Sunday, August 13, 2006

On Komiks and Manga

One of the blogs I follow regularly is Gerry Alanguilan's. Gerry is a comicbook artist, formerly the inker on Superman comics and currently creator and publisher of the quirky Elmer. More importantly, Gerry is also the custodian of our unique heritage that is komiks by way of his Philippine Comics Art Museum.

A few days ago, Gerry posted a long essay on "The Filipino Comics Artist and Manga". I thought it was an important piece because it tackled the differences between komiks -- Filipino comics done in the manner of traditional Filipino artists -- and manga -- comics done in the Japanese fashion. To a wider extent, it also touched on the Filipino identity, one which finds expression in comics. That's why I'm a little surprised that there's not much feedback on the issue on the local comics-oriented blogs. Perhaps all the action is taking place in discussion forums elsewhere; unfortunately, I don't participate in those.

Gerry's analyses deserve some comment. As a longtime reader of comics and komiks, here's my attempt at a response. Mind, it's helpful to read Gerry's original post before you proceed.

Now, it seems like such a trivial discussion, this thing between komiks and manga. What's the fuss? They're both only comics and they're both kid stuff, after all, right?

Not exactly. Comics as an art form are an important part of a nation's culture and heritage. They may not get the same level of academic credibility as poetry or sculpture or painting; in fact, comics are very masa and that's why they're crucial as art. Comics represent the tastes and sensibilities of the larger cross-section of the people; that, in turn, reflects their identity.

The conflict stems from the entry of manga into the Filipino comics scene. Manga originated from Japan and is distinctively Japanese. It's become very popular worldwide and has taken deep roots in a dedicated fanbase. The Philippines is a significant part of that.

Spurred on by the popularity of its close cousin anime, the manga art style has become so popular that almost all of the new Philippine comics that have come out recently have been done in that vein.

Gerry laments: manga, a foreign influence, is edging out our native comic art styles. Are we in danger of losing yet another part of our identity and our culture?

Quoting from the essay:
...as a Filipino artist, I find it inappropriate to use a style that is so uniquely a product of Japanese culture and history, and indeed any art style that is the product of the culture and history of any other country, to create comics and then call it “Philippine made comics”. I only make a distinct example of manga because as I have carefully demonstrated, it is the strongest and most recognizable "group style" in comics

And a little later:
In this kind of environment, few people will ever be inspired to create something new and fresh. Few people will try to walk their own path, busy as they are being careful to follow the footsteps of others. We will never be originators, inventors and innovators. We will never be trend setters that set the standard for other people to follow. We will always be the followers.


I can appreciate where Gerry is coming from. Comics, as I've said, do form part of our identity, and to disregard our native forms would be a great loss.

For the most part, though, Gerry focuses on the art styles. There are other dimensions that Gerry doesn't cover. While I don't profess to have the definitive word on these aspects of comics, they might be worth investigating in order to get a more complete picture.

First is the matter of the audience. Comics get published because they have a potential market of buyers. Perhaps more accurately, comics of a certain type get published because the publishers think they have that potential market. I think that rule applies to manga-style Philippine comics as much as it does to the traditional komiks.

The first manga-style comic to hit the bookshelves was Culture Crash, and it was very popular with its audience. To this day, fans remember it with some wistfulness. Culture Crash ultimately folded, more as a a result of business decisions rather than a lack of readers. What's surprising to me is that it lasted as long as it did. Culture Crash featured no ads whatsoever, so presumably all their income derived from sales. If someone has a more complete story on this, I'd love to hear it.

These days, you have other manga-style comics. The art of Mango Jam clearly has some Japanese influence. So does Cast, to a lesser extent, possibly through the circuitous route of W.I.T.C.H.. A newcomer, Neo Comics, introduced two titles, Epics and Fables.

Honestly, I don't care much for this current crop of local offerings. That, however is beside the point. These comics see the day because their publishers and advertisers think they are addressing a particular demographic; whether the demographic actually exists and can sustain the comic is a matter for a very hard lesson. A case in point is the extremely short-lived Fantasya, which featured a mix of both manga- and komiks-style art.

Why does this demographic exist? With two generations that's been heavily exposed to anime, there's a strong Philippine affinity for the Japanese art style. While many Filipino artists have been heavily influenced by anime, so have Filipino audiences. A publisher, expectedly, would hope to profit from the association.

Unfortunately, we no longer have the thriving komiks industry we once did to see how manga fares vis-a-vis other Filipino comics styles. But I am fairly certain, though -- what with the steady bombardment of animation on TV and related merchandising in the shops -- that any vacuum in local manga would quickly be filled.

