Friday, April 20, 2007

Making Philippine Comics Interesting Again

How do we make Philippine comics interesting again? How do we make a has-been "hip" again?

When I was growing up, the newsstand komiks were being picked up by housewives and househelp, and this demographic constituted most of komiks' sales power. Do recall that, in those days, a lot (if not majority) of titles being sold were romance-related. Add to that the titles that bundled komiks with showbiz news. Even back then, publishers knew what would sell. They created stories that catered to that market, and they knew where the market goes to on a regular basis (sari-sari stores and wet markets.) It was a simple set-up--like I said, there weren't a lot of new distractions in those days.

But then, in the late-80s to early-90s, komiks lapsed into a coma. Atlas may have blamed Mt. Pinatubo and the Mindanao conflict for its decline, but it boils down to the company's inability to adapt to the changing times, develop safety nets in case of emergencies and, moreover, encourage their creative staff to do fine work.

That, however, is all done. For komiks to begin regaining its popularity, we need to go back and explore what made the medium popular in the first place. And it starts with knowing what a lot of people want to see and read.

Let's go to the fast food industry for now, with McDonald's and Jollibee.

Look at their ads. What sets them apart? In most of McDonald's ads, you'll find yuppies and teenagers. In most of Jollibee's ads, you'll find families and kids. Even though the two restaurants serve pretty much the same thing, they stand for different values. They talk to different sets of people, using messages that these people want to hear and relate to.

Then let's look at the ads of that other fastfood joint, Cindy's. It's "the place to be," it says. But to whom? What, I feel, made it more complicated for Cindy's was the fact they their branches more often had a fastfood set-up, a karinderia-type lane, and in some cases, a bakery. So what we got is a "something for everyone" affair that diluted Cindy's focus. And there wasn't one stand out product for Cindy's; for McDo and Jollibee, it all began and ended with the burger. The promise of a good burger.

Now let's go to comics, using the soap opera titles of the 80s, X-Men and Teen Titans.

I recall that those two titles were what McDo and Jollibee are today. Both were superpowered teams composed of highly-attractive heroes. They both lived in an upscale HQ in the middle of nowhere. They both had their share of drama, emotional subplots that became templates for many future hero titles. And, during conversations, those two were more often mentioned in the same breath. "What do you collect? X-Men or Teen Titans?"

But what made them different, and what made the X-Men eventually take the lead leaving the Teen Titans eating dirt? To make the long story short, discrimination and "mutant rights" trumps teenage hormones. Chris Claremont made it a point every issue to hammer into young readers' skulls that the X-Men were unwanted freaks who protected those who discriminated against them. And this theme still appealed to readers who moved on to adulthood, thus guaranteeing sales longevity. As for Teen Titans, well, the title itself was much more limiting.

In marketing a product or service where there are many players, companies create marketing plans that not only showcase strengths and benefits, but also highlight values and/or causes. In the past, a credit card was a credit card. Now you've got cards for the MTV set, the female achievers, the frequent flyers, etc. with market-tailored messages thrown in.

So for Philippine komiks to jumpstart its resurgence, we need to discover what Philippine komiks in general stands for. Why should Filipinos support komiks the way they would support, say, a senatorial candidate? Creators would also need to look for themes, messages, values, ideals that will help them mold stories that would appeal to a large number but specific set of potential customers.

In future blog entries, I'll explore the various areas of marketing that creators can look through and consider. There's a lot whole lot to cover, so I need to get my thoughts together.

12 comments:

Rodolfo Samonte said...

Carlo,
Good point on the housewives and the househelp. Indeed the common people were the ones that bought comics. Shall we bring back Mars Ravelo and Pablo Gomez? These two were responsible for much of the reading in comics during those days. Rod

Carver said...

Hello Rod, thanks for posting. :-) I believe those who can help revive komiks are those who are aware of the pulse of the people, and create work that supports it. (The pubishing industry experienced a great boost when those romance mini-novels came about.) So should we start with romance comics?

