Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Comics and Doughnuts

A discussion recently erupted in Gerry's blog about a once great komiks publisher going the skin route with a glossy girlie magazine. The company is Atlas, and the magazine is Playhouse.

Whatever it was that made Atlas peddle naked women is rhetorical at best. In many ways, putting together such a publication is easy. Plus, I am aware that a lot of people would be eager to contribute some intellectual content. The sales potential is a no-brainer, and companies are more than willing to plunk down money for ad space.

I wouldn't blame Atlas for going this route if revenues are their primary objective. It's their business, literally and figuratively. Doesn't matter that I absolutely despise their bondage covers. Call me a prude, but that's something I wouldn't want my nine year-old niece to see. (Even if it was a hunky guy on a cover, I'd still wince.)

But the topic at hand is comics, so here goes.

Will comics sell in the Philippines? Yes.

Will comics sell enough for a Filipino creator to make a living? Yes.

Can comics be a sound revenue-generating avenue for a publishing company? Yes.

I don't want to sound biased based on the success of the first Zaturnnah book, but I do know that my publisher would have immediately let the book go if it didn't do well. Granted, the book may just be a fluke, but the potential has been made clear. While Philippine comics may not reach the fantastic sales of yesteryears, there is still a sizeable market. It is a market that has yet to rediscover the beauty of the medium, and remains highly untapped.

Let's segue to doughnuts for the meantime. In the past, we basically just had Dunkin Donuts and Mister Donut. Now, there's Gonuts Donuts, Krispy Kremes, plus all those generic selections in one too many coffee shops, and it seems all those doughnuts are doing well.

But think about it: who needs doughnuts?! A better question: who needs ALL those freakin' expensive doughnuts? Why are doughnuts selling better than hotcakes? If people are just after satisfying their sweet tooths/teeth, then there are a gazillion insulin-spiking options out there. It is, however, an inescapable truth--doughnuts sell. Why? Because there's something about doughnuts that appeals to the market. It might be taste, it might be texture, it might be shape...whatever. But more importantly, the people who make and sell doughnuts were able to take something people arguably do NOT need, and turn it into the proverbial "pasalubong ng bayan."

(Oh, and if someone says, "but it's food," check your diabetes risk. Sorry, couldn't help myself. Hee hee.)

Is it remotely possible that the reason why comics can't get a strong foothold in this country is the simple inability of creators to make a great product? And when I say great, I mean compelling. I mean unique. I mean interesting. I mean something as special as doughnuts. Its sweet, yes, thus satisfying a base instinct, but its shape is unlike any other pastry. Eating a doughnut is a dining experience you don't get from munching on a revel bar or popping M&Ms. Doughnuts are doughnuts and nothing can compare with them.

Comics can do the same thing. It can satisfy the human need to be entertained, but it at the same time has to isolate itself as being independent from other media. Apart from creating a story that can move readers, the comics creator has the responsibility to make his work stand on its own, providing a unique experience one wouldn't get from television, movies or the theater. There has to be parts of the work vital to the narrative that are impossible to directly adapt in other media. If a comics work was 100% adaptable, what's the point?

Now how can this help stir publishers into going back to comics? Buzz. Simple but overwhelming buzz. In a lot of ways, revenue-driven companies are very passive. They won't touch anything unless they're assured they can make a healthy buck. That's why they have market research. That's why they listen to trends. That's why they spend to get the pulse of the market. They want to be assured that there are enough people who are interested in a product before they shell out an investment.

To get buzz, the product has to get attention from those who create buzz. And to get attention, the responsibility falls on-- guess who--the creator. If there are enough creators shaking things up, churning out one wonderful story after another and fueling chronic word-of-mouth, someone with money is bound to wonder what the fuzz is all about.

(As an example, let's talk theater. Now this didn't come from me, only from people within the industry so you decide with how much salt you'd want to take this. I was told that when the Zaturnnah musical came out, it reaping the success that it did, there was a sudden spike in public interest in theater. Theatrical works in general gained more attention. That's what a good product and the resulting buzz can do--it benefits the industry in general.)

If we don't have enough able creators, then we might have to wait a little longer. The challenge, however, is there. We have to make more doughnuts. Lots and lots of tasty ones.

9 comments:

Ed said...

Just want to share...

