by Gerry Alanguilan

I just got back from Komikon 2006, the 2nd Philippine Comics Convention, held at the UP Bahay ng Alumni, University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City on October 21. I had planned to do an in-depth report on what went on, but since I had my own Komikero Publishing table holding the launching of the second issue of my comic book Elmer, plus sketching and signing comic books I've drawn and/or inked in the past 10 years, I was left with little time to actually go around the venue, talk with fans and creators, and witness the various activities on the stage.

I attempted to make the rounds nevertheless, and I think I was able to get a cross section of the event's pulse. To get a brief background on the Philippine comics scene, please refer to Newsarama's recent features on the past and present of Philippine comics.

The event itself, Komikon 2006, is the second such billed Comics Convention in the Philippines. It is organized by The Artist's Den, in cooperation with At the Drawing Board. Before they attempted to organize the Komikon last year, The Artist's Den was, and most likely still is, a group of young friends who are cartoonists. Ariel Atienza writes and draws West Side, a weekly strip for Philippine News, a newspaper based in California. Syeri Baet is the writer and artist of Carpool strip published by the Manila Bulletin. Lyndon Gregorio is a cartoonist whose strip Beerkada is being published daily by the Philippine Star (several compilations of which are sold at bookstores). And Jon Zamar contributes to several comics publications like Fresh and the creator of "Minsan sa Panaginip".

The Komikon is similar to comics conventions in the US, where publishers and retailers rent tables and booths to promote and sell their comics. There's no Artist's Alley in the strict sense however, as the professionals in attendance sign, sketch and interact with fans at their publisher's tables, or mill around the venue. Special guests sit in at the organizer's booth. I spotted New Avengers penciller Leinil Francis Yu signing and sketching at the Artist's Den booth. He signs and sketches for free so it's no surprise that a long line eventually formed as soon as he sat down. Roaming the venue checking out the booths were Tomb Raider's Wilson Tortosa, and The Incredible Hulk's Carlo Pagulayan.

Avalon Studios' Hellcop and Houdini: The Man from Beyond artist Gilbert Monsanto took a stab at self publishing by establishing his own company, Sacred Mountain, releasing 2 issues right off the bat: Rambol Komiks and Tropa. I asked him why he chose to self publish, and he expressed some frustration about restrictions and other limitations when working for publishers. He felt the need to do his own characters his way, with the best production values he can provide.

Writer-artist Randy Valiente released his 115-page graphic novel Diosa Hubadera in an interesting format: A PDF file, burned into a CD, packed in a DVD case with a cover and sold for 25 pesos ($0.50). It's the first time I've seen anything like it locally. Would we see more comics released this way in the future? I wouldn't be surprised. I missed quizzing Randy about the format he chose to release his graphic novel in, but I resolve to chase him down, even up to his house in Sta Mesa in Manila, and do a video interview with him about it.

Although much of the new material comics from independent self publishers, the most significant step in bringing comics back into the mainstream was the publication of Filipino Komiks #1 by Risingstar Printing Enterprise. Risingstar is the publisher of many nationally distributed music magazines, romance and horror pocketbooks, and puzzle booklets. Bringing together the talents of writers and artists from the old komiks industry and the new industry, creatives from komiks like Karl Comendador, Nestor Malgapo, Ofelia Concepcion, Nar Castro, Fermin Salvador work side by side with younger creators like Gilbert Monsanto, Rodel Noora and Ner Pedrina. The style of the stories and art are decidedly reminiscent of the old komiks, which is cool, but I think they need to be infused with newer blood and newer sensibilities of approaching comics storytelling, without losing any of the Filipino feel so evident on every page. I thank Risingstar for taking this risk, and it's obvious Editorial Director KC Cordero loves comics to the bone. They have a great opportunity in their hands to actually revive comics in the Philippines big time. I hope to be involved with this company creatively to help in any way I can.

A representative of Liwayway Magazine, the last remaining magazine with comics from the old industry still being published, approached me at my table and I talked to him about doing something for Liwayway sometime soon. That really blew my mind. This was the magazine that saw stories and art by the likes of Francisco V. Coching, Alfredo Alcala, Fred Carrillo, ER Cruz, Jun Lofamia, Alex NiƱo and many more. This was the magazine that gave birth to the Philippine comics industry. To be part of this magazine would be a huge honor, even for just a week.

Comics historian and writer Orvy Jundis published and released Of Wings and Memories especially for the Komikon, an illustrated glossary of Orvy's recollections on the many personalities, comics, terminologies, groups, publications, and locations historically significant to Philippine comics.

Writer Budjette Tan and Artist Ka-Jo Baldisimo released the sixth issue of their remarkable TRESE, a series about a supernatural investigator, cleverly incorporating elements of Philippine mythology into a gritty present day reality. Budjette had been writing comics stories off and on for many years and I thought his stories were good, but they really didn't jump out at me. I saw some potential in the last issue of Batch 72, a story he wrote for artist Arnold Arre. But he soon found a job at an ad agency, and he didn't do comics for a long time. Once in a while he'd vent out his frustrations at his blog about wanting to do comics but didn't have time. And I'd often tell him the secret to do it is to just do it. This year he came out with TRESE with artist Ka-Jo Baldisimo, and they're still scraping off my body parts on our bedroom wall when the thing blew me completely away. A whole bulk of TRESE issues are available online at http://tresekomix.blogspot.com/.

