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

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

How do you Revive the Filipino COMICS INDUSTRY?

Now that's a pretty broad topic. Let's try and analyze the question first before proceeding any further.

To begin with, what kind of comics are we talking about when we mention a COMICS INDUSTRY? Are we talking of free comics publications given by the publisher or comics creator who do not receive any profit or remuneration for their effort? We see some photocopied "indie" comics and religious or political comics being passed around for free by the comics creator and publisher. Is this the comics industry we are talking about? If in the affirmative, then why talk of "reviving" the free comics industry in the first place? Since the comics were given freely and voluntarily, and the publisher or comics creator felt no loss by such action, there is nothing to revive in the first place.

Consequently, we must be referring to those comics that are sold commercially, specifically to printed and local comics publications that are offered for sale to the general public.

Right. Comics for sale then. To continue: is the local comics industry in need of any "reviving"? In short, is it really dead? Before answering, we have to know what the term "industry" means.

My Oxford Quick Reference Dictionary defines "industry" as "a branch of production or manufacture; a commercial enterprise, concerted activity, and diligence". My same dictionary also defines enterprise as an "undertaking, especially the challenging kind; or a readiness to engage in challenging undertakings". Significantly, enterprise is further defined in the same dictionary as: a BUSINESS FIRM OR VENTURE.

Right. Its clearer now. We are talking about locally produced comics for sale; as a commercial or BUSINESS enterprise. With this in mind, we then ask the question: Is the local comics industry dead? My same dictionary gives several definitions of the word "dead": no longer alive, tired or unwell, numb (fingers are dead), insensitive to, no longer effective or in use; extinct, lacking force or vigour, quiet; lacking activity, entirely obsolete, and time of silence or inactivity.

Was the local comics industry commercially alive and well in the first place? Most definitely. Consider these facts:

In 1978, the "Illustrated Press", a trade paper of the now defunct Kapisanan ng mga Publisista at mga Patnugot ng mga Komiks-magasin sa Pilipino (Association of Publishers and Editors of Pilipino Comics Magazines or APEPCOM), cited a readership survey which found that the great bulk of local comics readers belonged to an income demographic of C and D households i.e., 38% and 41% respectively. Only 4% of local comics readers belonged to the upper A and B households, while 17% were in class E homes. This low-income C and D crowd that comprised the huge bulk of Filipino comics' readership were colloquially known as the "bakya" crowd referring to the archetype simple-minded, and less discriminating country folk who wore clogs and wooden shoes with thick wooden soles. (Source: Danny Mariano, "In the Name of the Masses", TV Times Magazine, September 10-16, 1978 issue).

In 1978, it was hypothesized that since about 2 million commercially produced komiks-magasins bearing 44 different titles appeared and were either sold or leased in the banketa (or newstand kiosk), it was assumed, albeit conservatively, that if only six people read each copy, then komiks-magasins should easily have a readership of no less than 12 million. For the komiks-magasin publishing houses this meant weekly sales of about Php 1.7 million or Php 88.4 million annually. (Source: Danny Mariano, "In the Name of the Masses" magazine article, Ibid.)

And in the decade of the 1980s, excluding the number of sex-oriented, religious and educational komiks titles, there were 47 komiks titles that appeared weekly and twice weekly clocking at Php 2.5 million a week in the mid-1980s to 3 million copies a week in 1989. Again, with a conservative estimate that only 6 people got to read each copy, we are talking of a bakya readership of from 15 to 18 million from 1980 to 1989. (Source: John A. Lent, "The First 75 Years of Philippine Komiks", Comic Book Artist Vol. 2, No. 4, Top Shelf Productions, 2004).