May mga kakilala ako that aren't into comics. Sure they know the movie Zaturnnah but they didn't know the comics until I told them. Suddenly they got curious why a comics became a movie. Sabi ko rin naging stage musical din ang Zaturnnah, hanggang sa kulitin ako na hiramin ang komiks ko.

But I didn't let them borrow my signed comics. Sabi ko bumili sila kung meron pa sa National. Hehehe. Sabi ko rin na mas maganda ang komiks kesa sa pelikula, sorry na lang sa movie makers. :P

-ed

Anonymous said...

Carv,

Why go to Dunkin, and Mr. Donuts ? definitely, not for the doughnuts ! it's too sweet for me, and maybe hazardous to my health. I go for the cheap brewed coffee, prompt service, and their filling sandwiches that can slake my hunger pangs.
Very apt analogy for komiks, and you are right. It might not be the mass-market fueled komiks of the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, but it doesn't mean that you cannot make a buck, if the right komiks comes along.

As for the skin magazines, I have read a lengthy article in ROLLING STONE magazine, about the bankcruptcy of the once legendary PENTHOUSE. Bob Guccione ,is no longer the owner publisher, emplyado na lang siya, editor. It was sold to a giant conglomerate due to its dwindling sales.


Auggie

Carver said...

ed... Sa tingin ko 'yun ang dream ng ilang mga gumagawa ng komiks, na ma-evangelize ang medium at maraming non-readers ang mako-convert.

Madals kitang makita sa Galleria. Nagwi-window shopping. Buti ka pa. :-)

auggie... matagal na akong 'di bumibili ng doughnuts, kase tama ka, ang tamistamistamis. :-)

Kaya pala hindi na ganoong matunog ang Penthouse. Pero kunsabagay, para na rin siyang relic. I was able to see a recent issue...it doesn't feel the same.

Anonymous said...

Carv,

Tungkol sa evangelization ng medium, yeah, I'm willing to volunteer, THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO ST. HOAGY.
What's the message ? READING COMICS IS COOL, IT'S HIP and DE RIGUER.

Actually, sa tingin ko madali lang siguro ang evangelization, with the Herd Mentality of most Pinoys, it would be a piece of cake....

Auggie

Ed said...

Hehe. Only way to get rid of the sress and depression.

Robby Villabona said...

I agree with most of this -- you have to find something you can do with comics that can't be done elsewhere. But what is that? I don't know. I have a hunch that whoever strikes upon the formula, he won't be from the comics industry. The comics world here and the U.S. superhero scene is just too inbred -- too set in doing what's been done over and over in the past and unable to come up with something new and exciting.

I do have an opinion though, on what local komiks have to stop doing -- and that's to write komiks that read like instruction manuals. Naka drawing na nga, sasabihin pa. Such komiks make for such dull reading. You can't get transported into the story when there's something constantly reminding you that it's only a story. Over-narration keeps readers at constant arms-length and unable to get inside the world where the story is being told. Again -- inbred practices.

Anonymous said...

Rob,

I concur. Definitely, hindi superhero stuff, ang mag pa- fire ng imagination ng elusive potential market na hinahanap. Masyado ng kumita ang superhero, it must be led to pasture. Ito ang challenge actually. As for hindi taga comics industry ang makakahanap, maybe. Ang taga comics industry kasi eh parang na trap na sa dating mga gawi. It must be new, exciting and compelling ! ANO IYUN ?


Auggie

Carver said...

Auggie and Robby...

Meron akong iilang teoriya pagdating diyan, pero ayoko munang sabihin dahil idadaan ko muna ang mga ito sa pagsubok. Baka akusahan ako na nagtatatalak pero wala namang laman o basehan. :-)

Pero ang pinaka-gist nito ay, "the same thing but different."

ferdi said...

I used to think the time of comics as a mass market medium has passed. Parang pang-niche market na lang ang appeal nya ngayon. But after reading your post, I'm giving it the benefit of the doubt. Baka nga yung istorya ang kailangang bago. New stories that can relate to today's generation. Sabi ng isang poster dito, the scene is too inbred. I agree. Hwag nang tularan ang local showbiz na walang bagong ma-offer sa publiko kaya dying industry na sya. So I think for the comics industry to be revived it must re-invent itself, gather new talent, tell new stories, all those things that local movies and tv do not offer today.

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