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

Friday, December 09, 2005

Globalized Filipino Comics: When do the Imitators start becoming Innovators?

It does sound like an oxymoron doesn't it? A joining of two apparently contradictory terms that appear in conjunction with each other, but nevertheless expressing a truth by way of figure of speech. "Globalized Filipino Comics" is one such oxymoron.

It is simply surreal. A "Filipino" comic written in English? Check. With characters that look, act, and think like American caucasians rather than Asians or FIlipinos? Check. Settings and milieus that don't look like they're happening in the Philippines? Check. Mostly catering to kids and pubescent juveniles? Check. So-called creators majority of whom are bohemian illustrators with no real literary or work experience as visual storytellers? Check. Comics works that are largely escapist fiction and entertainment-based with no useful or substantial life message to impart? Check. Comics works that ultimately fry the brain with sweet melodramatic nothings and mundane trivialities? Check and in spades.

But if you look at it closely and reflect a bit, its not really that "globalized" at all.This blogger mockingly uses that term aware of the fact that these "globalized" Filipino comics creators are actually influenced by only TWO dominant foreign media forces at work in the country today: the United States and Japan.

If the Filipino comics today really want to be "globalized" in the truest sense of the word, why only limit their influences to the dominant mainstream media of America and Japan?

Ever since the early days of Filipino komiks in the 1940s, the creative influence of American media can be seen in Filipino comics works. For example, the superhero, romance, horror, fantasy, science fiction, and cowboy/western genres were adopted in some Filipino comics stories, with many Filipino comics illustrators drawing their characters with near caucasian and mestizo-like features. This went on up to the late 1990s when the Roces Komiks monopoly finally fell.

Yet, when compared to the great body or sum total of Filipino comics works, these influences or "copies" of American media were a small minority. If you think about it, the great body of comics works were original, were not influenced by American media, were based on adult (albeit conservative), non-fantasy adventures, epics and dramas (melodrama mostly) that were in novel or novelette format. In short, as early as the 1940s, Filipino comics works were aspiring to achieve the same lofty goals of the written novel, were written in Filipino/Tagalog, were relevant, nationalistic, and in tune with the varied tastes and preferences of the Filipino audience of their time. They were an innovative media, the source of original ideas and concepts such that other media specifically radio and television often copied or "stole" their material from the komiks. Today, however, its the reverse.

The scant few Filipino comics titles appearing on the stands today are blatantly imitative of mainstream American and Japanese media; "globalized" if you will. And its not just Filipino comics. The same creative bankruptcy is evident even in Filipino television. In a newspaper article from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Charo Santos, ABS-CBN executive vice president and channel head was recently queried on channel 2's strategy of "franchising" foreign shows to improve its programming. This means that instead of wracking your brain and spending all that money in creating new, original, innovative, and FILIPINO shows, its so much easier to take a successful foreign show and "adopt", "copy", or FRANCHISE it by giving it a Filipino version like Pinoy Big Brother or Philippine Idol. Its so ridiculously simple saving a lot of time and money. Here's what the article said in part:

"Inquirer Entertainment was reminded of a controversial statement from Wilma Galvante, GMA 7 senior vice president for entertainment, who insisted in a June 15 story that the Kapuso channel doesn't need to buy (a foreign franchise and) to get other people's ideas."

The question begged to be asked: can anyone still claim originality in the world of television.

Maloli K. Espinosa, vice president for Government, Corporate Affairs and PR, picked it up: "No one has a monopoly on originality."

Santos demurred: "Here come the intrigues...I read that story and all I can say is, more power! Kudos to those who can come up with original ideas. There is room for everyone. It's best to focus our energies on improving the quality of our (existing) programs. Kanya-kanya 'yan (We each have our own styles). Let's think of the best strategies for our respective networks." (Source: Bayani San Diego, Jr., "Charo Santos: I Choose My Battles", Philippine Daily Inquirer, June 26, 2006 issue)

Obviously, Charo Santos was copping out and waving the white flag. Roughly translated, her answer simply means, "who cares, so long as it brings in the money".

