Monday, December 15, 2003

Several people have asked me if I was going to the C3Con held December 13-14 at Megamall. I think I was asked this question last year during the first con and my answer is still the same. And the answer is I cannot. I think I have to explain further the reasons for this decision. Some people are already aware of my stand on Filipinos doing manga in my article that can be found here. If some of you are have not yet read it, you might want to so you will get a better understanding of what follows.

I have gotten a lot of feedback, half of them negative, about that article. And the disappointing thing is, many of those negative reactions have been given without fully understanding what I have written. Some of my friends have suggested that I try to write it as simply and as succinctly as I can so that I cannot be misunderstood. I will try. I understand how fans of Filipino manga comics like Culture Crash can be offended by what I have written. But I do have to say with all honesty that I have written that article with no malice or hateful intent. Offering a differing opinion is by no means an indication of an agenda on my part to bring anyone and their accomplishments down. Any piece of work done by anyone (and that includes specially me) has to stand some sort of criticism. For how will any artist improve if all he heard was praise?

My article was directed not only at Filipino artists doing manga, but every single Filipino artist who compromises originality to following something that is popular. And these would include the Jim Lee clones, the Dave McKean clones, and any artist who subverts his own artistic identity to adapt the artistic identity of others. It just so happens that there are just too many Filipino artists doing manga that it overwhelms everything else.

There is also feedback, angry feedback at that, that I have no right to write such an article when I myself am drawing characters like the X-men, and Superman, clearly American characters and I am drawing (or at least inking) them in an American style. What many fans of manga don't fully realize is how unique, how distinctive and how incomparable manga is as a style of illustrating comics.

The Japanese artists have accomplished something very few nationalities have ever achieved in their own countries, and that is establish a unique and instantly recognizable style of comic art. Although each Japanese artist has a particular style that identifies who he is, manga as a whole has numerous similarities that unite them all into a single movement of comics art. Just one look at a Japanese artist's work and without knowing who he is, and seeing perhaps just a little portion of his work, you instantly say, "that's MANGA". No other country currently producing comics can boast of the same unity in style that the Japanese have. Certain European countries have developed a "clean style" of illustration and for a while in US Comics in the 60's Jack Kirby set the standard for American comics art, but those movements have not fully developed because of other movements of differing styles of art that always emerge in their part of the world. Filipinos themselves enjoyed having a united style in the 50's up the 70's. But the emergence of new artists have taken their styles in wildly different directions.

So to consider my style of drawing as "American" would be unfounded because there is no such thing as an American style of comics art, in my opinion, specially currently. There are simply too many artists drawing in wildly differing styles that it would be impossible to find similarities between them, enough similarities that we can lump them into one single "American" style. For instance, take a look at the work of Kevin Nowlan, compare it to that of Alex Ross, then compare it to that of George Perez, then on to Robert Crumb, and then on to Gahan Wilson. No similarities between them whatsoever.

Definitely my own personal artwork has its influences. One can find traces of this artist or that artist in my work if he looks hard enough. But I'd like to think I've developed my drawing to the point that I can call the end result truly my own. I think I have developed enough affectations in the way I draw that when people see my work they instantly know that it was done by me. Is my artwork Filipino? It's not for me to say, but I'd like to think it was because I'm a Filipino and I created it, and I am drawing in a way that no other artist is drawing. I try very, very hard to find an original way of drawing and to a certain extent, I think I've done just that. And I have no words to express how fulfilling that is as an have your own identity. I'd like to think that a lot of other artists out there currently making comics would definitely find more fulfillment if they just tried to find their own personal identity, to try to draw in a way that no other artist is drawing, instead of drawing in a way other people draw.

