CELEBRATING 120 YEARS OF KOMIKS FROM THE PHILIPPINES II: THE FUTURE OF KOMIKS
by Benjamin Ong Pang Kean
The United States acquired the Philippines from Spain following the Spanish-American War of 1898.
Therefore, it’s undeniable that the Americans had a huge effect on komiks in the Philippines as the nation was under the U.S. rule at the turn of the 20th century.
In the concluding chapter of our 2-part series on Philippines komiks, we take a look at the current state of the industry.
Today, there are new players that get to publish/release new titles on a more frequent basis. “Mango Comics and Nautilus Comics have their bi-monthly comic books,” Budjette Tan explained. “A comic book called Culture Crash also energized the scene with the anime-inspired comic book anthology. The publishers of Culture Crash later organized two comic book/anime/cosplay events that brought thousands of fans together.
“The group Artist’s Den launched the first Manila Komikon last year and already in the works of organizing this year’s event [to be held in Quezon City on October 21]. The Komikon successfully brought together generations of comic book creators.
“A couple of years ago, Adarna Publications, one of the Philippine’s successful publisher of children’s books ventured into publishing graphic novels,” he added. “Their titles: Arnold Arre’s After Eden and Mythology Class have done well, in terms of sales and critical acclaim. Another publisher, Visual Print Publications, also dipped their feet in the comic book publishing arena with Carlo Vergara’s A Kagilagilalas Na Pakikipagsapalaran Ni Zsazsa Zaturnnah graphic novel. That title was in National Bookstores Top 20 list a couple of months ago. Its story has already been adopted into a musical and will soon be seen as a full-length feature.
“Gerry Alanguilan’s KOMIKERO group has also been busy attending every possible event that will allow them to showcase the great works of past Filipino comic book artists. Gerry, of course, continues to produce works like Humanis Rex and Elmer that provides much needed variety in the Philippine comic book scene.
“In the past couple of years, the creators from different studios have won recognition from the Manila Critic’s Circle and won awards from the National Book Awards. (Arnold Arre’s The Mythology Class, Trip to Tagaytay. Carlo Vergara’s Zsazsa Zaturnnah, Kestrel/Quest Venture’s Siglo: Freedom. Mango Comics’ Darna)
“Despite all of that, the Philippine Komiks scene is still a far-cry from the giant publishing companies found in the US and Japan.
“I’m just glad to say that there are very active comic book creators who release new works every year or every two years, so that makes the scene interesting all year round.”
At the same time, quite a number of creators of Filipino origin have made a name for themselves in North America and the rest of the world, namely Whilce Portacio, Leinil Francis Yu, Jay Anacleto, Gerry Alanguilan, Rod Espinosa, Philip Tan, Francis Manapul, J. Torres, and others.
“I can't deny that it's financially more rewarding,” Gerry Alanguilan admitted. “You can settle down, get married and have kids, buy a house and a car from what you make working for foreign publishers. I got paid as much as my contemporaries. I refused to get paid less just to get jobs. I wanted to be hired because I could do the job, not because I was cheap and living in a third world country. If I lived in the US what I make would not be enough on just one book, but if I stayed here, the money I make is worth much more and could pay for so much more.
“Before I create the impression I'm doing it for the money, I love comics. I mean, I really don't believe anyone will last in this job if one did it for the money. Because the hard work, the sacrifices and heartache would scare away anyone who didn't love comics enough. But you know, as long as I'm doing what I love, it would be nice to get paid for it as well... just so I can go on continuing to do what I love. And I love doing comics more than anything else.
“And of course, the attraction of working on those great characters. I've had the honor of working on such icons as Superman and Batman, Wolverine, X-Men, and Fantastic Four. Doing Superman: Birthright was one of the highlights of my inking career.