Colorist and Inker Edgar Tadeo hung around my Komikero Publishing booth to sell his mini comic Yew Stupid Basturd. I've known Ed for a long time and I've always known he was kind of crazy, but he's also immensely talented. Aside from his mini, there is also a preview of his upcoming comic book Kadiliman which he illustrated and written by my one time collaborator David Hontiveros.

My table was quite honestly, a warzone. Backtracking a bit, I worked like mad the past couple of weeks trying to finish the second issue of Elmer and get it to press in time. Elmer #2 had to come out at Komikon, there was no question about it. It was simply unthinkable if it didn't. I asked the printer what was the absolute last moment I can give the files that will give them enough time to have it printed in time for Komikon. They said I could bring the files on Thursday morning. Komikon was 2 days away, on Saturday. It was crazy, but they said they could do it. They would be delivering the comics on the day of the con itself, but that was OK. In fact, it was perfect. I thought I could use it. Make my comic book's arrival more dramatic.

I had very little sleep on the days leading to Thursday, but I managed to finish it in time and deliver the printer right on Thursday morning. I had no time to rest as I only had less than 2 days to prepare for the Komikon itself. I had to make copies of Crest Hut Butt Shop #3, organize all the original art of High Roads to split with Leinil, organize a folder of Batman, Superman, X-Force and Stone original art to sell, and bag various old DC and Marvel comics in my collection I'm willing to let go. Good thing my wife Ilyn (Tarzan artist Rudy Florese's daughter) and a friend, Zara Macandili (who created the art for the back cover of Elmer #2) were there to help me.

Still groggy and tired, but nevertheless excited, we staggered into the venue thirty minutes before the doors opened to the public. And guess what, I blinked, and when I opened my eyes, two boxes of Elmer #2 were on our table. The rest of the print run was sitting in a delivery van outside the building. Even before the doors opened, people from other booths and tables were already buying our comics and the owner of a comics store with a table beside us started to buy lots of original art. I had previously announced on my blog that Elmer #2 might be a little late, so everyone was surprised that it arrived before even us. From then on, everything was a blur of meeting people, signing Elmers #1 and #2, signing copies of Silent Dragon, Superman: Birthright, Stone, High Roads, Batman/Danger Girl, X-Force, Wetworks, Wasted, Crest Hut Butt Shop, sketching, and meeting more people. I was literally forced by my wife to have my lunch by 2pm, having forgotten what time it was. I would occasionally step out to make quick rounds, taking photos and videos. Even then, people would approach me to have stuff signed. I can't really complain. And I'm not. Every time a person asks me to sign something it means they appreciate something I did, and I'm extremely grateful. At the end of the day I sold around 140 copies of Elmer #2 and around 70 copies of #1!

Incidentally, I also won a "Comics Aid Award" for The Philippine Comics Art Museum online. I hadn't heard them call my name because I was busy at my table. Organizer Syeri had to fetch me and I said a few words and went back to my table. I had been nominated for it, and it feels great to be recognized for something. I really don't win too many awards so I'm really proud of this one.

There is a large area devoted specially for creators of "indies", or creators of photocopied mini-comics. I browsed their tables and got a lot of things that looked interesting to me. It's amazing to see so many young people so interested in creating comics. Many of them were done in the manga style, but it didn't stop me from checking some of them out. Regardless of the art style, I know talent when I see it and these kids are just bursting at the seams with it.

There is a group in the indie booth called “Komikera,” a group of female writers and artists creating these really unusually written and drawn stories. I find their work strangely fascinating. Some of my friends asked me if I took issue with them calling themselves "Komikera", probably after my own "Komikero" group. I didn't even think about it. "Komikero" is a term that has been used to mean "comedian" and although I'd like to think that I was probably responsible for popularizing the term to mean "comic book creator", I've already let it go and will not take issue if anybody else claims it, or uses the term for their own purposes. They're making some really cool comics, and I think that's what matters.

There is a kind of thrill creating your comics with your own bare hands, photocopying them, and see how people will react. It's the easiest and cheapest way of making print comics and it's something I love to do myself once in a while, even when I was inking for Marvel, DC and Image. In addition to my printed comics Elmer #1 and #2, I also sold copies of my own photocopied comics, Crest Hut Butt Shop #3. I suspect it's something I will continue to do no matter what.

American comics agent David Campiti has a booth where he reviews portfolios. David is a tough-as-nails reviewer and it is not an uncommon to see crushed and disillusioned would be aspiring artists walk away from the review. But it is generally accepted that David tells it like it is and if you want an honest assessment of your work, you go to him. Filipinos are not used to such brutal honesty, as they are generally genial and polite and would rather lie than hurt someone else's feelings. However, such honesty is essential if an artist should ever want to improve himself. Whenever someone comes up to me to show his work for critique, I'd give an overview of what I think, but I generally ask them to go up to David if they want the full deal. Who knows, they might even find themselves an agent.

