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

Sunday, March 18, 2007

That NCCA Komiks Congress Art Exhibit

It was sometime during the last week of February, 2007, when the business for the day was over and done with, that I managed to pass by the widely publicized and much hyped Filipino comics art exhibit. This once in a lifetime call to arms was holding court at the ground floor lobby of the NCCA (National Commission for Culture and the Arts) Building in Intramuros, Manila.

It was 4:30 in the afternoon and the place was about to close. I was probably the last visitor for the day but the security guard let it pass and allowed me in. The exhibit was immediately and conveninetly to the left as you went past the entrance. The lights were dimmed and I was the only one around. It looked more like a Filipino comics art "mausoleum" than a museum (seriously).

The exhibit occupied a significant corner of the lobby; pieces of comics artwork mostly in illustration boards were tacked on the wall each categorized and labeled under the name of the comics artist who drew them. I eagerly turned my attention to the first batch nearest but it was just too darned dim. You just couldn't help but go back and ask if some of the lights could be turned on. Someone obliged and after a feigned expression of gratitude, I started my scrutiny.

The works that left a lasting impression, even to this day, are the following: Alfredo Alcala (muy magnifico), Jess Jodloman, Jun Lofamia, Lan Medina (tres tres bien), Randy Valiente (everybody's favorite "rebel"), Hal Santiago, Vic J. Poblete (Yes, he began as a comics artist but eventually stuck to full-time writing), and the "Dean" of them all: Francisco V. Coching. The rest, well, let's just say they're still the rest. And they need one, too.

C'mon, people. This is NOT a "pen and ink" art exhibit but a COMICS ART exhibit.

Why the "pin-ups"? WHERE'S THE "SEQUENTIAL" ART?

The reason why I cite only a few above is because they were the only ones WHO KNEW WHAT THEY WERE DOING AND DOING IT WELL.

Each had their own art "styles", each were obviously trying to "outdo" the other with the usual "my art dick is bigger than your art dick" schtick, but the point is, these few people UNDERSTOOD that comics is not an "artform" per se, but a unique LANGUAGE that uses words and a SERIES of images or pictures not just to entertain, but to compel the reader to take some time to look at the page, scrutinize it, make him think a bit, and to let the series of images and words clearly convey an emotion or an idea, that is BETTER than all other prevailing mediums of communication.

I mean, I went to this exhibit expecting to see some actual comics pages where we not only get to see the now defunct "traditional" art styles of Filipino comics artists, but most importantly, HOW these artists use their much hyped art skills in entertaining us THROUGH an organized combination of words and pictures.

Instead, what I got was mostly pin-ups and single images of fantasy creatures, cartoons, barbarian poses, foreign superheroes, a rip-off of a Richard Corben cover art for WARREN Publications' "Eerie", poorly conceptualized local superheroes, and...that's it. I wish I could say more, but if you believe that less is more, then this is definitely LESS.

It's really disappointing. A "personal major disappointment' as a famous "Fil-Am" comics artist would say. Even the young artists today emulating Japanese anime' and American superhero comics, are into "pin-ups". What does this all mean? For my money, it is quite simply, that we are surrounded by mediocre "artist-technicians" and not "comics sequential artists" with a creative and innovative mind of their own. We are surrounded by MEDIOCRE, unthinking, uncreative "laborers" who are largely dependent on someone else telling them what and how to organize a combination of words and pictures on a comics page.

And get this: these traditional artist (and writer) technicians are being fed by the idea that they are entitled to MORE recognition and MORE pay through "royalties". This, when in a simple exhibit, they are unable to demonstrate how the local comics MEDIUM can be better than all the other prevailing and competing mediums of communication.

In today's media battle, you need talent and brains BEYOND the technical skills of drawing, rendering, layouting, lettering, coloring, etc. Unfortunately, that is not what I saw from the so-called "comics art" exhibit at the NCCA. Even the interim President of the Komiks Congress, former komiks writer and now "Direk" Carlo J. Caparas, aka "The MASSACRE KING of Filipino Exploitation Movies" had his own work displayed in this "comics art" exhibit: a huge pen and ink drawing of a barrio scene redeemed by an impressive and ornately designed wooden frame.

I heard that the 'Massacre King' took several years to finish this "masterpiece" as he only did it whenever he found time-out from his busy film schedule. How inspiring. And yet, how out of place.

And, oh wow. The exhibit is going on a "caravan" tour in the hopes of getting people "interested" again in buying and reading local komiks when there are actually NO local and "traditional" komiks being published. (scratch scatch)

We need people to understand from the outset that local komiks is a unique and one of a kind MEDIUM. It needs to attract at this critical time, independent, original, and creative local comics creators. It is not a pen and ink art exhibit. What kind of people do you think will enter the field through this kind of a caravan?

After looking over the last batch of "paintings", I managed to run through the guest list of the exhibit. Flipping through its pages, you find that most of the comments were in praise of these comics artists' art styles calling them the best, the greatest, and one of a kind. That put a smile on my face.

As I walked out of the NCCA Building, I couldn't help thinking that despite that personal setback at the exhibit, there is still some reason, some faint reason, to be optimistic. And that is, the hope and admiration of other people that inspire you to do your best even when you know you're at your worst.


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