Saturday, November 05, 2005

Credit Where Credit Is Due

Credit Where Credit Is Due

Superman created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster
X-men created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby
Spiderman created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko
Judge Dredd created by John Wagner, Carlos Esguerra and Pat Mills
Swamp Thing created by Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson
Daredevil created by Stan Lee and Bill Everett
Asterix created by Rene Goscinny and Albert Underzo
Lone Wolf and Cub created by Kazuo Koike and Goseki Kojima

Such credits are typical when browsing through the creators of such comic books. Why the two or more names? The first name is usually the writer while the second name is usually the artist.

Sometimes there is a third and even fourth name, probably an editor and/or someone who had significant input in the creation of the character.

Sometimes there is only one name, which is typical of writer-artists such as Frank Miller, who solely created Sin City and Elektra, or Mike Mignola, who solely created Hellboy.

The creation of a character in comics is a collaborative process between a writer and an artist. Comics is not just words, and it's not just pictures. It's a combination of both. A writer can give direction to the character and the story, but it is the artist who comes up with the visual design of the character and the environment. In comics, one cannot do without the other, and one cannot be taken independently of the other.

So why is it here in the Philippines when a certain character or story is mentioned, more often than not, only one name, that of the writer, is given sole credit?

Darna, Lastikman, Dyesebel, Captain Barbell created by Mars Ravelo
Panday created by Carlo J. Caparas
Kampanerang Kuba created by Pablo S. Gomez
Kapatid Ko ang Aking Ina by Elena Patron
Zuma by Jim Fernandez

I spoke with an artist who had worked in Philippine comics for most of his life and I had asked him why he had been taken off the art chores of a currently running comics serial. He said that the writer did not respect what he was doing and kept interfering with matters relating more to the art rather than the story. Another artist was taken aboard without his knowledge, and he was taken off the story later on. Understandably, he was quite upset. He offered thoughts about how historically, artists here are regarded as subordinates in the comic book creating process, and it is the writers who, for the most part, are given the utmost regard and importance.

Although I'm quite sure that the writers I mentioned above are not all like the writer this artist mentions, it is now undeniable that historically, a hierarchy exists in Philippine comics where writers are the leaders and the artists are the subordinates.

There have been notable exceptions of course. Clodualdo Del Mundo and Fred Carrillo are considered the "team supreme" and their stories have a following by virtue of their collaboration. Francisco V. Coching was known to be generous in providing credit for his collaborators most notably Federico Javinal. Being a writer and an artist as well, Coching knew very well the importance of artists in the process of creating comics.

But for the most part, a writer-leader and artist-subordinate status quo has existed for many decades and it is conceivable writers and artists believed that this is how things really should be, a standard operating procedure so to speak.

But I believe writers and artists can hardly be blamed for a hierarchy that was in place in the industry long before they joined. That was the reality of that world and to be in it, one has to accept its set of rules.

I'm not here to take away anything from the writers. I have enjoyed their characters and stories and I have great respect for them and their craft. Being a comics writer myself, I know and understand the kind of effort and hard work that goes into a typical script.

But I think it is high time to give due credit to our artists, most of them have been long in a position undeserving of their talent.

Artists are never subordinates. They are equals, and they should be regarded as such.

Comics are not just words.

Comics are not just "novels".

They are illustrated novels composed of words and pictures, the combination of which is a unique medium of communication where the writers and artists are partners of equal footing.

In the creation of a character, when an artist gives visual interpretation of a writer's verbal or written descriptions, then he is a co-creator of that character.

It's difficult now to determine just how much contribution the artist has had on some of our greatest characters. Take for instance Darna, as created by Mars Ravelo. The first artist on Darna was Nestor Redondo, who is, by far, one of the country's greatest illustrators and is still highly regarded internationally as one of the world's finest.

Mars Ravelo, an artist is in his own right, came up with the look of Darna when he wrote and drew VARGA, a character that predates Darna. Indeed, Darna is actually Varga, who had to change her name for legal reasons. But the character is essentially the same.

But I still believe that Nestor Redondo played a great part in bringing this character to life. Nestor was more than just a "doctor" that delivered Darna, as others might claim. As an artist of that series, he had wide control of the visual look of the first two series and established the visual look of all Darna stories to follow. Nestor Redondo may not have been an outright co-creator of Darna, but he still played a great part in fleshing out the Darna universe visually.

How about Lastikman, as originally drawn by Mar T. Santana? Dyesebel and Jack and Jill, as originally drawn by Elpidio Torres? Kampanerang Kuba as illustrated by Alex Niño? Zuma (in "Aztec") as illustrated by Elmer Esquivias? Their names are rarely mentioned, if at all, when such stories are revived, but it is undeniable that they played great parts fleshing out the visual worlds of those characters.

In the case of Panday, one can be more definite. Having spoken to Steve Gan, the original artist of Panday, on numerous occasions, I have gathered that although Carlo J. Caparas did indeed give some descriptions of the character, it is Steve Gan who created the visual look of Panday as he appeared in the comic book. He is also the one who created the visual look of all the other characters and the world in which they all move in.

In this case, it is this author's belief that Steve Gan is co-creator of Panday, and is entitled to a share of all profits and benefits earned by Panday in all mediums.

Suprisingly (or maybe unsurprisingly), Ferando Poe Jr. played an important role in the creation of the character. As Steve Gan relates, he and Carlo J. Caparas set out to do a straight action story, and it was how they approached doing the first few installments. After seeing those first few pages in print, FPJ immediately got in touch and strongly suggested the infusion of fantasy elements, a suggestion that the creators took to heart and the series became a fantasy, instead of straight action story they had originally intended.

For playing a great part in influencing the original Panday story, I believe Fernando Poe Jr. should be given co-creator credit as well.

In a comics industry where it has long been accepted that the artists are subordinates to the writers, it may be tough pill to swallow to regard artists as equals and co-creators.

But it is the right and moral thing to do.

If we are ever to expect the country to regard comics as an art form, then we must first give proper respect to those who create it.