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

Wednesday, November 28, 2012


Give record enthusiasts an I-pad with 5,000 songs and they would still prefer the old vinyl with record player.

Show die-hard theater-going fans  the latest sfx laden action adventure film in blu-ray and they’d still pay tickets for an old film masterpiece’s theatrical re-release in some Metropolitan movie house or University screening; warts and all.

Tell Japanese manga readers that their favorite twenty volume manga story is now a compressed one hour cgi animated feature on the internet and they’d still maintain their loyalty to the volumes upon volumes of printed manga.

What gives? Surely the I-pad, blu-ray and cgi animation, innovative technological marvels all, can sufficiently dazzle and convert. But why are there still many of the “old school” that remain unconvinced and stubbornly maintain their loyalty and belief systems to the “old ways”? 

On an individual and personal level this could all be explained away by the saying: “Old habits die hard.”

On a broader, social level this shared “habit” by a great number of people that is often passed from generation to generation is called “Culture and tradition.”

In the Philippines, we had a local komiks “reading” culture. From the late 1940s to the 1980s, it was not uncommon to see children and adults grouped together in droves reading Filipino komiks in plain public view.

It was an accepted cultural experience shared by a great many people, majority of whom were low-income. And this patronage continued even with the advent of television, movies, video players and other forms of entertainment. Go to a bus, train or shipboat terminal, the university belt, the corner sari-sari store, parking lots, schools, and other public venues, you were sure to see this amazing sight of a group reading not English but FILIPINO komiks. It was not just Manila, but all over the PHILIPPINES.

And it was the best form of advertisement ever. Just to see your friends or other people reading together, you want to join in the experience. There were no small talk, loud music, or people dressed in ridiculous Halloween costumes to distract you like in today’s Komikons. Other times there would be two or three persons for one komik reading together. No wonder Filipinos were more literate then than they are now.

In Japan (here we go again) we see the same thing particularly in their bullet train stations where captive passengers avidly read their manga commuting great distances to and from home. Sometimes they leave a copy when they get off the train so that incoming passengers would devour them next. Its infectious and habit forming, just to see people around you reading something makes you want to join in.

The near equivalent of that experience would probably be going to the Metro Rail Transit (in Manila) in the early morning. After paying your  fare, you go join the crowd as each grab a free copy of “Inquirer LIBRE” tabloid size newspaper from the nearby stack on each station. Then, as you board your cab compartment you realize that almost everyone around you is reading the same thing as you go from station to station.

“LIBRE” is only a few pages and its articles are not that long. Its only enough for one to finish reading as the MRT train moves from its Baclaran or EDSA station to the North station at Trinoma. And passengers often leave with the copies which they distribute or share to their separate and individual destinations: office, school or home. A few others leave a copy which is picked up by incoming passengers. The whole scenario had developed into a habit.

Or, it could be going into a Jollibee eating establishment in the morning, pay for your breakfast meal, take your free and complimentary Philippine Star newspaper counter, then as you go look for an available table, almost everybody is reading the same newspaper at every corner. Again, developed as a habit for most people. 

To participate in this collective, shared and open human experience for a longer period of time, ultimately develops into a ‘cultural experience’. It becomes actually, a popular cultural experience hence the term ‘pop culture’.

Inquirer LIBRE has spawned imitators in the same MRT stations, but they are not as popular as LIBRE. Bulletin Today, another newspaper broadsheet has imitated the STAR by going for McDonald’s establishments. These experiences however, though continuous and going on since the late 1990s are not as widespread and are confined to the few urbanized cities in the country. They are an approximation of how the lowly and affordable Filipino newsprint/pulp komiks of yesteryear was a shared, nationwide and cultural reading experience.

And did you know that in the 1970s and 1980s there were more Komiks than newspapers and magazines combined? Some bestselling titles (mostly from the Roces komiks monopoly sister companies of Atlas and GASI) were appearing weekly in the hundreds of thousands. If you were selling below below 50,000 copies a week you were bound for cancellation. A Filipino writer isn’t a bestselling author if he isn’t working in the local (and monopolized) Filipino komiks industry where millions of Filipinos had a shared common READING experience.

With that backgrounder in mind, you then ask yourself: did this komiks reading culture rise out spontaneously by itself or is it just another form of “manufactured joy” deliberately planned, orchestrated and made on the sidelines by its publishers?