In 1989 specifically, again excluding sex-oriented and educational themed komiks, there were reportedly 85 weekly and bi-weekly komiks titles published by nine mainstream Filipino komiks publication companies that were all owned by the family of the late Don Ramon Roces. These companies were: Atlas Publishing Corporation, Inc., Adventures Illustrated Magazines, Inc., Magellan Publishing Company, Inc., Islas Pilipinas Publishing, Inc., Mass Media Promotions, Ace Publications, Graphic Arts Services, Inc., Counterpoint Publishing House, Inc. and Affiliated Publications, Inc. The lowest selling titles of these companies never went below 60,000 copies a week while their highest circulating titles always peaked and sometimes went beyond 175,000 copies twice a week or bi-weekly. These bestselling titles were: Pilipino Komiks, Hiwaga, Tagalog Klasiks, Espesyal, Extra, Love Story, Aliwan Komiks, Pinoy Klasiks, Pinoy Komiks, Universal and Superstar. (Source: John A. Lent, "The First 75 Years of Philippine Komiks", magazine article, Ibid.)

On the other hand, two other komiks publishers at the time namely: G. Miranda and Sons Publishing, Inc. and Rex Group of Companies, had a much lower circulation. They did not dominate the racks of the banketa newstands and kiosks like those of the Roces monopoly's above. For instance, G. Miranda and Son's top seller: Wakasan, only managed 20,000 copies a week while Rex' top title: Rex Komiks, had a top circulation of only 10,000 to 15,000 a week. (Source: Corazon D. Villareal, "Ang Industriya ng Komiks: Noon at Ngrayon", Kultura Magazine, January, 1990).

Is it any wonder then, when in 1989, the government-run Philippine Information Agency conducted a nationwide survey, and confirmed that Filipino comics had a 54% audience share over and above other media such as newspapers (37%), magazines (33%), movies (45%), and television (53%). (Source: Corazon D. Villareal, "Ang Industriya ng Komiks: Noon at Ngayon", Kultura Magazine, January, 1990 issue).

Yes Virginia of the Gen X and Y crowd, there was indeed a thriving, bustling, and alive, Filipino comics industry in the bygone years of the 20th century. Now, in these early years of the 21st century, that industry is gone. When the Roces comics monopoly fell in the late 1990s, it took everything with it.

Now in 2006, we are stuck with what--FOUR local comics producing companies: Summit (which only publishes licensed foreign comics reprints), PSICOM (which also publishes mostly foreign reprints but has of late tried testing the waters by publishing 2 black and white digest size Filipino type comics), Nautilus (coming out with less than a handful of original titles that are in English and mostly marketed to the class AB crowd) and Mango (having less than 5 titles and also aiming for the class AB and C crowd).

The comics titles of these entities come out monthly and have a circulation of presumably less than 30,000 copies (Now defunct CCCom's anime'-inspired "Culture Crash" was reputed to be the Premier Comic Book of the Philippines from 2001 to 2004 topping the 15,000 to 30,000 sales mark). Obviously, this situation is hardly constitutive of an "industry" when compared to what had gone before. With this in mind, let us consider for the moment, the present situation as indicative of a "dead" Filipino comics industry much like our movie, shoe, tourist, construction, and other industries.

Having confirmed (for the moment) that we have a dead comics industry and of having previously defining our terms, we now go back to our earlier question: How do we revive our local Filipino comics industry?

Before answering, we should consider what kind of question is being asked. Is it essentially an "art" question to begin with?

My same Oxford dictionary defines the word "art" as: "a branch of human creative skill or activity concerned with the production of imaginative designs, sounds and ideas, e.g. painting, music, writing; creative activity resulting in visual representation (good at music but not art), human skill as opposed to nature, supposedly creative subjects (esp. languages, literature, and history) as opposed to scientific, technical, or vocational subjects."

Assuming that the question is essentially an "art" problem, then the solution must surely be "art" based. "Art" after all, is universal. It is not confined to nationalistic dogma. It goes beyond cultural biases so anything foreign or alien has merit and can be shamelessly copied because from there, "something original" is sure to bloom. Also, it takes a lot of time to make a "work of art". And since its a work of art, it has no price and must surely be quite expensive to most poor people. Art should also be a "fun" activity, especially for the artist. The consumer's needs, deadlines, business considerations, and the political or economic crisis be damned. The comics artist rules supreme in this "art" world. It is his own universe and his private Idaho. Art has no rules, only the imagination of the artist. And it is precisely the imagination, the human creative skill, the imaginative designs, good stories and art, that will essentially save the day and revive our cold, lifeless, forgotten, outdated and outmoded Filipino comics industry. Really?

