Concluding my talk at DLSU, I told the class that if there was a way (not the only way) for comics to regain a strong foothold in a society that has grown to prefer film, television and novels for their entertainment, it has to up the ante in some way. The three aforementioned media have their own unique and obvious strengths, and these strengths can easily trump the comics medium straight in the face.
The three factors that influence the effectiveness of a medium are the comics creator's playground. However, the accessibility factor is dependent on cost, and the approval factor is dependent on an audience's specific tastes. So the factor over which a comics creator has the greatest control is content quality.
My thinking is that people generally don't really care much about medium as much as they do content, unless two media are pitted against one another over the same material. This has led to numerous debates over whether a movie was equal, if not superior, to the novel it was adapted from. One would find difficulty identifying a movie adaptation that was superior to the source. If there was, it would be more of an exception than a rule.
On my end, some folks have mentioned that the Zaturnnah musical was superior to the original graphic novel. And that's fine. Musical theater has its unique features as a medium, and the inclusion of music, choreography and talented actors to the Zaturnnah material somehow lent a more appealing quality to the eyes and ears of these people. Then there are those who said that the film adaptation was on the other end of the spectrum despite what film can do. So it still boils down to content quality.
But what kind of content? And with what standards? What can we put in the comics medium that can generate positive buzz and support from a critical mass?
My answer is: “Give them something they want to see, in a way they've never seen before.”
This statement has two components:
“Giving an audience what it wants to see” is hinged on knowing your genre, as well as what the fans of this genre are expecting. If you're doing a romance, give the romance readers reason to swoon. If you're doing a fantasy, give the fantasy fans reason to be in awe. Story-wise, use the trappings of your genre. Giving your audience what it wants to see should happen on both writing and art levels.
Of course, there is something called formula—the time-tested way that stories unfold and conclude. People are psychologically wired to formulaic stories, as these stories have their origins in age-old myth. Many scoff at the idea of formula, because it threatens to stifle creativity, but formula is essential to attracting an audience because it is familiar.
Which brings us to the second component. While formula is essential, uniqueness is equally so, because uniqueness is what will set your familiar story apart from the other familiar stories. Thus, giving an audience a story they want to see “in a way they've never seen before” is the comic creator's way of bringing forward his or unique style, approach and ideas. It's the comics creator's unique contribution to a table that's already brimming with many, many ideas from other creators.
Let's take Trese (by Budjette Tan and KaJo Baldisimo) as an example. Reading through the eight stories of Trese's two books, you can find a familiar storytelling pattern. In most of the stories, the first part is the set-up of the case. Trese is called in to investigate and gets a brief. She finds around three to four clues during the course of the story—even a hint at Trese's past-- with the last clue piecing the whole case together. A twist is introduced near or around the final action scene, then a denouement. This is the formula for your familiar police story, but the creators have given us their take on this time-tested formula in a way unseen in modern Pinoy comics... and perhaps Pinoy entertainment as a whole.
So aspiring comics creators can do well to check their own stories on both writing and art levels. Are you giving your audience what they want in a way they've never seen before? Are you pushing the envelope and making your story fresh and yet staying familiar?
This, in my opinion, is a way for Pinoy comics to gain significant ground as a medium. If comics want to be noticed, we as creators have to push. We have to earn the privilege.