A candid and personal examination of the Philippine comics scene from a social, cultural, economic and business point of view.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Comics and Propaganda

A post in one of the previous articles in this blog made the sweeping and presumptuous statement that doing comics for companies "reeked" of propaganda. Probably impassioned at the moment, the poster then concluded quite hastily that he would rather do comics "HIS WAY" and for free rather than work for companies. He would rather do this, he continues, than accept dictation either from companies or anybody for that matter. Hmm. What an intriguing springboard for another article.

Flipping through my handy Oxford quick reference dictionary, I find the word "propaganda" defined as the organized propagation of a doctrine through the use of publicity and selected information. Note that no value judgments have been included in the definition. It does not say whether or not the organization or pre-selection of data to be propagaded, is evil and harmful. And rightly so considering that good people as well as bad people resort to propaganda. By itself then, propaganda simply "is". It is not "evil" per se. It would all depend on the circumstances on which it is used and for what purpose.

A religious organization wants to hire a comics creator to help make a comics story about their diocese's patron saint, copies of which will be distributed later for free to church patrons and passers-by. Is the comics creator committing a sin by engaging in such "propaganda"?

A human rights group wants to hire a comics creator to help make a comics project to inform people about the nature of human rights abuses in the Philippines and what to do about them. If the comics creator accepts is he violating some vague artist's ethic?

And then there's this group of politicians on one side who want to create little comics pamphlets calling for charter change of the 1987 Constitution, copies to be distributed for free to constituents. On the other side of the fence is another group of politicians who want to have the same free comics pamphlets but telling the same constituents to reject charter change. If the comics creator accepts both jobs and gets paid, did he commit some vile sin? Or did he help actualize the freedom of speech and expression of both camps? Giving the electorate two sides of the same coin? Indeed, what "moral code" was violated?

During the first months of martial law, the late national artist, Levi Celerio, was "commissioned" by former First Lady, Imelda R. Marcos, to conceive of a rallying song for the dictatorship's "New Society". In less than a few minutes, Mang Levi came up with the now immortal (if not infamous) "Bagong Lipunan" marching song and was paid on the spot. Was Mang Levi an accomplice or accessory to the consequent abuses committed during the martial law years? How exactly? Is the song per se morally reprehensible because it was commissioned by Mrs. Marcos?

And who could forget the late Larry Alcala's government commissioned comics character: Asyong Aksaya who was also created during Marcos' martial law regime for the explicit purpose of "propagandizing" energy conservation by ridiculing the vice of needless squandering. Did Mang Larry shortchange himself morally by "cooperating" with the energy conservation movement at the time and getting paid for it?

Then there's the "Magkaisa" rallying song of the Cory Aquino government during the early days of the EDSA revolution in 1986-87. Senator Tito Sotto I think helped compose this song which was an O.P.M. effort. Was Tito Sotto being exploited or dictated in any way at the time when he made the song?

The point of all this is to show that there is another market (and client) for comics besides entertainment and the individual purchaser. Public awareness and appreciation of the comics medium's other applications must be demonstrated. This battle for public perception is pivotal. Comics must shed its typecast image as lightweight disposable entertainment. The general public's low opinion of comics must be rectified in order to broaden the economic opportunities denied the comics creator.

If most musicians, architects, dancers, moviemakers, and yes, comics artists, have no qualms in accepting commission work from company "propagandists" as simple business transactions, then these artists are probably more professional, more well-rounded and more progressive in outlook than the few, emotionally volatile and RAW contemporaries around them. To these artists and comics creators who are not afraid to explore and try new things, this blogger salutes you. You are not merely craftsmen but "artists" in the true sense of the word.

P.S. As to the poster's other comment doubting the observation that there is more demand for information than entertainmetn content, might I suggest redirecting his attention to Alvin Toffler's "Future Shock" and "Powershift" books as excellent introductions to the topic? Most of the societal developments described therein have already come true.
In addition, you will find in the August 29, 2005 issue of FORTUNE Magazine, specifically in the article: "Can America Compete?", the succinct observation that the world economy is mostly driven by information (not entertainment) mostly through software, financial markets and media.

6 Comments:

Blogger Reno said...

Hey as the artist or writer is comfortable doing the work, then there's no prob.

IMO, the problem arises when certain publishers enforce too much as to hinder the artist's creative freedom (and by artist i also include writers). Like when publishers "force" writers to write in a certain way, or impose that artists draw a certain way (i.e. only "cartoon" or "manga" style). Things such as these limit the artists' creative freedom, oftentimes leading to sub-par work. And isn't this same creativity what these artists are paid for? Why stifle it?