“But the compulsion to create my own characters and my own comics is really strong. There is also a great need for me to do comics here in the Philippines. I want to contribute to the local industry as much as I could. This kept me doing my own comics here all the time I had been inking. I find it very creatively fulfilling and kept me sane as my creativity served the creativity of other artists for so long.”
In saying that, Alanguilan is currently working on several of his own creations back in the Philippines. The latest of his pride and joy is Elmer, a story about intelligent… chickens. “I've always been fascinated by chickens,” he said. “I had a pet chicken named Solano when I was younger. I think their paranoid and jittery demeanor is absolutely hillarious. I can spend many hours observing them and I'll never get bored. I keep imagining what kind of things that go on in their minds that make them act the way they do. One day, perhaps sitting in church as I would many times be in when ideas come, I just asked myself... what if chickens could talk? What if they were intelligent? I think they'd be pretty pissed that people had been eating them, and that seemed to lead into a huge well of ideas that just keep on coming.”
We’d also posed a question to the following creators about their thoughts on the current state of affairs in the Philippines komiks scene.
Newsarama: What's your views on the current industry in the Philippines compared to the Western and Japanese scenes in particular?
Whilce Portacio (Wetworks, Batman: Confidential, Stone, Iron Man): What I see happening in the Philippines in terms of the effort to revive komiks and the trending towards American comics or manga to me is a personal major disappointment,” he said. “In the sense that what is currently happening seems to be a microcosm of what is happening and has been happening in the overall Philippines society. And that is the utter lack of a powerful local effort to inspire our youth as to our own history. The histories of other now developed countries show that you must fervently embrace your history so that the country as a whole gains a character, the meaning of being a Filipino. You do that by teaching history to our youth, by constantly bombarding the youth with local everyday heroes in society to emulate. This gives confidence to our youth as they grow up and gives them a sense of identity. Instead, what we have in society is “in fighting”, “kanya-kanya”, we have plenty of heroes but none (other than Jose Rizal) are remembered for long. As an example just look within the local komiks scene, there are hundreds of Americans that love the works of Nestor Redondo but very few of our current generation know who he was. Because of this lack of reverence in those Filipino heroes that went before us we have no true sense of identity as Filipinos. Each new generation is left to reinvent themselves, instead of taking the best of the past generations, instead of learning what the past generations have to teach us, each new generation finds its own way many times making the same mistakes that other generations have made.
Therefore, in my opinion that is why we are where we are in the effort to revive the local komiks industry. And that is, one group of local revivalist looking as enemies anyone who will not willingly go broke doing cheap local komiks for the “masa”. They look with disdain at any who are lucky enough (in our downward economy) to obtain profitable foreign comic book work in the States or Japan.
Then you have the generation that grew up on Japanese cartoons on local TV, that were (to no fault of their own) never exposed to the old komiks legends, and never given a strong sense of what it means to be a Filipino that their version of a Filipino character is a Japanese looking, and Japanese stylized drawing of a Japanese character with a Filipino name. Again, I cannot fault them but fault society for caring more for what is “cool”, and “in fashion” than what is truly Filipino.
Then you have the many artists who have made their own mark in the profitable American superhero market. They, like many Filipino’s in our society now, are practical and have successfully marketed their God-given talent to where they best serve their families. No one wants to starve. But they, like the Japanese manga market, know very little of what it is to be Filipino and therefore have little desire to write and draw Filipino centric stories. (Tho’ of late that has started to change with the advent of totally Filipino characters like Trese, Wasted, and Zsa Zsa Zaturna using the American comics model) Still in general there is a lack of local identity in this market.
So you have these groups fighting each other for turf and respectability. Instead of like in other countries the different groups taking the different influences and styles and making these styles their own by writing and drawing stories that are purely local and assessable to the local market but only use as a style or medium these outer influences. What is to other countries artist a new style or influence to only experiment with, to our local artist is a lifestyle to embrace for lack of a strong Filipino model to emulate.
