Rediscovering the ‘komiks’ wellspring
By Oliver Pulumbarit, Inquirer
Last updated 01:12am (Mla time) 06/25/2007

MANILA, Philippines - For decades, komiks was generally known as weekly Tagalog anthologies on newsprint, an alternative form of entertainment carried in dozens of differently-themed titles. The medium thrived, enjoying a diverse audience. But now it is slowly vanishing from the newsstands.

These days, small publishers and indie comic book creators release stories and graphic novels on their own, attracting a different set of readers.
The revival of the multi-genre komiks medium, supported by the government, was discussed during the first Komiks Congress held in February. This was met with mixed reactions by the komiks-creating community.

The following month, komiks scribe-turned-filmmaker Carlo Caparas launched his "Komiks Caravan" script-writing seminar tour, an endeavor backed by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. Caparas and his wife Donna Villa put up prizes amounting to P300,000 for the most promising creators.

Crossing over

Komiks characters have been crossing over to other entertainment venues. TV translations of komiks classics "Darna," "Captain Barbell," and "Bakekang" have done well ratings-wise, along with original fantasy shows such as "Mulawin," "Encantadia" and "Atlantika," according to Lilybeth Rasonable, GMA 7's assistant vice president for drama.

"Viewers have come to appreciate high-quality programs," said Rasonable. "Housewives used to be the core audience for soaps. But with fantasy shows, we now have kids and male adults giving the ratings extra push. There are so many classics by creative geniuses like Carlo Caparas and Mars Ravelo that we producers can modernize and offer to the new audiences."

ABS-CBN has similarly tapped into older material, examples are "Kampanerang Kuba," "Pedro Penduko" and "Panday." The long-running "Komiks" has also adapted old stories such as Liwayway magazine's "Agua Bendita."

Kylie Manalo, co-executive producer of "Komiks: Adventures of Pedro Penduko," agreed that published stories can be made into watchable programs. "A fantasy show is expensive to produce but ... we enjoy making them," she said.

Filomena "Luming" Coching (widow of Francisco V. Coching, "Dean of Filipino Illustrators"), Regie Ravelo (daughter of late luminary Mars Ravelo, who authored over 300 komiks novels), Gerry Alanguilan (online komiks museum curator, and creator/self-publisher of "Wasted" and "Elmer") and Carlo Vergara (author-illustrator of the acclaimed "Zsazsa Zaturnnah" graphic novel) recently shared with Inquirer Entertainment their thoughts on the art form, its cross-media transcendence and recent developments aimed at resuscitating the industry.

What is the significance of the Komiks Congress to readers and creators? Are you optimistic that this will lead to a real revival?

Coching: Yes, I'm optimistic that it will. Before other forms of entertainment, the comic book was a part of many people's lives. The Komiks Congress could accomplish a revival, with the help of the NCCA and Carlo Caparas.

Vergara: While I feel that [it] was very promising for the industry, I wish that specific action points to jump-start the process [had been tackled]._You have to look at it from a business point of view. If a story is entertaining, it will sell. You can put whatever lessons you want to teach in a well-written story that entertains._What's imperative is to train creators ... We have a lot of talented artists here; it's important to teach them to actually put together a comic book.

Ravelo: Any sincere effort to revive the komiks industry is welcome. There are a lot of talented writers and illustrators, old and current. A lot of Carlo Caparas' contemporaries are still alive. These are the people who would be tapped first, the very people who were displaced when the industry took a nosedive.

Alanguilan: I greeted the news of this Komiks Congress with much optimism and enthusiasm. It seemed at the time to be the first serious concerted effort to revive the komiks industry. By "komiks," I mean the inexpensive Tagalog comics geared for the masses and distributed nationwide. These ceased to exist with the closure of the komiks department of Atlas Publishing in 2005._I am part of a younger generation of creators who have been self-publishing for 15 years and who have managed to get a new industry going based on new concepts. I strongly feel that if the komiks industry were to be revived, our voice [is] important. Sadly, there was little opportunity to get heard [during the congress]. I feel that there was more grandstanding than real work that went on, which was very disappointing.

What do you think of Carlo Caparas' efforts?

Alanguilan: Personally, I am very glad that he put up P300,000 of his own to help in the effort. But to proclaim, "Buhay na ang komiks," that was a bit frustrating. I think you can say that only if komiks are again being published nationwide._Still, it's great that ... the Komiks Caravan, the writing seminars, are creating [enthusiasm] in a generation that didn't even see the komiks industry at its peak.

Ravelo: Will he be publishing komiks soon? We have several excellently written and illustrated komiks in the can. If Mr. Caparas is interested ...

Who, to you, is the foremost creator of Filipino komiks?

Alanguilan:For me, it's Francisco V. Coching. No offense to Mr. Caparas, who has been given the title Komiks King, and who, in fact, has done much worthwhile and memorable work for the industry and pop culture in general.

Coching: Carlo Caparas has earlier admitted that he's a fan of my husband's.
Since translations of "Darna" and "Zsazsa" to other media are other people's takes, what compromises did you have to deal with?

Vergara: There are bound to be compromises, but as long as the essence doesn't change, then it's good. I had no involvement with the "Zsazsa" play, but it was a direct translation, so 90 percent of the lines were left intact! It's easier for theater, because the suspension of disbelief is absolute.

Ravelo: My family and I are very pleased with the commercial success of the teleserye versions of "Darna" and "Captain Barbell." A lot of Mars Ravelo fans complained about how completely different they were from the original materials. But as much as we wanted to retain the story lines, we are obliged to give the network a free hand in creating their own updated versions. We understand the ratings game.

How rich a source are comic books for stage, cinema and television material?

Vergara: It can be a rich source, but only if people are excited to read a material, because that's for the producers to pick it up. With "Zsazsa," it started with people passing it around.

Ravelo: The "Lastikman" series will soon be shown on Channel 2, and negotiations with Channel 7 are underway for "Dyesebel." Even before TV took over as the top entertainment option for many Filipinos, we were a "reading people" because of komiks. My father wanted to impart the highest values to the lowest tiers of society, with komiks as literature. He lived and died for komiks.

Coching: Most of my husband's creations were made into movies by Sampaguita Pictures, Premier Productions and other film companies. He wrote and drew his own stories, so he got sole credit for the properties. During Martial Law, paper became expensive and some things weren't allowed to be in the stories. His "Aagos ang Dugo" was changed to "Sa Ngalan ng Batas." He stopped doing comics in 1973. He felt disappointed, maaaring tinamad na siya. He didn't want to work for American companies. Of his 56 novels, 50 became movies that were commercially successful. His "Pedro Penduko" aired as a series on ABS-CBN. The station has asked for synopses of his old novels, hopefully for revival.

Alanguilan: Komiks being a source of material for TV and movies only goes to show its importance in our culture. I would like to see new ones like "Zsazsa" translated for TV. My concern is the lack of compensation for the artists involved. It's a collaborative medium, the product of the efforts of both writer and artist. When their work is translated to a different medium, they should be given equal credit, and benefit financially.