'm pretty much driven by God and the person I adore."

Back at the studio, a comic book creator spends most of what's left of the day in front of the PC researching and doing correspondences via the Internet or solidifying ideas into works of art. If you think these creators have it easy, think again. Although the work pace may seem slow, sometimes they stay up till the wee hours of the morning to finish a project.

No formal school

With the great number of comic book aficionados, it is unfortunate that the comic book industry is not recognized in the country. No school offers courses for this art, save for the occasional summer workshops that teach comic book drawing and the short courses on comic book appreciation.

The good news is anybody with a taste for the art can pursue a career as a comic book creator. "The only real background you need to become a comic book creator is to have an appreciation of the medium. It would probably help if you had some artistic training or training as a writer, but it's not a requirement," explains Yonzon. "The truth is the comic book industry is so diverse that virtually anybody can put out a comic book. There're no credentials required."

However, Yonzon admits, "The Philippine comic book industry isn't a terribly financially rewarding industry except for the lucky few." Filipino comic book creators earn only about a tenth of what foreign creators earn from the big publishers abroad.

"Comic book creation isn't something you get into for financial reward, at least not in the initial stages. It's really an industry of love," confesses Mango's creator. "People do this here (Philippines) because they want to, because they love the medium, because they want to create, to inspire. This is the best way to nourish the creative spirit."

Creative spirit

It is the hope of these local comic book creators like Yonzon to stir creativity through the comic book art. "We feel that we're contributing something to the country's creative spirit, it's important for us to inspire other people to be creative."

But there is a lot of skepticism from the Pinoy market. "There's still so much resistance to the comic medium because big companies still see it as something only kids read. So market definition is pretty challenging for us."

According to Yonzon, even Jose Rizal used to draw comic strips. Yonzon feels that if our own national hero believed in comics, there is no reason why the rest of us shouldn't. This young visionary hopes to be able to use comics as a tool for education. "There are many educational comics today, and comics are a great way for children to learn English."

But in the end, it is the art's contribution to the country's creative spirit and legacy that really weighs the most for these local comic book creators. "It's very important to stay creative in the midst of despair, and comic books are easy avenues to be creative."