Filipino indie komiks alive and kicking
By Erwin Oliva
Last updated 02:57pm (Mla time) 10/24/2006
NOT familiar with what Philippine comics is all about, I wandered off to a booth where people gathered. Having dabbled in comics when I was still in my elementary years, the only idea I have of comics is Sgt. Rock and Tarzan.
I could barely remember the time I first read one. Since I didn’t know where to start, I chanced upon Jake, a friend in college whom I remembered to be a fan of American comics. He was with his girlfriend. Of course, he was carrying a drawing pad. He was surprised I was there. I was not. He loved comics. I discovered this when we were apartment mates. He had volumes of comic books (mostly DC comics), and it was through him that I learned about the Death of Superman. Later, I saw him drawing and knew that he was more than a fan or a collector. He was an artist.
Jake was among hundreds of Filipino artists, fans, and well, curious onlookers who attended the second Philippine Komiks Convention (Komikon 2006) at the UP Bahay ng Alumni in Diliman, Quezon City. Organized by the Artists’ Den and The Drawing Board, the event is perhaps the only time independent Filipino comic artists can strut their stuff.
"Bihira pwede makabenta (It is rare that we can sell). So I sell my comics through conventions, word of mouth, or online," said Joanah Rose Tinio, a young and established Filipino indie comic book creator and artist.
Friends said she is one of the more "notable" and prolific local comic artists producing the "Cresci Prophecies" that is already on its 20th volume. She has been making her own comic series for the past 10 years (another rare feat). She produced her comic series using the ever reliable photocopiers. But recently an independent publisher, Point Zero, decided to support her.
Tinio said she started making her own comics back in College, while she was a Fine Arts student in UP Diliman. Today, she has her own fans.
"We really need more venues to show our work," Tinio said, as she revealed that she’s currently doing freelance work.
Sherry Baet, program director of Komikon, agreed.
"Our objective is to give opportunity for indie comics. Also we want to bring in comic artists and companies and make this into a job fair too," Baet added.
Baet said that through Komikon, companies like Storyboards.com (through local subsidiary Interactive Art Services) was able to recruit local artists to do outsourced work for the American firm. Storyboards.com is currently doing storyboards and animatrics (animated storyboard) for the US advertising companies.
This year, Interactive Art Services is recruiting more local artists, especially those who can do 3D animation, according to Jonas San Diego, studio director for the Philippines.
"Due to Komikon, these companies have found local artists who can do the job for them," Baet said.
Comic artists as ‘rock stars’
Another company actively recruiting local comic artists is Glass House Graphics.
It was the booth of Glass House Graphics that was crowded when I got to Komikon 2006. Since I was in unfamiliar territory, I figured I should go where the people are.
So I met David Campiti.
Campiti loves comics so much that he formed a company in the 1990s. Having been editing, writing, designing and publishing comics for the past 25 years, he decided eventually to set up this company to focus on training upcoming artists and finding work for them. Seven years ago, he formed Glass House Graphics Asia for the purpose of representing Filipino artists in the American comic book, manga, and advertising markets. He also maintains an office in Brazil.
In an interview, Campiti narrated how he developed some local artists who are now well-known not only in local circles but also the international market. Among the known Filipino comic artists who work for him are Carlo Pagulayan (who worked on Marvel’s The Hulk), Wilson Tortosa (Battle of the Planets), Stephen Segovia (Vampirella) and Harvey Tolibao (Star Wars comics).
"I’ve been able to affect the lives of so many artists and people. I had one artist who had a congenital heart disease. He used the money he earned from drawing to pay for his surgery. So I could say that comics literally saved his life," Campiti recalled.
Campiti admitted that the comics market was at its peak in 1996. Today, he said that it is gradually recovering. "A lot of comic books are not selling well but it is good enough for us to build careers for more than 100 artists," he said.
About 50 percent of Glass House Graphics’ business comes from the comic industry. The rest is from web design, photography and advertising.
Other known comic artists who have worked for Campiti include Brazilian Mike Deodato, Ed Benes, Luke Ross, Al Rio, Joe Bennett, Ivan Reis, Cliff Richards, and Will Conrad.
Shy Filipino comic artists
This year at Komikon, local artists and onlookers crowded Campiti as he invited them to show their portfolios. He said that he has found several potential artists he might sign up to become his contract artists.
"A lot of Filipino artists seem hesitant or shy to show their work. In fact, some who attended my local seminars took years to gather enough courage to show their work. This is unique in the Philippines. But I think there is talent here," he added.
Currently focusing on the American comic industry, Campiti requires his local artists to go through intensive training before he gives them contract jobs. He said he is bringing in work for at least 15 to 16 comic books to the Philippines.
"Artists really need to learn to communicate. Communication is as important as the lines and drawing in a page," he stressed.
He said there are four steps to becoming a professional comic artist. First, one should learn how to draw. Next, one should learn how to tell a story in pictures. Third, one should develop a "saleable" commercial style. And finally, one should develop a professional attitude (e.g. follow-through communication).
The last step is often forgotten by most artists who end up working for tiny wages, he said.
Campiti said William Tortosa was among his local recruits whom he describes as a "perfect example." Tortosa is now one of the sought-after local comic artists, whom he discovered during his seminars in Manila.
"Some artists don’t become successful because they don’t want to follow what they’re told," he said.
Komikon’s Baet said Filipino comic artists have more opportunities these days. Companies like Glass House Graphics, Interactive Art Services, and Seven Seas are now recruiting more local artists to do contract or full-time work.
In her case, Baet is connected with Quantum Amusement, but she spends her spare time doing comic strips for the Manila Bulletin.
She said Komikon continues to attract more people. Last year, about 800 people came to the convention. This year, the number of visitors has surpassed 800. Also, more than 20 indie groups and individual publishers of Filipino comics have joined the convention this year.
Capping the whole day affair were performances by indie bands, including from the comic artists themselves who have formed their own bands.
"I’ve been in the Philippines for the past seven years. Back then, I was coming here every three months. Now I come here once a year. We now use this event (Komikon) and our seminars to reach out to more artists. I have artists working for me all over the world. But I have offices in Brazil and the Philippines," said Campiti.
Campiti admitted that it was the works of Alfredo Alcala, Alex Nino and other local comic artists in the 1970s that attracted him to the Philippines.