Continued in On Komiks and Manga: Style

7 comments:

  1. It's an issue that I discussed with someone who had emailed me, tangenting a bit from the original topic of my post, to that of trying to satisfy a "market".

    It's a whole different article in itself, although it's related.

    Trying to figure out what the audience wants is a holy grail that everybody who has got something to sell is always after. If someone knew what that is, they'd be rich tomorrow.

    There's no doubt that anime and manga is popular in the Philippies. And it wouldn't take much thinking to conclude that if one takes advantage of it, one would come away profiting from it.

    However, if our motivation is
    looking for what the audience wants, then we will never take risks.
    Nothing new will ever be made. We will always be trying to study, analyze, investigate, pursue what is "popular" in an attempt to take advantage of it.

    Meanwhile, as we do what we do, we suddenly become startled that some
    new guy somewhere is becoming popular and successful because he created something new and unique. We then try to figure out what made his work tick and then we try to do the same thing he does.

    Must it always be that way? Must we always be the ones to follow what others have risked and proven to work? Can't we be the guys who go and try and do new things?

    It's a thinking that flies in the face of the business mind.

    It's always difficult to balance the concerns of the commercial and the
    artistic.

    Do I do what sells, or do I strike out and do my own thing, and hope that sells?

    The decision made really depends on the individual. I'm here to say that there are options.

    Since I never entered comics to be famous or make money, the decision is easy. I've rejected big and sure money before because I've chosen to do what I want. I've been called stupid behind my back for some of the decisions I've made.

    But I've gone too far for me to fall into the sure and comfortable.

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  2. Oh, no, Gerry, nothing like that at all. One part of business will always try to satisfy an existing market, whether perceived or imaginary. The other part, as you say, is about going against the grain and taking risks. They do not have to be mutually exclusive.

    That said, my supposition is that manga, for reasons that go beyond artist's preference, will be around for a long while yet. That doesn't necessarily have to restrict you from trying new things.

    Besides, that's what risk is all about: sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Can you say "New Coke?"

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  3. "They're both only comics and they're both kid stuff, after all, right?"

    NOT ALL COMICS ARE KID STUFF!

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  4. Thank you for agreeing with me, Anonymous Coward. The next paragraph begins:

    "Not exactly. Comics as an art form are an important part of a nation's culture and heritage...."

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  5. I agree with Gerry. It is the same issue anywhere. I always say that an artist should not be a slave to the market but should lead the market. If we all did what the market wanted us to do, nothing new or innovative would emerge. Yes, we could make millions if I wanted to but the question is, what kind of leagacy are we leaving this generation of artists? I feel the same way about the whole manga thing. I have such high regard for Filipino artists and I am waiting for them to knock me off my feet with amazing art.

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  6. balot-penoy-tahoApril 18, 2007 11:29 PM

    Hello. I just want to say that "comics" didn't originate from our land and so is the style called "manga". So why would people say that manga(japanese style) is ruining our native comic art style when in fact we don't distinctively have our own style to begin with. correct me if I'm wrong but comics originated from the west. And manga was, in some way, influenced by comics.

    reasons why people find manga "catchy" according to my interpretation:
    - some people are bored with "super heroes" which is one of the many concepts that kept comics in demand.
    - overdose of western ideas
    - bombarded with "comics" back in the days since scanlators and the internet were only available to a few. Thus,leading to above.
    - is simple and has a wide library of genre. more diverse in terms of storyline.
    - production is faster due to fact that manga art style is easier to come out. (no colors, tones, simple line art, etc...)

    From my pov, these days its hard to come by with original styles or as Gerry would put it, something fresh. Even famous artists admit that they also harbor ideas from other sources. The best stuff that artists could do these days is to make a collage-like effect of their influences. comics and manga are both mediums, a form of entertainment. Each of which have their own share in the market. As they said you can't please everybody.

    Not everyone would pick manga style over comics just coz it's famous and is the thing nowadays. Others combine both. Some choose it coz they feel they could come out with better results through that particular style. In short, more productive.

    Anyways, just sharing my POV. :)

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  7. So look at what they're doing now. AHR-tists like Gerry who are "leading" the market right now by making comics that don't really have an audience except maybe their few elite friends, is saying that this is how comics should be in our country.

    Okey, given the benefit of the doubt that these so-called artists are making "innovative" work, and taking risks, the fact remains that until now they have not helped create a commercial market in the Philippines for comics. They've been at it since the 1990s aping a distinctively WESTERN influence in their comics making and yet they have the gall to themselves FILIPINO comics artists.

    I think Gerry should jsut stick to being a museum curator and a comics inker. That's where he's really good at. For him to yak about anything else is completely beyond his competence.

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