So, in short, I see no true possible light for a revival of the local komiks market in the near future until we get a new generation that knows in its heart what it truly means to be Filipino. That are not good copycats but are great Filipino artist that cannot not write anything but a true Filipino story.
J. Torres (Copybook Tales, Love as a Foreign Language, Teen Titans Go!, Degrassi: Extra Credit): From what I've seen, it's a very vibrant and diverse scene. I haven't been to the Phils in quite some time, and this was way before I ever worked in comics, so I'd love to visit again and especially to attend a comic book convention or some kind of industry related function. I've of course met several creators from the Phils at shows here, albeit briefly, and I keep in touch with others online. But I think it'd be an interesting artistic and cultural experience to go there and see everyone in their home environment, compare notes, and talk shop.
Leinil Francis Yu (High Roads, New Avengers, Superman: Birthright, Ultimate Hulk/Wolverine, Wolverine, X-Men): Komiks is practically dead here and has been dead for a while now. Komiks used to be ubiquitous when I was a kid but now, it's easier to procure illegal drugs. Seriously, it's unfortunate.
Philip Tan (Spawn, Uncanny X-Men, Iron Man, Taleweaver, Mutant Earth, Trakk): It is definitely shaping into a very interesting playground, specially for local artists who are very skillful in the art of comic book creation. As not too long ago, getting into mainstream comic book industry (US market), or even the European or Japanese market are pretty much impossible, without having the stars align and get lucky enough to have someone who knows people in the industry to see your work and help you out. With a growing mixed audience of not just Western and Japanese comic books, along with those who have been followers of the traditional Filipino komiks, the industry are slowly building a new era of fans and audience, not to mention the deep pool of talents, that will eventually support the komiks industry into a successful form of entertainment!
Francis Manapul (Witchblade, Love In Tights, Necromancer, Iron and the Maiden, Seven Sarmate): I don't know too much about the current comic scene in the Philippines, but there are a lot of amazing Filipino artist and writers in the North American industry that I feel are making great waves. From the little that I do know, it seems to me that back in the days Alex Nino, Alfredo Alcala and Francisco Coching greatly influenced the North American industry as artist. I think their style and intricate line work influenced a slew of American artist which probably helped shape the way comics are drawn now.
Rod Espinosa (Courageous Princess, Neotopia, New Alice in Wonderland, The Alamo, Dinowars): I can only offer my views on the American comics scene. I have been exposed a bit with the Philippine komiks scene. Most of it is manga influenced these days. Lots of potential there. But needs to grow in terms of story content and panel layout.
In that respect, since I work for Antarctic Press, I get lots of submissions of manga influenced art. Lots of potential talent again. But the stories is what is lacking. The stories and the art most often too.
The thing with the Japanese is that their stories are so brilliant because they are written by guys with actual life experiences. Their artist studios are structured like schools.
Our new crop of manga artists are still kind of raw. But since we now live in a world where amateurs are glorified (Witness the popularity of American Idol), craft and experience are counted secondary.
Hence, we get plenty of rough drafts and rough artwork and inexperienced writing. In the US, where individuality is highly valued over teamwork, the result is you get plenty of individuals hashing their work out their way, finding their own bloody path in a way.
Carlo Pagulayan (Incredible Hulk): The Philippine comics I had first become aware of was those of newsprints and below standard print quality. The drawings were good but the quality of the product never really got me interested, especially when I started reading western full color comics. Seeing people use our local komiks for wrapping stuff only convinced me that comics were too ordinary and of least value. Back then I thought of the local industry discriminately, comparing them with western comics and B&W manga... I thought even in B&W our industry can't even match the level of passion the Japanese were pouring into their line works. Of course I was ignorant of the industry's past and it's real situation then.