To me, "manga" is a uniquely Japanese creation. And it's an incredible creation. A lot of amazing comics have been produced by Japanese creators that have left lasting impact. It's wildly popular and it has influenced a lot of artists outside Japan. And certainly Filipinos are not immune. An influx of Japanese influenced comics have been flooding the market over the past several years and more are produced with each passing year. To me, manga will always be Japanese and regardless of how popular it is in the Philippines, regardless of how many Filipinos choose to use manga in drawing their comics, manga will never be Filipino. It should never be. Because we did not create it. We did not originate it. We must be proud to call something our own only if we have created it ourselves. It doesn't matter if these comics are written in tagalog or are set in Philippine locations and the characters ride in jeeps and tricycles, or if the Philippine flag is fluttering in the background. They're *still* manga. The unique characteristics of manga make the look of the art too Japanese to be considered truly ours.

As an artist, I have decided not to follow the direction the popular trend of comics art in the Philippines is taking, led by the many Pinoy manga comics. It is a purely personal decision on my part and it's a decision I had no difficulty making. I have taken criticism that I have not given Culture Crash et al credit that is due them. All right then. I give them credit for bringing comics back into the popular consciousness of Filipinos. I credit them for bringing together both fans and creators to celebrate comics in their conventions. They have terrific artists and I admire their enthusiasm, determination and endurance in creating their comics. But I cannot support the artistic decisions that they have made. Nor can I be part of any activity that promotes their art and pinoy manga in general. And this is why I did not attend the C3con last year, I did not attend it this year, and I will not attend any future C3cons. To attend will mean I am supporting Filipinos who do manga, and it's something I cannot do. What Culture Crash may not realize (or maybe they do) is that they are in a position to greatly influence the artistic growth of many young artists today. The thought that many young impressionable artists will be influenced to draw manga instead of finding their own unique original voice is something that I find truly appalling. And that is something I cannot support.

It is true that this movement has electrified the local comics industry and many of them have been commercially successful. Today, all of this is good for the industry, but I fear that there may be long term damage done to us, as Filipino artists and our artistic integrity. We are a talented people. We excel in many forms of art and I'd like to think that we Filipinos are one of the BEST when it comes to comics art. I think we can do better than just do what other artists do. We can create something we can call truly our own. We can create works of art that no other artist in the world has ever thought up. We can create comics that other artists from other countries will seek to emulate. And we can do this only by striving to create something original, something new and fresh and different. We can do this if we WANT to.

Some people have said that I may just be envious of Pinoy manga's success and that I'm bitter and all that. Nothing can be farther from the truth. There is nothing in their accomplishments and achievements that I am envious of. I can never be envious of something I don't believe in. Envy connotes the desire to want what they want. And there is nothing they have that I can possibly want. Acclaim? Fame? I have no use for that. Everyone else who wants it can have it because they're not for me. Commerical success? I'm doing fine on my own thank you and no one need not worry needlessly about my state of financial affairs because all is in order.

I'd like to think there is hope. Many people have pointed out to me that sometimes artists have no choice. They are influenced by what they grew up with, and cannot help but draw what they grew up reading. And I agree with that. So its my fervent hope that these artists discover and open their minds to other forms of comics art. Not just comics art, but all forms of visual art. I have been extremely gratified upon seeing artists like Philip Tan and Wilson Tortosa, who both started drawing manga but very quickly found their own voice and now they are producing excellent and highly original works, worthy of admiration. It is one of the main reasons why my group and I have held the Comics Festival here in San Pablo. It was to show the many kinds of comics art that have been produced here in the Philippines throughout our history. We recognize that a lot of younger artists have probably not have heard of names like Francisco Coching or Alex Nino, or Mar Amongo, or Nestor Redondo at all. So we took the opportunity to introduce the works of these remarkable (and unique) artists to a whole new generation of artists.

Next year, we will be having a much bigger festival early in December which we will feature even more artwork from our comics veterans and new artists, but also artwork from painters, sculptors, illustrators, photographers. We will also be launching a new project that will be created in the spirit of expanding the artistic horizons of young and old artists alike. Stay tuned for more details on that one! :)