Look what's happening today: almost every kind of Filipino comics that came out in the stands appeared infrequently and irregularly such that we are now left with only four active comics publishers. And we're not even sure if some of them are serious in helping develop the local comics biz. Almost every local comics creator takes his precious time in creating his "work of art" because his "art reputation" and "ego" is at stake. He wants to do it himself and needs no assistants to preserve the purity of his so-called "vision". The printing facilities here in the Philippines are below par? Goodness, then we'd better go and work for the U.S., Hong Kong, Korea, or whatever country's comics industry where we'll get paid better and our work printed better. Improvise? Be resourceful? Work within the limitations? Are you kidding? And ruin my precious artistic vision? You say we're on a tight deadline to come up with a story or drawing? Hey, I know. Let's just copy those obscure American or Japanese works and put some minor alterations in there. No one will ever know. After all, you did say to be resourceful, right? Comics production should be taken as a 'fun activity' with no consideration as to cost. They are oftimes the subject of a "kiddie" school project or thesis by rich kids who lead sheltered lives. Use those slick, glossy pages, and stand-out computer coloring at all times to get that muy perfecto "work of art". We'll price it only for the few, westernized rich market segment who can afford it. Forget the mass market. They are too poor to be a market for our kind of art product anyway. Where's my friend, the vulture collector? Did he sell my original comics pages without informing me or giving me a percentage? Almost anybody can be a comics creator or artist nowadays where mediocre work is passed off as a 'work of art' because there are no objective standards in art. Everything is relative: Art, Love, Morals, so who's to judge? With that kind of passivity, with that kind of bohemian intellectual promiscuity, our local comics scene is now dominated by American and Japanese products such that almost everybody prefers them than local comics. Its not a media war, its an "art" war. Good stories and art. These two buddies will save the day. Spare me.

No wonder the local comics industry is in a rut. In my personal opinion (which again is often wrong) the problem of resuscitating a local comics industry is being approached from an essentially "artistic" point of view because the persons trying to answer the question are mostly comics artists and writers who have little or no knowledge in business, finance, economics, media analysis, licensing, marketing, psychology, law, sociology, human negotiation, and culture.

Whenever you see them get together their discussions are always based on bare conjectures or surmises, and their solutions in the form of aspirations with nothing concrete, detailed, or substantial, being placed on the table.

Their emotions or artistic "instincts" dominate their thought process; only one half of their brains operating and they mistake this as a 'solution'. The scene is quite often--pardon the pun--TRAGI-COMIC.

Do you see any other perspective--like maybe an unbiased, cold and critical business perspective, besides an emotionally-charged artistic perspective to the question? None. Are there non-artists like actual comics publishers or business developers, or bankers, or media analysts, print dealers, or marketing professionals, or advertising professionals, anthropologists, or persons with degrees (or Masters) in business administration, welcome to their 'artist-monopolized' conferences? None. Its like a long lost "sensitive" tribe that worships the concept of "art" like a mantra such that whenever you say "art" long enough you begin to sound like a dog: "Art! Art! Art! Art! Art!.."

How do you revive the Filipino comics industry? Is it essentially a BUSINESS or an ART question? Who is more competent to contribute useful insights leading to an answer or working solution to that question: a BUSINESSMAN or a COMICS CREATOR (Writer and artist)? Should we be guided more by FACTS or by PERSONAL ARTISTIC BIASES AND INSTINCTS? The answer is pretty obvious at this point.


Anonymous Joel Chua said...

Perhaps your definition of "Revive" may also help sharpen your points. Does it mean to resurrect, enliven, and/or envigorate? And to what extent given we live in an age of videogames and computers very unlike the booming 1970s and 80s?

You show that business can do the reviving and that lofty artistic notions of great story & art must take a breather in the industry's resuscitation.

I see a pulse.
You see the poison.

Who is responsible for the transfusion?

Businessmen? Men and women who will pay the costs to reach the class C & D markets efficiently?

Artists? Who will craft stories to teach & reach the same?

Quite obviously, both.

Why isn't the transfusion happening? I think it is.