"But what is her stand on franchising? "I'm all for it. If there's a good concept from abroad that could be a hit among our viewers, I don't see anything wrong...in tweaking it to suit our culture and the needs of our viewers." She offered 'Pinoy Big Brother' as example. 'Abroad, "Big Brother" is kinda soft-porn, but we've given it a different (personality)." Since ABS-CBN couldn't possibly focus on sex, Santos said, "We centered on the housemates' personalities. You may have noticed that the big winners of "PBB" have all shown strength of character and courage. They stand for something." And they're all women." (Source: Bayani San Diego, Jr. Ibid.)

Yet, there is a spin in Charo Santos' next comment. If you blink, you'll swallow it hook, line and sinker. When asked what the overall logic is in franchising foreign television shows, Santos' answer is that Kapamilya's gameplan is to go "global". She elaborates as follows:

"When it comes to programming, we are addressing not only our viewers in the Philippines, but also FILIPINOS all over the world. And we're not limiting ourselves to TFC (The Filipino Channel) subscribers. Ten countries in Africa have bought our soaps. "Pangako sa 'Yo" and "Sana'y Wala Nang Wakas" are popular in Kenya. Jericho Rosales and Kristine Hermosa are big stars in Malaysia." (Source: Bayani San Diego, Jr., Ibid.)

Now what is wrong with that picture? What is her basis in claiming that copying or "re-formatting" a franchised foreign show for a Filipino audience in the Philippines will equally guarantee a large audience of Filipinos overseas? Obviously, there is none. Yet, Ms. Santos dishes out her hype on pure empty faith. Were these "franchised" shows like Pinoy Big Brother a hit in the ten African countries she mentioned? Obviously they weren't. Rather, it was ORIGINAL FILIPINO shows that were. Not copies or franchises, but LOCAL shows honestly reflecting the collective experience of FILIPINOS in this country with actors who don't look like caucasians, that are a hit in these ten African countries. To this blogger's mind, experiencing the honesty and originality of another culture, is more interesting to watch than viewing an imitation one's own that you always get to see everyday.

Why do you think the Korean tele-novela: "Jewel in the Palace" is such a hit here in the Philippines? Why was the mexican tele-novela "Marimar" a tremendous hit a few years back? Did these programs compromise their cultural experiences and re-formatted it to fit a "Filipino" audience? Obviously not.

Why are American comic book movies and Japanese "anime" so popular in this country? Again, did they compromise their cultural experiences and concepts and altered them to fit a "Filipino" audience's tastes? Don't kid yourself.

Yet, here we are "franchising" foreign shows in the hopes of going "global" and getting more "Filipinos" abroad to watch these franchised shows. Duh?!

Turning our attention back on the dismal Philippine comics scene you see the same thing happening with the licensed American and Japanese comics running around and of course, the few "globalized Filipino comics" peddled in the mainstream and so-called "indie" (na bale) market. Have these globalized works conquered a foreign audience already? Is that deafening silence I hear?

Culture is supposed to be a highlight of the best, a constant search of the best of what a country has to offer and at the same time maintaining its integrity as a distinct and special race. Culture is supposed to highlight what is the best in a country's music, food, sculpture, paintings, furniture, literature, games, comics, etc. so as to make it DISTINCT from other cultures. That is not what is happening today in Philippine Television, especially in the licensed and globalized Filipino comics of today.

Considering the economic hardship facing our country, you will notice that majority of these globalized Filipino comics are published by rich or economically well-off individuals: the elite. The elite who support more the culture and achievements of other countries (usually America and Japan) rather than their own. In their brainwashed limpid little minds, Filipino comics could be improved by using the English language a little more (because they have a hard time learning Tagalog finding it corny and stupid) have characters drawn a little more caucasian (instead of Asians with flat noses and brown skins) and of using foreign mainstream concepts (instead of local settings and concepts) so as to make Filipino comics as little more 21st century. Really? And what has it achieved so far? Has it revived the local comics industry?

More than anything, comics is not an object but a piece of "intellectual" property. It is more a product of the mind rather than of physical labor. If the mind is conquered, you lose your cultural integrity, originality, and your audience. Such is the globalized Filipino comics of today; an oxymoron that thrives in mediocrity, imitation, apathy, and sloth.


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