The local industry, I hate to say it has gone into comatose. Although there are those trying to revive the industry in a much more modern approach. Because back then the industry failed or feared to change. Indies are steadily filling the void left by the industry, and we're all hoping that one day komiks wakes up
Jennyson Rosero (No Man’s Land): If only we could expand our market and make people accept that what we do is serious work. Most Filipinos treat comics as mere child's literature, some would even brand us weird, childish, wasting our time, etc. It makes me sick whenever people treat drawing as an easy thing to do. "Just drawings, easiest thing to do in the world." Well, let's see them do what we do. We have a lot of very talented Filipino artists looking for a break. I just turned out to be one of the lucky ones.
Hai (Blade For Barter, Death Jr Manga): I think the current industry in the Philippines is but a pale shadow of what it used to be. There are a lot of people trying to stir the industry back to its feet but high printing costs and distribution problems remains to the biggest hurdle to overcome. I’ve seen a lot of glossy komik books on the shelves lately but I feel that they still lack the quality to compete with Western or Japanese produced book. Low wages prevent anyone from earning a living on local comic books here so most of the established and talented artists are often employed by foreign publishers.
There's definitely no shortage of talent here but the lack of opportunity for artists to fully express themselves and remain financially stable makes it difficult for the local industry to take off. I think the Philippines still have a very long way to go before it can play catch up to the level of Western and especially Japanese comic/manga publishing.
Marco Dimaano (Angel Ace): The local comic industry in the Philippines is sadly small and under-developed. It consists of a rapidly-shrinking mass-based comic publication market, a much smaller and upscale group of publications geared towards more upscale readers which are often based on manga, and the very small but enthusiastic independent comic book creator segments. I believe that there are many Filipino readers who will support local comics... it's just that there hasn't been a true mesh of the best of Pinoy stuff for people to get behind.
Andrew Drilon (Siglo: Freedom, Ran Online, Project: Hero, Caraboy, Kare-Kare Komiks): Well, if you rank the three in terms of success--I'd put Japanese first, Western second, and Philippines last. The comics industry here isn't as strong as the first two, probably due to our current economy and literacy levels. Not that that's a bad thing, mind you. There's a lot of very strong work coming out of the small comics community here, which I think is fuelled by the current climate--a lot like how the Western comics industry got really funky and experimental during the slump--tons of good work came out of that, too. So I think the Philippine komiks scene is pretty healthy right now, at least creatively.
Arnold Arre (After Eden, The Mythology Class, Trip to Tagaytay, Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat, The Lost, Lastikman): In my opinion, unlike in the US and in Japan, there is no real industry yet. As of now, only a handful of companies or comic publishers are hiring artists to do work and not all of them have regular titles so most artists try to look for work overseas.
Elbert Or: I write, illustrate, and edit comic books. I also do freelance work for newspapers, magazines, and children's picture books, but I think that's par for course when you're in the Philippine comics "industry." Comics doesn't earn enough for you to make a proper living out of it, at least not here. A lot of the time, comic creators have to keep day jobs, usually in the field of advertising or graphic design, and just create comics in their spare time. This means that a lot of the time too, creators are unable to commit to projects with any regularity, or the work is not as good as they can be had they the chance to really spend time and effort on it.
There is, in fact, no actual industry to speak of. I'm sure Gerry's already told you about how newsstand komiks here peaked a couple decades ago. These days, there's only a handful of publishers, although what also helps is that we're slowly getting attention from the critical and academic circles - in universities, classes on comics production have started popping up, and the prestigious Manila Critics Circle has opened a National Book Award category for Best Graphic Novel. Likewise, the general pop culture is feeling the effects of comic books - TV shows and movies both locally-produced and foreign-made bear comic book influences, (here we have adaptations of the classic superheroes Darna and Captain Barbell, as well as comics-inspired shows like Mulawin and Encantadia). Even rock bands name themselves after comic book characters here.
That said, there are still a number of problems that need to be addressed: distribution remains difficult - it's easy to make yourselves heard, but it's pointless if readers can't find your books in stores anyway. Books don't come out in a timely manner - again, because day jobs get in the way of the comics work, but also because while there is no shortage of artistic talents here in the country, there is a shortage of discipline and professionalism especially among the younger artists.
