Friday, January 18, 2013

Why the Comics Industry Needs Critical Mass and How to Achieve It

[Note: The recent Push Comics Forward initiative launched by BOOM! Comics reminded me of this piece I wrote on January 18, 2013. Though the text below was originally written to talk about the Philippine comics industry, I figured it's also relevant to the current conversation about comics industries in other parts of the globe. -- 01/30/2015)

Where there's smoke, there's fire. Over the past decade or so, many comic conventions have been organized around the country, attracting thousands of comics fans and featuring prominent creators and artists. These events have been covered in tri-media and seem to be helping the industry elevate itself in the public consciousness.

The question is, has the industry elevated itself high enough? There may be fire, but is the fire big enough for people to take notice?

We could use the analogy of a burning house. If there's one burning house, the people surrounding that house would be alarmed, but that's as far as it would go. If people a neighborhood away see the news about it on television, they may may feel a bit of concern, but the incident eventually becomes inconsequential.

If that fire engulfs an entire community--or a city--alarm would spread over a wider region. Apart from that, the news would report damage estimates, death tolls and bring up issues about safety regulations and disaster management. More people would be talking about it, and the key people involved might find themselves on either sides of praise or criticism. More people would take action.

At this point in comics history, is the industry creating a small fire, or a big fire?

To me, no matter how many comics conventions there are in any given year, these are small fires, attracting the attention and excitement among fans and creators (and, perhaps, curious onlookers). Small, because relative to the size of the population, fans and creators only make up a small percentage. A contained environment, with little to no impact to the majority. This is not to say that comics conventions are useless. Far from it. But to build the fire and get more people excited and involved, the comics industry needs to go outside its comfort zone and begin to engage with people who by default don't see comics as part of their lifestyle.

The situation is akin to the state of Philippine film, music and theatre. Ask many artists, and you'll see a common theme, the struggle to get public support and patronage. For many years, the appeal to the public has been "Support Philippine (blank)." But we know now that the public won't support something that is irrelevant to them. If what we see on movie screens and the theatre stage or hear over the radio doesn't hit us the right way, then we can't and won't offer support. We'll only do so if we have the extra cash and if we're open to taking a risk.

So it's not so much about the medium, but the content. We just can't say "Support Philippine comics," because we need to give a good reason. "It's made by Filipinos" just doesn't cut it anymore.

To create great content, stories need to affect people in meaningful ways, using one or more of the basic themes that govern our lives--love, friendship, survival, self-esteem, and so forth. On top of those themes is a novel concept or an intriguing plot that taps into personal, interpersonal, and socio-cultural realms, strung together in a solid structure, all made real by entertaining writing and accessible art. The kind of material that publishers can't wait to release and distribute all over. The kind of material that industry journalists can't help but review. The kind of material that earns a spot in a university professor's course syllabus. The kind of material that'll still be selling ten years down the line. The kind of material that makes people say to others, "Have you read this? You should!"

It's not easy, and it can't be achieved by one or two people. This is a concerted effort that should involve many comics creators. Given the reality that many projects won't succeed as hoped, a huge number of comics have to be produced to realize a potent batting average. One or two major successes a year is too small.

If in a given year, more comics that satisfy the above are released, the fire burns brighter and hotter. When that fire is sustained and fed, audiences grow and sales pick up. Comics conventions would then need bigger venues, comics merchandise would become more mainstream choices, comics education becomes more popular, a career in comics becomes more viable, and comics become part of public life. That's what we want for comics. The question is, how many of us are ready to take the challenge?

3 comments:

Kitten said...

Well said sir carlo. Specially on this quote

- We just can't say "Support Philippine comics," because we need to give a good reason. "It's made by Filipinos" just doesn't cut it anymore.

ALPOnse said...

Tomo :) Lam mo ba na natuto akong magbasa ng maige sa comics

(Funny Comics... BataBatuta... Yung mga Horror like Shocker... Nightmare...)

mikhail fernando said...

Nga naman sir carver, agree sanyo! haha. Kelangan talaga, marami sa atin ang ready... wooo. kakatakot na ang industry ay nababa...

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