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

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Does this look familiar?

The Philippines and Mexico have a lot in common. Foremost of which is that both countries were former colonies of Spain, both were trading partners during the Spanish period of colonization, both essentially share the same taste and style of food, both are among the world's top providers of overseas contract workers, both have a shared history with the United States, both excel in the sport of boxing and cockfighting, and most importantly, both are STILL poor, third world countries.

Yet, unlike the Philippines, Mexico still has one thing the Philippines doesn't. The Philippines had this before, but now its gone. Just take a look at these news reports gathered by this blogger from, of all places, a christian comics website at Comix35.gospel.com:

"The Foto Novela is much like a comic book but only smaller in size, about 4 x 7 inches. The size makes it easy to carry your pocket or purse. In Mexico, thousands are printed every week and it is estimated that three people read each one. The common theme of the secular Foto Novela is violence, romance, glamour, riches and sex. The themes espoused by the Soaps on TV. It is estimated that one third of the population of Mexico's 80,000,000 people read this type of literature. Since 1987, Harvest of Life has offered a Christian alternative the saving message of Jesus Christ packaged in this format. Millions of Foto Novelas of varying Christian themes and testimonies have been printed and hundreds of Latinos have come to know Jesus as Savior." (From the Harvest of Life web site, 2001)

"Kaliman is a legendary hero born in the Mexican radio broadcasting industry, where his extraordinary and most appealing adventures published in comic books have maintained in more than thirty consecutive years weekly issues for over one and a half million copies, just in the Latin American, Spanish speaking market, with a 75% figure appertaining to Mexico, for a grand total to date, of more than one billion copies, which is without a doubt a worldwide record for a comics hero in his own weekly magazine." (From the official Kaliman web site, 2001)

In the recent presidential election in Mexico, the ruling PRI party handed out comic books, chronicling the "rags-to-riches" story of their candidate, as part of their campaign. (From an article in CQ Magazine, Sept 2000)

"Historietas [Mexican comic books] are written by working-poor comic book artists who have one audience in mind: their working-poor neighbors. The comics come cheap at three pesos (30 cents) a copy and are pocket-sized to accommodate a reader's daily life spent traveling long distances to work. The biggest hits among many weekly series are El Libro Vaquero, featuring Wild West cowboys and Indians; La Familia Burron, not unlike The Simpsons; and Sensacional, sexual exploits staged in popular locales. From ubiquitous perches on newspaper stalls, the comics boast jaw-dropping covers ... in eye-catching magenta and yellow. All titles combined sell an estimated 5 million copies per week; sales in the U.S. and Central America easily double this figure. I have seen bus drivers swap copies at red lights; workers read over each other's shoulders during breaks; a girlfriend snag a Sensacional out of her boyfriend's hands." (From a Village Voice article, Feb '99)

"Mexican historietas [comic books] are not what (U.S. readers) may expect. Their audience is neither young nor male. Their stories are usually set in an entirely familiar world, rather than some alternate universe, and it is a world without superheroes. Historietas are not sold in specialty stores but, instead, share newsstand space (and readers, as well as a whole set of consumer expectations and criticisms) with similar periodicals ... Historietas are tremendously popular (even in 1990, after two decades of declining circulation, eight of the ten bestselling periodicals were comic books), and their popularity cuts across lines of region, age, gender, and even class. They can be purchased cheaply and quickly on the street corners of any good-sized town all over the country. There are a daunting number of comic books available at these corner newsstands ... Because of their small size and light weight, comic books are easily portable, making them an everyday sight in public places like bus stops and barber shops." (From A Political History of Comic Books in Mexico, 1998)

"More comic books are consumed per capita in Mexico than in any other Latin American country... El Heraldo de Mexico, the daily newspaper with the largest circulation, says it prints 200,000 copies of its paper each day, yet... two of the most popular comic books sell 1.3 million copies a week - each. In addition, about five million other comic books are sold here every week - with each copy passed around to many readers." (From an English language textbook used in Japan in the mid-1990s)

The Mexican comics industry, along with the Japanese, Taiwan, French and Hong Kong comics industries deserve serious study and observation. Unlike what's happening now in our country, you don't see the Mexicans using a foreign language to tell its stories, nor are their comics expensive, or their target market the socio economic elite of their country.

Most importantly, you don't see their comics being priced expensively as vanity projects with negligibly small print runs and sold in few, hard-to-find or out-of-the-way "specialty stores". You don't see Mexican comics being published by mostly rich male students or subcontractor comics artists working for U.S. mainstream comics, or advertising employees, cultishly calling themselves "indies" but are really pale imitations of American mainstream comics and Japanese anime'. You don't see people in the Mexican comics industry whose priority is propagating their own unintelligible and personal expression of "art" later getting dubious awards from critics or book circles.

Maybe there's a lesson there somewhere?


Post a Comment

<< Home