I wrote about comics and the current state of the industry a few times in my blog http://mars4.blogspot.com
Randy Valiente (Pambalot ng Tinapa (Isang Pagtanaw sa Komiks ng Pilipino) (Smoked Fish Wrapper-An Insight About The Philippine Comics Industry): For the local industry, obviously it's still suffering. But good thing there are independent publishers that are trying to revive the industry.
Carlo Vergara (One Night In Purgatory, The Spectacular Adventures of Zsazsa Zaturnnah, Pantheon, Siglo: Passion): The Philippine comics scene is still largely underground, in the sense that there a very few works printed in offset and marketed to a wide audience. A lot of what's happening still revolves around a small niche market of supporters and enthusiasts.
To begin with, only a handful are willing to invest time and energy to improve their craft and see their dream projects through from beginning to end. The setback is economic in nature; it's a third world reality. Either that, or there may be a lack of confidence. For those who just want to write or just want to draw, there's hardly any opportunity.
There was a small movement in the mid- to late-nineties to pick up the pieces left by the large comics publishing houses that slowly went under. This movement sought to revive things. Problem was, the movement was composed mostly of creators, and hardly anyone had the business savvy or the money to let it grow.
Creatively, the challenge is coming up with material that can be patronized by a large audience, without compromising creative integrity. Commercially, the challenge is investing in tapping marketing channels to generate awareness and excitement. Sadly, not everyone making comics here are effectively addressing those challenges. It's one or the other, or a little bit of both.
It's generally an uphill battle, and largely disheartening in this age of gaming consoles and DVDs. Hopefully, the few who are doing their darndest in creating good quality work will succeed in their efforts, and slowly open doors for newer creators.
Gilbert Monsanto (Hellcop, Houdini: The Man from Beyond, The Saints, Tropa, Rambol Komiks): I think that it is just like our nation, komiks in general is a big eclectic mix especially in style. The amount of influx of different influences is all up in the air giving us both the edge to conform and the confusion on where our true identity lies. The local market itself has a very broad idea of what they want to see and how they want to get their komiks in terms of format and desired price range. Compared to western and Japanese scenes where formulas seem to work, tapping new readers in the Philippines can get a bit tricky. It is a challenge all local creators must face in order to raise the interest for new readers and gain momentum to uplift the unstable state of komiks industry in the Philippines.
Joel Chua (Robotika, Yun, Siglo: Passion): There is a growing awareness about Philippine komiks in the Philippines, brought about by the internet, the rise in conventions, media participation, and even because of anime & manga. I myself would've have learned about the story of Pinoy komiks until I was in my 20s and meeting comic book artists. The internet has kept us in touch, and has subsequently allowed us to collaborate on projects and maintain continuous exposure of local work. Any local convention with popular culture (toys, games, comics) draws comic book people as well as media attention - further curdling the comic scene brew. I would think we are a fair deal ahead of mainland China in terms of the comic book activity and quality going on but definitely behind Hong Kong, Europe, America, and Japan. Their societies have generally surplus cash to spend on comics. Again the internet comes into play to allow artists like me to set up websites and work on projects from abroad.
“Now anime & manga have had a major influence on popular Filipino tastes - and it reflects onto a good number of independent comics out these days. But more importantly, you can tell it from the crowds that line up during anime conventions and cosplays. More and more young Filipinos are giving animation and comics a try because of anime and manga. However, for a society trying to peg down its roots in comics, the effect of Japanese anime & manga has been both positive and negative. It has invigorated more young Filipinos to produce independent comics but it has also overshadowed the Filipino comic illustration style (as represented by the likes of Alex Niño, Nestor Redondo, Mars Ravelo, etc).
