Childhood Dreams
Twentysomethings move to compete with comics giants
by Christine A. Gaylican
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 6 December 1997, page C4

A group of Filipino entrepreneurs had dared to venture into the uncharted waters of comics publishing, an industry long dominated by giants Marvel and DC.

Driven by childhood dreams to create and publish their own comic books, the motley group of twentysomething collaborated and did come up with their very own-- the Alamat group of comic books.

The members of the Alamat group have full-time jobs as graphic design specialist, and are into comic publishing for sheer love of comic-book writing and illustrating.

"Alamat functions as the umbrella organization of different graphic art studios," says Alamat president Budjette Tan.

The group is composed of the graphic design studios Powerhaus Unlimited Inc., Virtual Media, Fractal Cow/Binary Soup, Imaginasian, Deranged, Exodus, and Cheap Thrills.

Their full-time hobs in graphic design are definitely an edge, for what the Alamat members practice or prefect in their project for clients, they can also apply in creating comic books.

For instance, the designers at Powerhaus Unlimited produce brochures for advertising firms, and those at Virtual Media make album cover layouts for recording firms.

Both groups practically use the same techniques in the art and layout of the Alamat comic books.

For the last three years, the Alamat comic books have been slowly carving a niche in a trade still ruled by American titles.

The first Alamat comic book was Volume 1 of "Indigo Valley" and "P-Noise" released in Alamat's flip-book format, Alamat is able to bring to readers two to three new titles in one issue.

The July 1997 second issue of Pol Medina's "Polgas Digests" included excerpts from "Angel Ace," "Indigo Valley," "Batch72" and "Tattooed".

Best Seller

"Polgas Digests" are so far Alamat's most saleable comic book, followed by "Angel Ace" which resembles the Japanese television anime "Ranma" and "Sailormoon;" the "Indigo Valley" Adventures, "ARCHON," and "P-Noise."

" `Indigo Valley` seems to attract more women than men and younger audiences as well. P-Noise and ARCHON attract more teen-age boys because they have an X-Men action-adventure feel to them," observes Tan.

Than and his comics colleagues hope to surpass the phenomenal production and sales of "Polgas Digests" of 10,000 copies, and to exceed their quarterly production of 3,000 copies.

Alamat targets the A, B, and upper-C market of high school and college students, and young professionals who are also collectors of Marvel and DC comics. Alamat titles are now in limited Metro Manila outlets and soon, the provinces.

"The market in Manila is still small, but we managed to survive, to break even and to earn a little profit," says Tan.

He and Eric Santos of Powerhaus use their own vehicles in personally distributing the Alamat comic books to the leading outlets in Metro Manila-- Filbars, Comic Quest and CATS Collectibles. Alamat comics have also reachs the bookstores-- Bookmark, National Bookstore and Booksale, among others, which usually get 20-30 percent of the comic books' cover price.

From scratch

Powerhaus Unlimited serves as the legal arm of Alamat and handles the marketing, distribution and promotion of comic books. Powerhaus' Santos and Tony Bucu supervise the management and production aspect, while Tan heads promotions.

Tan and his partners had little or no background in running a business and learned the fundamental the hard way.

"At first we ran Alamat as a college organization or a club," recalls Tan of their first year as a business.

They consulted their parents as well as relatives who were in the publishing business, and eventually learned how to use their creativity in putting the group in order.

They researched on comics publishing in the United States, conducted their own survey, and sought the advice of local distributors of Marvel and DC comics.

"We also established ties with comic bookstores and got tips through the Internet," says Tan.

For Alamat's first issue, the group members used their personal resources-- mean, money borrowed from parents or from relatives, according to Tan.

High Expectations

They presented their comic books to some publishing companies and were able to get company sponsorships for the succeeding issues of some titles.

Mega Magazine and Publications, Inc., for example, helped finance the first release of Virtual Media's action series "ARCHON" in full color. While Sterling Co., supported Apex Studio's first four issues titled Flashpoint.

The corporate sponsors, however, expected too much of the first earnings of the Alamat comics. "They expected to make millions on the first issue," says Tan.

At P60 to P90 per comic book, Alamat is cheaper compare to Marvel and DC's P120 to p150.

Bucu says that 60 percent of the cover price of Alamat comic books go to printing, which could amount to P30,000 to P40,000 per issue and excludes color separation expenses and artists' fees.

"The expenses in producing a quarterly comic book release roughly amount to P100,000," says Bucu.

To cut down on the printing cost and maintain their present market prices, only the Alamat covers are in full color; the inside pages are in black and white.

Product endorsements now also come as inserts or full-page advertisements on the Alamat comic books to cover costs.

"Sometimes we accept `x-deals` from companies like stations NU107 and MTV in exchange for some promotion for our comic books," says Tan.

Not for Money

Powehaus pays an artist a minimum of P100 per page. The artists may be a penciller, inker, or colorist.

Tan, who also writes for Alamat, says that because most of his fellow artists in the group are "doing it for the love of drawing comics," money is at the bottom of their list of reasons for getting together.

"Most of the writers and artists are doing this for free, " he says. "Any money we earn from sales, we have to put back for the next production."

Though the comic books released with the Alamat logo are made by the different studios, there seems to be no competition among them as far as the art work is concerned.

Tan and Bucu agree that the "B-factor" -- for barkada-- works for them in resolving the rivalry issue.

"The different studios in Alamat were originally barkada from their school or work and have gone through a lot together," says Tan.

The studios have been known to swap artists when the need arises, such as when an artist with a specific skill is not available in one studio. Alamat in effect is becoming an artists' pool, which Tan and Bucu attribute to Whilce Portacio who advised the studios to band together.

Pinoy and proud

Portacio, a US-based Filipino artists who made a name for himself as illustrator of "The Punisher" for Marvel's "X-Men" and "X-Factor" comics, and as one of the pioneers of Image comics. When he visited Manila in 1994, Portacio counseled the graphic studios of Tan and friends not to compete among themselves and organize under one name.

"He told us to gether under one name and under one logo," says Tan, "so that when people see this they'll say, `O, gawa ng Pinoy yan,` and they'll be proud of it."

Organizing themselves on November 3, 1994, the graphic studios picked the name Alamat, which connects the beginning of something new and promising. And their logo-- a shining sun, designed by Exodus studio's Lando Inolino jibes with their very purpose.

"We decided to use Alamat not because we're hoping to become legends, but because back in grade school our teachers used it in storytelling usually to mean the beginning or the start of something new," relates Tan.

If the brains behind the group persist with their creativity and determination, Alamat just might be a legend, too, in the Philppine comic book industry.