Writer-artist of ZsaZsa Zaturnnah Carlo Vergara and newspaper cartoonist Manix Abrera were in attendance at the Visual Print Enterprises table, publisher of their compiled comics. For some reason, Spider-Man was also behind the table. I would later learn the reason why. Spider-Man is the bassist for Manix's band Kikomachine, performing on the stage later that night.

Carlo Vergara is probably one of the most popular local creators at the event, due to the popularity of his creation: Ang Kagila-Gilalas na Pakikipagsapalaran ni ZsaZsa Zaturnnah, a story about a gay beautician who transforms into a voluptuous female superhero when he swallows a huge stone and shouts "Zsa Zsa!" It's a story that was eventually translated into a wildly successful musical, and now the filming of the movie version has just been completed. I asked Carlo how he felt seeing his creations in other media. I just love his answer: "If other people see the movie and the musical and become curious enough to see what the original material is like, that's what's exciting to me. Because ultimately the musical belongs to Tanghalang Pilipino, the movie belongs to Regal, for me the book is mine."

Mango Comics, publisher of my character Johnny Balbona in Mwahaha, has a booth with the head honcho himself, Mr. Boboy Yonzon in attendance. Mango is the publisher of the popular comic book Mango Jam, a unique title in Philippine comics by being the only one completely staffed by women, and all writers and artists are women. I talked to Mango Jam editor in chief Karen Kunawicz about this one of a kind comic book. "The publisher saw an opportunity in the market for young women comic book readers and they wanted to get this message of girl power across, and there was no better way to do it than start off with women writers and women artists."

PSI-COM Publishing also had a table, promoting the numerous comics they publish, including authorized reprints of DC stories (Superman: Birthright among them) as well as anthologies of original material like Fantasya, collecting various stories in the fantasy genre by international talents like J. Torres and Lan Medina, and a host of talented local artists like Gilbert Monsanto (him again!), Bow Guererro, Jac Ting Lim, Leonard Banaag, Michelle Segovia and many more.

Legendary comics creator Mars Ravelo, creator of such iconic characters as Darna, Lastikman, Captain Barbell and Dysebel was represented by Reno Maniquis, Dodo Dayao and Bong Leal, the team currently authorized to interpret Mars Ravelo's creations in print. And wow, this new Darna, based on the preview, rocks really hard. Bong Leal is known to me as a really good artist and his work on Darna is the best I've seen of his art so far. Reno, on hand to provide art for Captain Barbell and other titles, was also promoting his own title Maskarado. I bought all seven available issues, and as I go through each issue, I'm amazed at Reno's development as an artist. By the end of the 7th issue, he's smoking! I had wanted to talk to Reno more about Maskarado and his involvement with the Mars Ravelo characters, but his table was right in front of the stage and was very noisy for most of the time.

Jamie Bautista of Nautilus Comics, together with Harvey Ong, put together put together Tri-Tech #0, which had the unique distinction of being well... FREE. Naturally, pretty much everyone had a copy. Nautilus is also the publisher of the award winning SIGLO series of graphic novels, as well as Cast.

There are probably more publishers and creators in attendance, but I simply didn't have the opportunity to go around too much to meet them all.

Alexis Aguilar won the Lead Slinger Challenge at Jonas Diego's talent search for their animation company IAS. I could tell what was going on at their booth because they were located just across my table. Although Jonas Diego is now an executive at this animation company, he is still actively doing comics online and his webcomic is one of the rare few that come out on a more or less regular basis.

Probably one of the high points of my day was meeting veteran comics illustrator Jess Jodloman when he stopped by in front of my table. Older American readers would probably know him from many horror stories he did for the various mystery titles from DC in the 70's. His art is characterized by grotesque and meticulously drawn characters, perfectly suited to the stories he illustrated. Older Filipinos still speak with awe at Jess's masterpiece from the 1950's called Ramir. I've only seen a page of it, and I was impressed at the artistry that went into it. I asked Jess about having it collected and his daughter said they're just missing a few pages. Once they find a source for it, a collected Ramir is a certainty. I'm going to help look for it!

Other veterans I met during the day included Jun Lofamia (still active with Liwayway), Yong Montano, Karl Comendador, Ofelia Concepcion, Alfred Liongoren (not really a comics artist, but an amazing painter!), and the Alfredo Alcala exhibit was back with more art, manned by his son, Alfred Jr.

There are no panels in function rooms where new titles are announced or discussions about the issues in comics are made. It's strictly a one day affair of interaction between fans, pros, and publishers. There is a stage at the far end of the floor where awards are given out, performances by bands are held, and special guests are interviewed and quizzed by fans.

Initial estimates on crowd attendance based on ticket sales is 889. Add to that the number of exhibitors and guests, the number could easily surpass 1000.

Komikon started to wrap at 7:30pm, and with Manix Abrera's Kikomachine band hitting the stage rocking the night away, we made our way out of the venue. It felt more like a comics festival than anything else, and it is the spirit of celebration of comics that one cannot miss.