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

Sunday, October 14, 2007


And now the fun begins.

September 14, 2007 has come and gone, Caparas’ five (5) mainstream komiks titles have finally debuted. Some have been renamed and covers interchanged at the last minute. The deadly five by the Massacre King are: Super Funny Komiks, Gwapo Komiks, Klasik Komiks, Estudyante Komiks and OFW Super Stories.

All in just Php 10.00 a piece, with colored coated covers, 32 black and white interior pages and in class B newsprint paper, it was originally announced that the titles would debut on September 4, 2007.

Due however to an alleged high and unexpected pre-order rate from newsstand dealers all over the country, the launch date was moved back to September 14, 2007 in order for Caparas’ publisher, Sterling Paper Products Enterprises, Inc., to rush and print additional copies amounting to about 600,000 for all the five titles. And that’s just an initial print run on the first issue as the supply still can’t keep up with the demand.

At present (2007), there are approximately 88.7 million Filipinos with a conservative 54 million Tagalog/Filipino reading audience aged 16 to 45 comprised of mostly women from the lower income bracket. What is an initial weekly print run of 600,000 copies to 54 million potential komiks readers nationwide ANYWAY?

The second issues of all five titles came out September 28, 2007 (Friday) preceded by another week long delay. A you tube video (Caparas Komiks Issue 2), finds Sterling Vice President for Marketing, MARTIN CADLUM, explaining that they were “re-packaging” the titles (whatever that means). The third issue came out also after a week-long delay.

Still, the consensus is that almost all the titles were pre-sold and sold-out to newsdealers all over the country. That means, for each copy that was “pre-sold” to the newsdealers, Sterling was already assured of pay even before the titles went to print.

And by pre-sold, we don’t mean that Sterling was paid the whole Php 10.00 cover price. Rather, the copies were sold to local dealers and distributors at discount in order for the latter to re-sell them at cover price to the public. Once sold, the dealers and distributors then pocket the difference. Unsold copies are returned.

Let’s say on the further assumption that Sterling just got a Php 2.00 net share from the 600,000 pre-sold copies. That is, after deducting operation costs. Let’s further assume that the unreturned copies on the first issue is a conservative 75% of 600,000, or 450,000 copies. 450,000 multiplied by Php 2.00 is Php 900,000 net. Assuming further that it’s the same figure on the 2nd weekly 5 title run, that’s another Php 900,000 for a total net income of Php 1,800,000.

And they didn’t even have to wait six months either for sales reports to come in first before collecting. The change of hands and money happened DURING the time copies were passed from publisher to newsdealer at the port area, Manila where most of the country’s Tagalog news tabloids hold office. It is here where dealers and agents congregate every day near midnight to purchase on discount their quota of Tagalog news tabloids for national distribution. Its that fast. Its that convenient. Its that quick. Never underestimate the power of small change. When put together, they can overwhelm you. That’s inexpensive, mass-market Filipino comics for you.

Even if there are some cases where dealers accept the copies on consignment basis and pay Sterling the discounted price only after the copies are sold, the waiting time does not go beyond two months.

Oh, and did we forget to mention advertising revenue? Other Sterling products are occupying the titles’ ad space at present. But give it a few more months when these titles have finally established a regular and consistent weekly readership and an impartial statistical audience profile is made on them that,its no surprise if the high paying cellphone and fastfood companies come in. When you get these accounts, you’re locked for a minimum six month ad subscription revenue.

And what about the Massacre King himself? We almost forgot about him. How does he benefit from all of this outpouring of love and good cheer? Well, two of his komiks features: “Kroko” and “Gagambino” have already been sold or optioned off to the two rival television networks ABS-CBN and GMA-7, at a time when these features have just started.

Those in the know rightly wager that the other “nobelas” in Caparas’ komiks, written by the clique of Elena Patron, R.R. Marcelino, Nerissa Cabral, Rod Santiago, Hal Santiago, Vic J. Poblete, Gilda Olvidado and (drumroll) the instigator of this whole shebang: Joe Lad Santos, will get the same treatment with Caparas getting a possible share in the percentage or another “business” arrangement. Brilliant, no? What a MASSACRE.

Sterling and Caparas would probably deny these assumptions and even claim that there’s no money coming in. That’s natural. In this early stage of the game you don’t want anybody else joining the party.

But in all this explosion of good fortune, old-time camaraderie and world peace, there lurks, as always, a problem. Let’s summarize the events that have gone so far in this ongoing sitcom.

The media hype and public awareness of local komiks that kicked off early this year (2007) has been so successful that even President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo gamely took part by awarding Caparas a presidential medal of merit for just making 800 plus Tagalog komiks nobelas regardless of whether or not they were any good. In return, a grateful Caparas endorsed the Administration’s senatorial candidates during his nationwide komiks caravan. The funny thing is that, as a result almost all except one of these candidates lost the May, 2007 elections.

Be that as it may, the five komiks titles finally came out despite delays and the threat of global warming, with many unemployed komiks professionals of the past getting off their rockers and strollers, cheering and jumping for joy that they’ve finally started reviving a moribund local comics industry.

Initial sales seem to be doing pretty well sans some unimportant technical nitpicking and petty intrigues unsuccessfully sowed in the internet by the jealous and disgruntled “love-drunk” purveyors of expensive, hard-to-find, low print-run, artsy-fartsy, and pretentious globalized Filipino comics, calling themselves: “indies”. We say this because right now other people are seriously considering joining the bandwagon and publishing inexpensive, mainstream Filipino comics of their own under the same format and style set by Sterling/Caparas. Hallelujah, sis-boom-bah.

But after patting yourselves in the back silly, you have to ask yourselves one question: how long can you maintain the momentum? To rephrase that: How long can you keep a relic of the 2oth century Roces komiks sweatshop operation going?

Already there are reports of ramblings in the Caparas camp, the writers and artists are complaining that 5 mainstream komiks titles are not enough to contain all of them who sorely need steady, income-generating jobs; that the five titles are unduly monopolized by long-running nobelas whose favored few and selected creators are assured of steady income though at a measly page rate of from P300 to P800 a page. The rest however, are stuck with four page short stories that take their turns in appearance, interspersed by a long wait during intervals.

Naturally, there’s some behind the scenes jockeying and politicking going on that are highly likely to foster discontent and ill-will, affecting the quality of work being done. And when the quality of work is affected, it will not be long before the volume and quantity suffer as well. Pretty soon there’s the very real possibility that the whole business operation will go down the drain.

You say you got the dealers and distributors right under your thumb? They’re at your beck and call? You control them (for now)? Well brother, it won’t do you any good if your team of freelance creatives are ill-managed from the start by an outdated, informal, and exploitative sweatshop system. Abante Komiks part two.

Where are the new ideas in this set-up? Why aren’t they coming in? Why is it always the same, tired old faces? Why do lousy and recycled features dominate? Why is it like a rigid pyramid? Why are all good and bold ideas being blocked? Why is everything so informal, no contracts, no legalities, no incentives based on merit? Why are all these economically challenged and mostly geriatric komiks creators desperate to join and help maintain an obvious sweatshop system? Why do they put a premium on the average and the mediocre while still maintaining a happy face? Why is there an aching, gnawing distance between the old and new comics creators, no real communication, close-minded and still distrustful of each other? Why are these idea men A-1 gluttons for punishment?

To quote Shirley Bassey and the Propellerheads: “They say the next big thing is here, that the revolution's near, but to me it seems quite clear that it's all just a little bit of …history repeating.”

Want to know how a coercive monopoly starts to destroy itself from within when it’s the only player in town? Come watch the massacre. The show’s just starting.


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