Wednesday, September 06, 2006

We Care only about ART, not the MASSES.

We Care Only About ART, Not The Masses.
A Rebuttal

I'm writing a rather long article about sentiment some people have started to talk about with regards to the comic books being created by the current generation. Meaning us. Meaning ME. Basically, they don't like what we do. And upon further investigation, it turns out they don't like what we do because we don't do what they expect us to do.

It's all about False Expectations. With that kind of standard, no piece of work will survive scrutiny, no matter how worthwhile it is, if the reader has vastly different expectations.

As I've said, it's a rather long article... probably too long for just one post, so I'm thinking I'll just chop it up and go right ahead to the very guts of the matter.

We've been accused of caring only about ART, and not about the Filipino masses, and that komiks should only be made and marketed for them. We are accused of making comics only for the RICH because our comics are too expensive.

The statement makes several assumptions that I will enumerate here.

1. It assumes that we should create comics that the masses will like and we are not doing it.
2. It assumes that Filipinos do not deserve ART.
3. It assumes that the Filipinos are not intelligent enough to understand or appreciate ART.
4. It assumes that comics cannot be for anyone else but the poor.
5. It assumes rich people don't deserve to read comics.
6. It assumes we are doing our comics only for the rich.
7. It assumes that we are intentionally making our comics expensive.

With those kinds of expectations, all my work will certainly fall below their standard, and nothing, short of the apocalypse or not even then, would make them change their mind.

My only objective ever is this: To create really good comics.

To assume any other reason than that would be to commit a colossal misunderstanding of why I'm here and why I do comics.

I DO NOT create my work tailor made to be appreciated by a certain section of society. So no, I do not create my comics for the poor, nor do I create my comics for the rich.

I create my work, first and foremost, for MYSELF. People seem to think that's self centered, selfish and not caring at all for your readership. It's another false assumption by people who have little understanding of what I do and have no other explanation to explain what I do.

I think a little openess of mind is in order, a little thinking outside of the box so to speak, and not automatic shutting down of ideas that is beyond what you are used to.

I cannot afford to second guess my audience. Writing for a certain section of the population, trying to figure out what the market wants or what the people want to read connotes a certain kind of arrogance where one assumes he knows what the people want.

Nobody really knows what the people want.

It was assumed that people want manga, and local manga comics were published accordingly. And yet two major Filipino made manga publications have since shut down.

Look around... the komiks industry is all but dead. If those old komiks really gave what the people wanted in the last few years before its demise, they would still be around. Even attempts to "manganize" Pilipino Komiks, Tagalog Klasiks, Hiwaga and Espesyal was not enough to save them.

That whole mentality of chasing "what the people want" smells too much of "I do what you want and you pay me for it".

It's tantamount to prostitution and I find it appaling.

I'd rather not indulge in a futile exercise in trying to figure out what will sell, nor would I want my body of work to be so engineered.

So I'd rather sit back and just do the best God damned job that I can. And I can only do that by figuring out what pleases ME, and I do it. That is how I created Wasted, and that is how I'm creating Humanis Rex! and ELMER.

But is it working? Am I doing a good job? I really can't say except point to a few things that do not come from my own personal opinion. Please take note that I don't make a habit of writing about my work this way. I do this with considerable embarrassment, but I only do it to make a point and make my case.

My work WASTED seems to have been popular. It's been reprinted several times from photocopied mini comics, to Alamat publishing a compilation, to Pulp Magazine serializing it for a year, then publishing another compilation with a higher print run. It seems to have gotten good reviews from respected local and international writers including Steven Grant and Warren Ellis.

My work ELMER also seems to be getting some positive attention. More than half of my entire print run of the first issue has sold out. I've gotten positive feedback from all over from Baguio, to Cebu, To Butuan, to France, Russia, Germany, Sweden, Scotland, Britain, and to the United States. It's also gotten really good reviews here in the Philippines and abroad and has attracted the attention of a big time international publisher. It's being sold by a major comic book retailer in the UK.

Please don't think I'm tooting my own horn. I only wanted to address the issue of the quality of the work I do. If a few respected writers in the local and international comic book community think my work is good, then my work isn't really as bad as some anonymous people seem to think, does it? At least, those who reviewed my work are not anonymous, and you can check their qualifications based on their body of work. They at least would probably know what they're talking about. But these anonymous writers? How do I know what kind of basis they have for saying the saying the things they say?

So there really is something to be said about creating comics that sought to please no one but yourself. Because if you do that, your standards will be very high, and you will be able to create comics that are the best you can do. And if it is good enough, people will see it and appreciate it, buy it and read it.