Wrapping things up, Alanguilan stressed that “Komiks in the Philippines has undergone huge changes in the last 15 years. The traditional industry that gave us people like Nestor Redondo, Alfredo Alcala and Alex Niño has all but died when the legendary group of anthology comics that ushered in the golden age of Philippine comics after World War 2 ceased publication in early 2006 after more than 60 years of consecutive bi-weekly and weekly release. Of the once great industry the Philippines has had, only Liwayway Magazine remains, which still carries several 3 and 4-page short/continuing stories within their prose and showbiz news.
“Those old comics were standard comic-book sized, and each one contained around ten 4 or 5-page long short or continuing stories written and drawn by various creators. Mostly they were black and white. Special stories had red tones, and special Christmas stories came out in full color. The most popular of these were Pilipino Komiks, Tagalog Klasiks, Hiwaga and Espesyal. There were many more, but these four comic books were the ones that had the longest history, and they were widely considered the best in the industry.
“If comics elsewhere have been considered "for kids" by the masses who don't know better, here in the Philippines comics were never considered to be for kids, but they were considered by many, even to this day, cheap entertainment for the masses, specially the underprivileged. For many decades, comics were the main source of entertainment by the mid to lower classes, those who couldn't afford TV sets or go to movies.
“The kind of stories were of all kinds: horror, action, love stories, soap opera, sci-fi, historical fiction (including, believe it or not, Westerns), biography, educational, fantasy, political campaigns, new age, suspense and so many more.
“Strangely enough, there were relatively few super hero stories, although they are the ones best remembered today.
“In the 90's during the decline of this traditional industry, a new industry was slowly being born, spearheaded by a new kind of comics creator. Their comics resembled western comics much more closely in format, style and subject matter. Many of these comics were self published, written and drawn by creators weaned on Marvel an DC comics when they were kids. Although they drew superheroes, sci-fi, horror and drama in the manner of foreign books, all of them had distinct Filipino sensibilities. Their comics were rarely anthologies, opting instead to create one-shots and limited series stories.
“Today, many of the young creators are influenced by Japanese comics and publish comics that look, for all intents and purposes, like Japanese comics. It's a state of affairs that I find personally distressing, specially when you realize that many of these kids don't know Filipino artists like Alex Niño, Nestor Redondo or Alfredo Alcala. They don't have a sense of identity as Filipinos, and I find it hard to blame them because nowhere today can you find the work of our great masters up for sale. No archives have been produced, and no comics publication showcase any of their work.
“It's something I try to change with my online comics museum, and various books I plan on publishing, including a Philippine comics art book. I don't do these things so I could prop up the work of our great masters and tell these new kids, look you guys gotta draw like this. No. Because to me that would be as bad as drawing like Japanese artists. They need to find their own voice and although we artists will always be a product of our influences, one would hope that we can find a style unique enough to them as individual artists. I hope the museum could give them a sense of identity, and a sense of the great history and legacy of a great body of comic book art, that could inspire them to create something uniquely their own.
“This new industry grew and is still growing to this day. Already, several notable comic books have been released to much popularity and critical acclaim. Notable creators to emerge from this movement includes Arnold Arre, who wrote and drew award-winning comic books like Trip To Tagaytay, After Eden, Mythology Class and Andong Agimat.
“Another award-winning creator, Carlo Vergara, is responsible for the extremely popular Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah, a story about a gay beautician who transforms into a hot blooded female superhero when she swallows a magic stone. Zsa Zsa has been adapted into a wildly successful play at the prestigious Cultural Center of the Philippines and is currently being shot as a motion picture.
“Other notable creators include Budjette and Ka-jo Baldisimo for Ttrese, Dean Alfar and Vin Simbulan who edits the anthology Siglo, Jamie Bautista and Elbert Or's Cast (which is distributed in the US via Diamond), Hugo Yonzon's Mwahaha, a Mad-like comics anthology, Pol Medina's Pugad Baboy, and many others.”