You need only define what it means to be fully revived, not only dead. Shed light on why Filipino children's books, full color sequential art, have been reaching all the market groups for years, in color, and without advertising? If they have thrived because of their social & educational values then why not include your statistics of sex-oriented comics, educational comics, and religious comics in your next post?

6:20 PM

Blogger Dexter Lira said...

The reason why I got into comics was because I loved the stuff. I was supposedly good at it, so why not make money out of it while doing what I loved to do? But my experience has always been this: ask every dyed-in-the-wool business-minded-non-artist if comics is viable as a business and you will get the same reply. "No." Unless you stick to formula stories, overly standardized art, and (in my day)foreign videogame characters and WWWF wrestlers recycled just enough to barely avoid copyright infringement.

I could not survive artistically or financially on the things I didn't like about KOMIKS-- publisher-owned characters, many of which did not see print after their initial run; tired, hungry and very expendable writers, and writer artists lined up every Tuesday and Friday waiting for Godot (I had the unpleasant experience of being one for three months); stories and art styles so mass-produced that reading one mag was like reading another.

Perhaps in our zeal to differentiate ourselves from KOMIKS some of us went too far in the other direction. "Pull out all the stops! Show those old fogies what can be done with creativity, passion, willpower and a modest truckload of money!"

It's the old art vs. business debate; the komiks vs. comics debate.

What I did find out when I worked for a modest book in Marikina was something any schoolboy could have told me. Without the business aspect there can be no profitable sharing of the art (and all it carries with it) on the printed page. But without the artists there is nothing to share or peddle; very little to do but twiddle your thumbs unless you divert your modest truckload of money into real estate-- and there goes your comics industry.

You're right: If a viable strategy for "reviving Filipino comics" is to be mapped out, it can't just be us doing the planning and shooting for the moon.

7:53 PM

Blogger aklas isip said...

FEBRUARY 1, 2006

Hello Joel.

Profuse apologies. Its only now that I learned how to put on all visitor's comments. You see, ever since I was told to put on the word verification function, the spams stopped coming. But, I've also wondered why visitor's comments have not been published. Admittedly, I'm simple-minded when it comes to operating this blogging thing so I simply assumed that there were no comments. That is, until sometime January of this year I accidentally (on a whim) decided to try the search function of the blog host in getting to my blog until I found out there were comments being posted but were not being published. Its only now that I got into examining the other functions of this blog service that--wallah--your comments have been published. So far, I see only 10. But I'll try to find others--see if I missed something.

Right. Onto your comments then.

Revive? Well, as shown in the succeeding posts you will notice that I mention the comics industry of Japan which today comprises about 20% of its total national output. By that I mean "commercially sold" manga. That's a lot. Revive the local comics industry? If commercially sold local comics could at least get 5% of the Philippine's total publishing output then I'd say a "revival" would be on the way.

As to the transfusion thing: well I guess its a matter of opinion. You think there's something good happening towards a "revival", personally, I don't think it is. I may be wrong in this, but right now, the local commercial comics I see cater mostly to the more affluent or more econommically advantaged members of our society which do not really comprise a majority of the populace. I've mentioned some statistics on this on the other entries in this blog. Pointedly, I think that most of the locally sold commercial comics are beyond the reach of majority of our country whose monthly income is Php 3,950 in urban areas and Php 3,190 in rural areas. Again, I think I have statistical data on this in other entries in this blog. Divide that amount by 30 (for 30 days) and you get something like P106-131 a day, which is usually spent on transportation, education, electricity, water, clothing, food, the basic necessities of life. The lowest price for locally produced commercial comics is so far set at P75. The highest, at P850. What does that tell you?

There may be a pulse. But its sure limited to a higher economic class and to my mind, that's an undemocratic and limited market. Not even an industry. In Japan, their manga are accessible to almost everybody that is why it is able to comprise 20% of its nation's publishing output. Human expression and communication through the medium of comics is not limited to the elite rich few. With that, it is with deep regret that I do not agree with your observation that local full color sequential art have been reaching ALL the market groups for years. It may be reaching small diverse SEGMENTS of an economically advantaged market of the rich and moneyed, but an INDUSTRY it does not make. Again I refer you to the comics industries of Japan and Hong Kong.

