Pinoy comics’ pride and possibilities
by Oliver Pulumbarit
THE LOCAL comic book industry has evolved dramatically in the last couple of years. The weekly newsprint “komiks” are gone, but the number of independent comic book creators who bring their vision to their own publications continues to grow.
Filipino-made comics are alive, kicking, and here to stay, according to three of indie movement Alamat’s most successful creators, Gerry Alanguilan (writer-artist of the acclaimed “Elmer”), Budjette Tan (author of 2009 National Book Award-winning “Trese”), and Carlo Vergara (creator of the multimedia sensation “Zsazsa Zaturnnah”).
How different is the local comic book scene now, and how have creators and readers changed?
Alanguilan: The huge difference today is most comics are self-published by the writers and artists themselves. When all those huge komiks companies died out or stopped publishing, they left the local creators with little option. Did the writers and artists go off and do something else now that there are no companies to hire them? Some of them did, but seemingly beyond belief, other creators started taking money out of their own pockets to fund for the publication of their own comic book. They made them, had them printed or photocopied, and they themselves distributed their comics. The self-publishing creator can produce 10 to 1,000 copies, and sell them for 50 pesos at stores and comic book events. That has recently become the norm.
Tan: I think we’ve got a great mix of comic book creators with different influences in their work, from American comics to Japanese cartoons, to stuff that is just downright original. As far as readers are concerned, I think the Pinoy comic book reader is hungry to see more original works. Looking at the Internet buzz and from the people we meet during Komikon, many are excited to pick up new titles and would often bug us, asking when the next issue is coming out. It’s just up to the comic book creators to produce more comics.
Vergara: The local comic book scene is growing, though the focus appears to be more on the indie scene. I have the impression that interest in the manga style of stories and art is dwindling, and the newer creators are trying out new ideas and approaches in terms of story and art. The emergence of conventions in recent years in various parts of the country has helped a lot in encouraging these creators to invest time and effort in telling their stories.
Other creators are trying their hand at producing digital comics, or comics to be read through the Web, though I feel that we’re still pretty much print-based. The main advantage of digital comics is the prospect of attracting a global audience, and it could be that Pinoy comics creators who are going digital shape their stories to appeal to this audience. As far as readership goes, create stories that resonate with Filipinos and Filipinos will support it. The key, really, is zeroing in on unique, innovative, but very accessible stories.
What are your thoughts on the current generation of local artists working for American companies?
Alanguilan: Artists who work for US companies (I’m one of them) only do so because nobody would hire us here in the Philippines. There are no more comics companies who would hire artists to draw comics. So rather than stay here and do nothing, we look for employment elsewhere. When a rich guy or company establishes a comic book company in the Philippines who will give us artistic freedom and pay us well, many of us would stay and work here.
And besides, we’re planting the Philippine flag in some of America’s biggest comic books. If these were movies, it’s like seeing Filipino actors in big Hollywood blockbusters. Modesty aside, we bring great honor to this country by being the best in the world, and by promoting Filipinos and the Philippines in a positive light.
Vergara: I’m particularly excited about the growing number of Pinoys who are based here but work for the US comics companies. Apart from being a testament to the artistic caliber of Pinoys, this development can help jumpstart the education of budding artists on “best practices” when it comes to making commercial comics.
Tan: I’m amazed at how many Pinoys are now drawing comics for Marvel, DC, and Dark Horse. I think this is the most number of Pinoys we’ve had working for those companies. How does that compare to the likes of Nestor Redondo, Alfredo Alcala, Ernie Chan, Tony de Zuniga, and all those great artists of the ’70s and ’80s? I think this current batch also offers distinct and unique art styles that have impressed American comic book readers as well as fans around the world. The newer artists leave little easter eggs for Pinoys, or as I call them “balut eggs,” surprising little jokes like Wolverine drinking San Miguel Beer, and Darkhawk wearing a Manny Pacquiao shirt. And thanks to the net, Pinoy readers and aspiring comic book artists are now aware that their favorite comic book titles are drawn by Pinoys living in the Philippines, which can be very inspiring for readers and artists alike.
Please name some young/new Filipino creators whose works have gotten you excited.
Tan: Andrew Drilon has done a couple of online comic book stories for Top Shelf, got rave reviews from Matt Fraction and Warren Ellis for his “Kare-Kare Komiks,” and that’s why I’m looking forward to his horror graphic novel “Black Clouds.”
Mervin Malonzo is another writer/artist who’s starting out on the net with his webcomic “Tabi Po,” one of the few new comics written in Filipino.
Paolo Fabregas’ “Filipino Heroes League” will be published by Visprint next year and it’s one of the graphic novels that I’m excited to see in published form. It’s funny and thought-provoking!