Rodolfo Samonte said...

Hello Carlo,
Romance might do the trick, and probably just plain, good, old-fashioned, suspense-filled, action-packed, dramatic novels, like the ones published by Ravelo, Coching, Pablo Gomez that kept people wanting for more. And it's probably that dreaded word in Pinoy comics that make you want to keep buying comics: the word "itutuloy." I live in the US so I can't comment on the pulse of the people there. But definitely that will be a good place to start. One other thing, why has nobody re-published any of the comics from the golden age? The way Americans are re-publishing Prince Valiant, Rip Kirby, Johnny Hazard, Terry and the Pirates, for example. I think this is one way to get people interested in comics again, by seeing the great comics we had in the past. I understand Gerry Alanguilan will be publishing Coching's El Indio. I will be the first one to buy when that comes out. Rod

apol said...

Hey, Carlo. I was a great fan of komiks from the kornerstore when I was a kid. My grandmother would hoard them for me for when I'd stay with her in Caloocan for summer breaks. I especially loved Zuma, Anak ni Zuma, and Mantisa. It was the fantasy and the violence that hooked me. Also the garish colors and that it was all told in Tagalog. When I read Pinoy komiks in English, I always feel like there's a barrier between me and the material, because it's going for my brain first when I want my komiks to be going straight for my gut. Rambling now... must say bye... Apol

nida said...

hi carl :) galing... last week, hubby and i have just been discussing about "komiks" revival. i was very much a komiks baby, as in learning to read early because of it (as well as most of my siblings). walang subscription card noon, so we visit our suki along the riles, at least once a week to hoard the titles my mom regularly reads, together with liwayway and a few gossip magazines (those really big ones!). so, going back, we're interested to help in doing something about bringing that culture back. ang nakikita naman naming prob is the distibution. as in yung mababalik siya sa mga newspaper stands na makikita at "impulsively" bibilhin ng common tao, hanggang sa mga probinsiya. happy ako to read that you guys are talking about it now. sana nga, we can do something about it. usap tayo?

Carver said...

rod... As far as republishing goes, I think Gerry will be the best person to ask since he knows more about the classic works than I do. :-)

apol... ganda-ganda talaga ng picture!! :-) I think a lot of our peers got into the newsstand komiks, too. Or, at least, remembered how numerous they were back then. It was there whether we cared or not. Iba talaga ang freshly-inked newsprint smell. :-)

nida!!! that will be great! Though alam ko pagdating sa distribution sa corner newsstands and street vendors, ay may mga kooperatiba na involved.

Noel said...

I first got into komiks during the mid-80s reading Filipino Funny Komiks and Bata Batuta. As someone had commented already, it probably was the 'itutuloy' factor that got me hooked. I'm not really sure why I lost interest in komiks during the early 90's, whether it was because the quality really did drop or I just got older but I remember noticing that a lot of the newer issues just had rehashes of their older series but with less interesting stories, (for example Funny Komiks' Eklok was just Niknok but he liked eggs instead of chicken or something like that) or Combatron was a just a Megaman clone. Plus there were cheesy komiks coming out like Kick Fighter which was about Street Fighter, but not really. So, maybe the writers really hadn't been paid that well or the publishers were dictating them on what to write? One thing though, I really really loved those komiks back in the 80s and it would have taken a lot of unintentional sabotage on the creators' part to get me to stop reading them; they didn't have to be THAT good, they just had to be... passably okay.

Carver said...

noel... yes, during the early nineties, I was beginning to see bad "Image" clones on the stands. Anf a sudden upsurge in horror comics. Oh, the horror! :-)

Ponpokopon said...

Para sa akin, mas interesting yung Pinoy komiks in Tagalog o kaya in a local dialect tapos may halong English. Isang magandang halimbawa ay ang "Ang Kagila-gilalas na Pakikipagsapalaran ni Zsazsa Zaturnnah". Bonggacious!