1:05 PM

 
Blogger Gerry Alanguilan said...

"A religious organization wants to hire a comics creator to help make a comics story about their diocese's patron saint, copies of which will be distributed later for free to church patrons and passers-by. Is the comics creator committing a sin by engaging in such "propaganda"?

I would say yes, in certain cases. What I said was there is a "POTENTIAL" for propaganda, and I've seen comics like that in the past to know that I never want to create anything like that. I once saw a religious comic book proclaiming the greatness of their organization but at the same time putting down others, like Catholicism. That is something I don't want to be involved with.

Even if I was asked to draw the life story of a saint, it would *still* be in accordance to what history written by that church is. Which may nor may not have "altered" some facts to show the saint in *only* the good light.

I once did a comics promoting the candidacy of a mayor. That was probably one of the biggest regrets of my life because I probably helped into office a person who may have eventually become corrupt.

In creating a comic book which can be considered a "document" that reports on "fact", It should be as objective a newspaper, and should not be produced by any group that has an agenda. And this includes church groups, human rights groups, government, etc. Because truth and fact will invariably be twisted to suit that agenda, no matter how good or noble that agenda may be.

11:22 AM

 
Blogger Gerry Alanguilan said...

"The point of all this is to show that there is another market (and client) for comics besides entertainment and the individual purchaser. Public awareness and appreciation of the comics medium's other applications must be demonstrated. This battle for public perception is pivotal. Comics must shed its typecast image as lightweight disposable entertainment. The general public's low opinion of comics must be rectified in order to broaden the economic opportunities denied the comics creator."

Ah, but isn't that the dilemma that faces comics not only here but abroad? Even in a country like America where great strides have been made in the upliftment of comics as a form of literature, it is still widely perceived to be "kids' stuff".

It is my objective too to find other markets for comics other than entertainment which have not been mentioned yet. It is not the dissemination of information, but rather the pursuit of literature.

I believe comics can be a medium in which great works of art can be produced. Such great works in other mediums like film and books have been produced. And authors and filmmakers continue to push the boundaries of art in what they do.

Why can't comic book artists? There has yet to be the one "TRUE" great work of comics art in the Philippines, the work that can be put in the same leauge as the films of Lino Brocka and Manuel Conde and the writings of F. Sionil Jose and Nick Joaquin. We have yet to produce our own "MAUS".

I think the pursuit of that is a worthwhile thing. I don't know if it is within me to do that, but without trying, I will never know.

11:36 AM

 
Blogger Gerry Alanguilan said...

So if the pursuit of the upliftment of comics is to be the goal, I'm sorry, but you cannot do that if comics creators become the mouthpiece of religion, government, or any other group.

But the dissemination of information via comics is something I do not oppose. In fact, it is something I encourage. But I would hope that it's being produced by an objective third party, whose role it is to report what is really true and not compromised by any agenda.

I make no judgments on my fellow creators who have done comics that I personally wouldn't do.

But I salute those comics creators who create stories pursuing their own voice, creating art that is pure and unfettered and unhampered by nothing else than their own talent and creativity.

12:02 PM

 
Blogger Gerry Alanguilan said...

THAT is where exploration is made. THAT is were new things are waiting to be discovered.

12:03 PM

 
Anonymous Jason Enero said...

"In creating a comic book which can be considered a "document" that reports on "fact", It should be as objective a newspaper, and should not be produced by any group that has an agenda. And this includes church groups, human rights groups, government, etc. Because truth and fact will invariably be twisted to suit that agenda, no matter how good or noble that agenda may be."

I think the point being made here, is that there are no value judgments involved when an artist is made to do a commissioned "propaganda" work. If you, Gerry Alanguilan, are that stern in your convictions, then good for you. But on the whole, I don't think you have any basis to make the absolutist and sweeping remark that its a sin "in certain" cases to do comics "propaganda" work.

The comics has to be objective like a newspaper? Newspapers, depending on the publisher, are also tools of propaganda, if you didn't notice. If you want something absolutely objective, then you must ask for GOD.

The point here I think is that almost every printed matter is not objective much as we like to have it otherwise. Why? Because we're only human. Many are imperfect, yet strive for the truth. Everyone is a seeker of truth. A satyagraha, as Gandhi would put it. And in advocating their individual versions of the whole truth, they resort to...PROPAGANDA. As a comics artist, is it wrong to be a medium for that advocacy? Other mediums like tv, radio, movies, the internet are unbiased in this. Yet, we see so many propaganda in each of them. Yet in comics, its so....limited. Its not treated as a medium but more of an "artform" that is wholly limited to a comics artist's disposal. That in itself is another form of propaganda.

11:47 AM

 

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