Put another way: Can a local komiks reading culture arise without the komiks product?

And the obvious answer is, it CANNOT. You need a corporate publishing culture behind it to create and form the pop culture.

The business or industry behind the pop culture is also a corporate (not popular) culture in itself in that its predecessors pass on their knowledge and habits to subsequent successors to ensure the longevity of the operation. The past also serves as a template for tomorrow’s formulation of new business strategies and approaches.

Contrary to what a few misinformed komikeros propagate, the business of creating/publishing  komiks as a mass media of communication and as a form of pop culture is not wholly dependent on creatives.

It may work in a komikero’s usual one-man operation which is small and limited to a cult few where income mostly goes to the creative. Not so in an honest to goodness komiks publishing enterprise.

No, the operation and business of a komiks enterprise is dependent on other disciplines besides production/creatives. These are: the business capitalist owner or entrepreneur, paid or salaried business managers, circulation managers, distributors, accountants, researchers, statisticians, banking people, professional negotiators, lawyers, public relations people, advertising people, salespeople, drivers, printers, paper and art suppliers, newsstand dealers, insurance people, and others.

In other words, without a business or INDUSTRY composed of  different multi-disciplines to create and deliver the product in the millions or hundreds of thousands of copies on a regular, continuous basis, there would be no local komiks reading culture. Manufactured joy, ladies and gentlemen. It does not arise out of thin air. It is planned and deliberate human action that makes the pop culture happen as well as sustain the business or industry behind it.

You think the late Tony Velasquez, the so-called father of Philippine Komiks and creator of ‘Kenkoy” was just a writer-artist “komikero”? He has a degree in business both here and in the U.S. He studied and he applied what he knew.That’s why he was able to position Don Ramon Roces’ ACE Publications at the forefront of local Filipino komiks publishing during the 1950s. You think if you were just an editor, or writer or artist, top management will entrust to you money to make the whole operation work on a regular basis? No way, Tina Fey.   

Such an industry and the know-how that goes along with it, creates jobs, employs people, perpetuates itself, and most important of all, is part of the national consciousness thereby garnering respect and sometimes awe from the general public.

Kill the industry or its  corporate culture and you eliminate the formation of a local komiks reading culture. You are then left with what Macoy describes as a small, sporadic, disorganized, petty and immature SUB-culture buzzing on the corner fringes of the general PUBLISHING industry like a twig or sub-branch of book publishing. 

It may remain a medium of expression for the monied, creative indie/komikero few, cheering tearfully at the brief sound bites from tv or radio coverage or praise from their American or Fil-AM comic gods that  it gets once in a while, but it stops right there. Since the 1990s it has NEVER grown into a bona-fide, publicly acknowledged INDUSTRY nor has it spawned a local komiks reading culture. Yet you hear the usual b.s. from some delusional komikeros going: “Oh look, we got another mention at HERO-TV, God, we were covered by GMA and ABS-CBN again, the EISNER awards just nominated a “Filipino” indie comic! Mark Millar is coming to Manila because we won the vote and look, he’s endorsing Filipino artists! YABBA-DABBA-DOO! WE’RE AN INDUSTRY!” What logic. If that’s what it takes to be an industry these days, Tony Velasquez must be turning in his grave right now.

What this has succeeded in doing is inspire a sub-culture of a do-it-yourself (DIY) hobby. That hobby is creating your own “artform” of mostly unedited photocopy comics for limited distribution for a limited audience at usually expensive prices, at once in a blue moon Komikons. Komikons that are attended mostly by anime’ cosplayers and vendors of second-hand U.S. comics and action figures, who don’t really give a rat’s ass about indie/komikero comics. THIS is a local komiks INDUSTRY? THIS is a popular komiks reading culture? Eyes roll and facepalm PLEASE. 

It is not even an industry that provides employment to multi-disciplinary people. Rather, it prides itself with having all the money go to the creator-distributor-publisher. It may not immediately put food on the table nor is it a source of regular income, but it does the job of nourishing one’s individual vanity. 
Why did this happen? Where are those corporate suits to replace the fallen Roces komiks monopoly of yesteryear? WHERE IS THE CORPORATE CULTURE? Where are the business plans? The strategies? The kind of media people to make this work? WHAT HAPPENED TO THE KOMIKS READING POP CULTURE of yesteryear?

A possible explanation in Part 3.


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