Anonymous said...

Carlo,
Making comics interesting would probably entail the development of competent writers and artists that would be able to sacrifice their time and effort for the craft. Original concepts ( meaning not rehearsed hero concepts ) should be the spine of every new pulp storyline. Stories that people can relate to and identify themselves with. Yuppie topics if the target market would be yuppies. Human interest stories for those stories syndicated in tabloids.
Prior success of the Romance laced storylines would probably find their place in pulp fiction but who among them( housewives / househelp )actually reads komiks these days. The target market for pulp fiction soap operas / romance storylines would ( 90 plus percent ) probably spend their money to load their cell phones and send text messages rather than read. Does your yaya read komiks? Does your neighbor's house based mom read komiks? If we continue to target these people ( housewife / househelp ), in the long run can they really afford to buy published komiks ?
At this point, it would be hard to admit that comic appreciation is somewhat limited at best. It would also be safest to say that the surviving komiks stories / pulp fiction storylines are those syndicated in our newspapers. If somebody compiled these stories into 1 big graphic novel, it would be a start. By the way, I am not talking about the existing comedy strip storylines that do get compiled but rather those stories that you would have to follow everyday and get pissed if you missed the daily newspaper because those 3 panels would mean a lot to complete your day.
Dont laugh but I remember in the early 80's there were groups that followed 'Anino ng Kwago' and 'Zigra' in the pages of Tempo.
I was one of them.
They were good stories. Good solid storyline. The thing that bothered me back then was when there were changes in the artist, usually it was bothersome and drastic. And if I miss a day not buying Tempo, it really spoiled my day. If these stories ever gets printed in graphic novel format, I would probably buy 10 copies to share with friends. That would be one option to generate sales and interest.
In our current culture, the target market for the new-interesting-komiks would have to be those who will have the capacity to buy the komiks. And those who would be able to appreciate the good storylines / good art and share it with a lot of people. Give free copies to media personalities and let them talk about the story. Publicize the craft through different media.....consistently.
But of course, the good story and art would definitely come first.

louie
h603p@yahoo.com
0917-xxxxxxx

monsanto said...

Ahh, the 90's is a fad thing for Atlas and GASI(ABS vs GMA- komiks version). But please do not blame the creators. We all need to put money on the table and the only way for us to do that is to follow the editors. If you won't do it way they envision the titles, no work for you. During those times, GASI has 80 titles every week and Atlas also had as much. Smothering the market. The problem with this was recycling plots all over and over just to fill these titles with stories. I just have to defend Kick Fighter, Bata Batuta and the others. In fairness, at least all the stories we put there are all fresh, no recycled thrash. I apoloogize for the IMAGE look, but we were young and did not know better back then. But, we did one thing right, we changed all the concepts and made it our own.

Anonymous said...

Carver,

Sa mga gustong mag revive ng komiks: I say, PAY ATTENTION to the DEMOGRAPHICS. How many million Filipinos ba tayo ? Sagot: 90 million. Out of 90 million, ilan ang willing to part with their moolah to buy Komiks ? Sagot, Nobody knows. Iyan ang malaking challenge, kasi in an ideal Komiks World, yayaman na yung publisher sa 90 million readers, linggo-linggo, kahit sa piso-piso lang di ba ? NINETY MILLION PESOS a WEEK, man , you are set for life !
But the sad reality is lightyears different.
Ang nakikita ko sa crystal ball eh market segmentation, parang Manga style marketing na rin sa Japan. Hindi na pwede yung SHOTGUN APPROACH. Unahin natin yung mga BABY BOOMERS, ito yung mga retirado na at mi mga kwartang pambili ng mga compilation works ng GOLDEN AGE ( Coching, Redondo, Ravelo Alcala et.al), pero bakit walang nagaadress sa segment na ito ?
Sunod na syempre yung ibang genres, Superheroes, romance, mystery horror etc. addressing various age groups. It won't be the same kesa noon.


Auggie

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