And no, I don't think Children's books ought to be considered as part of what we categorize as "local comics" for obvious reasons. If I understand your point on this matter correctly, then I guess the reason (and I have no factual support here, just guessing and assuming your statement on this to be true) why local Children's books thrive more commercially than local comics WITHOUT ADVERTISING, is that it is basically run by good businessmen and publishers who do not limit their audience to an elite, rich few. That's why its an industry. But as I said, I'm not quite sure if Children's books are that big an industry. I think, and I am basing this statement on the 2003 nationwide survey conducted by the National Book Development Authority (www.nbdb.com.ph), I think that tagalog romance pocketbooks sell more than local Children's books. Why are tagalog romance pocketbooks selling more than local comics? Again, same answer. They are not limited to scatterred market segments within a moneyed income class. They spread it out from top to bottom, mostly to the bottom income class segment. I mean, one could always purchase at only P10 a used or even brand new tagalog romance pocketbook in some areas of the country.

On your comment about acquiring statistics on sex-oriented, educational and religious comics, I've got to tell you: ITS HARD mostly for reasons that by their very nature, they are not usually subject to open and public surveys and record. Sex oriented comics are mostly underground. Educational and religious comics are mostly given for free. When I speak of a local comics INDUSTRY, I refer to local comics that are SOLD COMMERCIALLY and in COMMERCIAL QUANTITIES. By revival, we refer not to free or underground comics but to commercially sold comics in our Philippine reading market. But hey, whenever I do get some statistics or news on these free and underground comics I would be more than happy to post them here.

As to your other point on the relevance of local print COMMERCIALLY SOLD comics in today's Information Age, I am preparing an entry on the matter I think I've mentioned some things on this in my prior entry entitled: "Examining the Digital Option", "Comics Illiteracy: Is there such a thing?", "Towards a Culture of Literacy", and to follow: "The 6 characteristics of third wave media, the Knowledge Economy, Inadvertent Content and Alan Moore".

At this point though, I'd like to say by way of advance notice on the theme of the abovementioned articles, is that despite the ongoing onslaught of third wave electronic media (i.e., the internet, 3-G cellfones, video i-pods, cable, etc.) in some countries like Japan, France and Hong Kong, these countries have a healthy local PRINT comics industry. Why is that? Part of the reason, which I am trying to explore and research on, is their culture for literacy and development of a local comics culture. That last, a local comics culture seems to be a great shield against the onslaught of media demassification going on right now. I'll be discussing on this in a future entry.

Yes, both businessmen and artists have a stake in this. But right now, there is an imbalance that I see tilted more to the latter than the former.

Well, I hope that covers it. Again my apologies for not finding the time to explore earlier the publishing functions of this blog.



4:45 PM

Blogger aklas isip said...

February 1, 2006

Hello Dexter. Sorry for my inexcusably late publishing of your comment as I've only gotten the hang of this blogging thing. Anyway, to comment on your observation that the businessmen you've talked to don't think comics are not a viable business unless you do the formulaic things you mentioned. All I can say about these so-called businessmen is that they haven't been er--"enlightened" enough about the comics biz and how to properly go about it. If what they say is correct, then I guess the Japanese, French and Hong Kong printed comics industries are one big, humongous error. I say, why not gather relevant facts and information about how these countries were able to have a thriving local comics industry? Study them and analyze them, then relate them to what is happening here in our country? For all we know, WE MAY BE DOING SOMETHING WRONG. And the culprits may be--JUST MAY BE--lousy, ego-tripping comics creators and misinformed, wannabe businessmen/publishers.

Why do I even bother with this thing called "local comics"? Well, interestingly enough in the Information Age which we are living in right now, a good comics property translates to a marketable and possibly profitable INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY that may be translated for a fee, to other mediums. Its a prickly topic, I know, but I aim to write something about this in the near future. The "image" of local comics creations are a wealth creating intangible intellectual property that has not been given due and proper consideration by most traditionally-minded comics creators and businessmen.

4:58 PM


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