I've proven it several times over.

Pandering to the audience by doing what has proven to sell previously is something I abhor vehemently. This really is what is meant when one says, you have to market your work for the masses. And it's to give them what they have shown to have previously wanted.

If that is the process that we should all follow, then we would be doing the same things over and over. No innovations will be made, no new and fresh things will ever be created. It's just rehashing the same things over and over. As a result, your audience will become dumb and dumber, and worst of all, YOU as a creative person will become dumb and dumber.

As a further result, you dumb down your work even further to catch up to your impression that the audience is getting even dumber. Until at the very end, everything is so dumb, everything just collapses.

Just like what happened to our komiks industry.

And now you want me to perpetuate this idiotic thinking to my own work?


They don't deserve the same dumb shit that's been given to them for many years. They are far more intelligent, and far more understanding of what is really good and worthwhile. Just look at the pirated DVDs being sold at Quiapo. I'm amazed at the kind of titles they sell. Their popular titles include CRITERION DVDs of Akira Kurosawa, Alfred Hitchcock, Jean Cocteau, Federico Fellini and Hiroshi Inagaki. I don't for a moment condone piracy, but the tastes being exhibited by these same masses indicate an intelligence and sophistication that seems to have gone completely below the radar of the dumb shits who create their local entertainment.

There is a sentiment that komiks is a "masses only" entertainment, and that comics should only be made to cater to them, and no one else.

We really shouldn't give comics, if it will be a true art form, to be so restricted. Yes, comics can still be cheap entertainment for the masses, but comics can be so much more in addition to that.

We really shouldn't imprison comics to stay in just one place. It's a medium that continues to grow and evolve, and if international comics history for the past 20 years is any indication, comics has the potential to be a medium in which serious topics can be tackled and discussed. Comics can be pieces of art that truly MATTER. Look at works like Maus, Watchmen, Sandman, Epileptic, Palestine, and any of Will Eisner's graphic novels. We will not have those kinds of works if we keep comics dumb and cheap.

It is truly disheartening that there were people in the old industry who didn't want comics to evolve and would much rather stay where they were. My own experience bears this out. I was told by my editor that I shouldn't draw so good because it's only a "local" comic book. Shocking isn't it? But yeah, it's true. The same thing was said to Nick Manabat. He wanted to work locally, but he was advised to just go ahead and work for the US instead. Wasn't that the same thing a local editor told Alex NiƱo way back when?

It really shouldn't be surprising, no matter how distressing it may be, to see the komiks industry collapse not long after.

There is also sentiment that our comics are too expensive.

There is something I hope people would understand, as far as I'm concerned, I am NOT a comics company like ACE Publications was, like GASI was. To expect ME to perform like a comics company is preposterous. I don't have the capital to publish a high print run that would ensure a low retail price. I don't have a circulation manager that would distribute my comics all throughout the country and ensure I get paid for it.

In Komikero Publishing, there is only one employee. ME. I'm also the boss. I'm also the writer. I'm also the artist, the editor, the accountant, the circulation manager and the janitor.

At the retail price I'm offering ELMER, that's as low as I can make it without losing money. Don't forget paper is very expensive now, as is printing costs. Those are considerations one must keep in mind.

If the masses cannot afford to buy my comics, then it's never intentional. After all, I want my comics to be read by as much people as I can reach.

As to why I've written ELMER in English, I explain it a bit more here.

To accuse any artist of "not creating komiks for the masses" as if it's a bad thing is just ridiculous.

I did not choose to be a doctor, does it mean I don't care for the sick? I did not choose to be a fireman, does it mean I don't care if people's houses burned down?

More specifically, I choose not to make educational comics for students, does that mean I don't care for the education of students? I choose not to make religious comics. Does that mean I don't care about the spiritual wellbeing of my fellow man?

Once again, False Expectations.

My comics are what they are. Don't make assumptions on my purposes for making them, don't make expecations of them I never intended to accomplish. Take my work for what it is, and judge it for what it is, not for what you expect it to be.

Now if you read Wasted or if you read ELMER and you think the story is bad or if you think the artwork is inferior, then that's allright. At least you would be judging my work according to its own merits. There have been people who wrote to me, and posted in their blogs about how they think my comics don't impress them, and that's all cool . Such feedback is something I highly appreciate.

If you want comics done YOUR way, then please create your own. If you are a writer or artist, then please, channel your ranting to creating. Lord knows the industry needs it.