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

Friday, October 27, 2006

Pardon my French, but should a Filipino comic be in English?

Sacre blue. What does Jose Rizal's writing the Noli Mi Tangere in spanish got to do with the idea of writing Filipino comics in English?

If I remember my Rizal course right, the Noli and the Fili were written in spanish because Rizal was primarily venting his ire at the ruling socio-economic elite of Philippine society at the time. In other words, the spanish talking elite were his target readers.

You think majority of oppressed and discriminated Filipinos in the 19th century were well educated and well versed in the spanish language? Historians and frequent columnists of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Ambeth Ocampo and Manuel Quezon, Jr. don't seem to think so. And they have historical data and research to support this.

Rizal in fact, so wanted the Noli translated later into TAGALOG so that the greater number of Filipinos could also read it and be aware of the country's oppressed state. But Rizal wrote the Noli first in spanish as an opening salvo against the ruling spanish elite. That was the motive.

So deep was the love of Rizal for his contry's language that not only had he asked his elder brother Paciano's help in translating the NOLI into "tagalog", but that he (Rizal) was later hard at work on his third unfinished novel using the same TAGALOG language. Not English. Not Spanish. Not Tag-lish. TAGALOG.

There may be a hundred different dialects in the Philippines but no matter what you say, the fact of the matter is, most Filipinos can read and understand BASIC and SIMPLE tagalog. EVERYTIME kids go to school and recite the 'Panatang Makabayan' or sing the National Anthem, it is almost always in TAGALOG.

Many Filipinos know their local dialects and may love it more than TAGALOG but when it comes to reading a cheap and well written or drawn TAGALOG comic, chances are you will see MAJORITY of them more than capable of reading and understanding it.

True, Cebuanos, Ilonggos, Bicolanos and others may have an intense preference for their local dialect but in actual fact, majority of print publications that are circulating nationwide right now (especially Tabloid newspapers and Tagalog romance pocketbooks) are not in these dialects, but in the TAGALOG dialect. This tells you that no matter what region of the country you are from, MOST (not all) can understand TAGALOG. MOST (not all) Cebuanos, Ilonggos, Pampanguenos, Ilocanos, etc. can read and understand the simple tagalog that was prevalent in the TAGALOG komiks of yesteryear.

Have you ever seen a long-running nationwide (not regional) print publication in Cebuano? Ilocano? Pampangueno? Ilonggo? NO? They're always limited in circulation WITHIN their regional territory right? You cannot say the same with the TAGALOG language. THAT is your mode of communication.

Knowledge of the English language is in decline right now in the Philippines. It was the headline in major broadsheet newspapers last June, 2006 during the opening of school season. Our country's declining quality of the education was blamed as the culprit (i.e., ill-trained and lowly paid teachers, inadequate classroom facilities, lack of classrooms, few textbooks, error-ridden textbooks, rising cost of tuition fees, etc. etc.)

So on the issue as to why many people find it weird to encounter a so-called 'Filipino comic" written in ENGLISH nowadays? Now you understand.

For the life of me, I find it really strange and alienating to find "indie" Filipino comics dealing in American "Hip-hop" gangster culture with local characters wearing trenchcoats and talking in near perfect Afro-American slang. Or of "Dargon Ball Z" inspired fight scenes with Anime' looking characters in mid-air talking in faulty dubbed English.

You can still be Filipino and convey the collective experience of being a Filipino while writing comics in English or Spanish? Well, you may be right if your main audience is the socio-economic and westernized elite few in our society.

But your ideas and thoughts no matter how well-meaning or nationalistic or entertaining, will never be understood or shared by the greater many who truly matter because it is they who need it the most. Ultimately, you're only maintaining the status quo which has got to change in the first place. Why can't comics people in this country and in this century, take as an objective the aim of enriching and developing our shared knowledge of TAGALOG by incorporating words from Ilocano, Bicolano, Ilonggo, Cebuano, etc.? Why the fascination with English and calling it a "Filipino" comic?

Its been a century now, and Rizal's call for the Filipino's love of country, language, and to better one's self through education is as relevant today as it was then. The players, the stage and the props are different, but the essence of the struggle is still there. And if that's too dumb, too simplistic, too "masa" for you, then pardon my French.


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