100 Araw ng Komiks (100 Days of Comics) is an online event organized for the purpose of spreading awareness of Philippine Komiks through Twitter, Facebook, DeviantArt, blogs and other online venues. Click here for the event page on Facebook. The Komikero Comics Journal will be posting everyday for the month of July news, opinions and commentary on aspects of the Philippine comics industry. Today, I will talk about Flashpoint, and Sterling Paper.
The very beginnings of the modern Philippine Independent Komiks Industry can be traced to this comic book. Flashpoint #1, published in January 1994 by Straight Lines International, owned by Sterling Paper, had creative people who would eventually become to be some of the biggest movers and shakers of the Philippine comics industry, including Carlo Vergara (who went on to create ZsaZsa Zaturnnah) and David Hontiveros (Pelicula, Bathala). I thought the work was really raw, inconsistent and rough. But I think that can only be expected for a bunch of young creators just beginning to learn their craft. But here and there were sparks of potential and each page displayed a remarkable sense of passion for the medium.
Today we all know how brilliant these creators have become, having come a long way from Flashpoint more than 25 years ago.
The fact that Sterling Paper was behind the publication of this comic book is interesting, considering the events of the past several years.
Flash forward to 2007. The old komiks industry has faded. Carlo J. Caparas was going around the country on a Komiks Caravan spreading awareness of komiks, talking about the “revival of komiks”, perhaps completely unaware that for the past 23 years, a generation of comic book creators younger than him were already reviving komiks in their own way, self publishing, and self distributing. In that 23 years Philippine comics have evolved and moved on from the old formats and old sensibilities. They were holding comic book conventions several times a year, promoting and selling comics, without the benefit of big publishers, completely out of a sense of self reliance and independence.
Many people were pining for the good old days of komiks when they could be found at every street corner, every sari sari store, all across the country. The older creators were pining for the days of Atlas and GASI, big time publishers who gave them their jobs to create comics. But with all the big publishers gone, no one is there to hire them, and no one was there to print and distribute their comics. To get an industry like we had in the old days going, what people didn’t fully understand was it required an enormous amount of money. It didn’t require a million pesos, it required millions of pesos. Think about it. You needed money to hire people to write, draw, color, edit the comics, and that includes an renting an office to work from, and hiring a staff to do the production work. You need to buy all the office equipment including chairs, desks, computers, scanners, desktop printers, and so forth. You need to pay the utilities to run your office (water, electricity, telephone). You need a printing press and people to run it. Supplies like paper and ink to keep the presses running. You needed vehicles and drivers and workmen to move the comics. And for your comics to reach all corners of the country, you need solid contacts with the distributor cartels in the country and you need the cash to keep that distribution line well oiled. All this has to be in place just to bring an inexpensive comic book to your sari sari store in Jolo, Baguio, Iloilo or Batanes.
Bottom line: You need tens of millions of pesos to revive the Komiks industry on a national scale.
The average Philippine Independent comic book creator has how much personal money in his pocket to publish his comics? 500 pesos? 1000 pesos?
So you can only imagine the frustration one feels when morons online who think they know what they’re talking about rant online about how these new comics are too expensive and can’t be bought everywhere.
The independent creators, let me reiterate, pay for the publication of their comics out of their own pocket. They don’t have the millions of pesos required to mount a nationwide revival of komiks. They do the best they can, out of their own initiative. The fact that the independent movement is still alive after 25 years, and is still growing today, is only an indication that this is a little industry that isn’t going away.
So, in 2007, the independent creators have been at it for the last 20 or so years, doing the best they can, and yet they have been successful in creating some of the most interesting and most significant comic books in Philippine comics’ modern history. But they lack the money to go widespread and nationwide.
Carlo J. Caparas was also in the same boat. CJC was one of the biggest names of the old industry, and in 2007 he launched on a massive media campaign with the hopes of reviving Philippine komiks. He did this by going on a “Komiks Caravan”, and later putting together a Komiks Congress. However, like the Philippine Independent creator, he too did not have the millions to actually start publishing comic books. All he did was well, talk about it. And unless he came up with his own money (like we did) to publish his comics, talk is all he will ever do.
And this is when Sterling Paper re-entered the picture.
Sterling Paper once again wanted to publish comics, and they had millions of pesos to do it. By all intents and purposes, this was exactly what everyone was waiting for. The first people Sterling Paper contacted to help them in their venture was Mango Comics, headed by Mr. Boboy Yonzon, who was then currently publishing Mwahaha! and Mango Jam. Mr. Yonzon in turn, recommended me as one of the creative people. Sterling even sent over a representative to my home here in San Pablo so we could talk about and plan how we are going to go about it. Their plan was staggering. Regular comic books will be released and will be sold very inexpensively (10 pesos a copy) on a national level. I would invite many other comic book creators of the independent industry, and was excited by the fact that they would be equally hiring veterans to work on other stories as well. I came away from the meeting so excited that I drew an online comic strip the minute they left.
Time passed and I wondered what had happened. I am not fully aware exactly how events transpired, but all I know from my end is that Mango Comics and I were no longer involved in creating the comic books, and Carlo J. Caparas was now creative director. And CJC opted for an almost fully veteran-created line of comic books, created with the same storytelling sensibilities of the old komiks industry. Except for one or two exceptions, the younger comic book creators were completely shut out, as we were shut out during the Komiks Congress, the supposed congress organized to study how Philippine Komiks can be revived, which became anything but that.
Isn’t it a wonder that the Sterling Comics project failed spectacularly? As a fan, I appreciated the amazing art by some artists, including Hal Santiago who really gave it his all, but in general, I found it difficult to connect to the material. It felt like reading old komiks, which spoke nothing to who I am today as a Filipino.
Imagine Darna as reinvisioned by Arnold Arre and myself. Imagine TRESE by Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo. Imagine ZsaZsa Zaturnnah by Carlo Vergara and Kiko Machine by Manix Abrera. These could have been the kind of stories Filipinos would have read nationwide (and inexpensively) had Mango Comics remained with the project. Sterling Paper had the millions to make this possible. But I guess it was not meant to be.
It’s a lesson that future publishers ought to keep in mind. You can’t keep ignoring us, pretending we are not here. Even now, there are efforts to revive the industry without involving us who have done comics for the last 20 years. Even today there are people who believe that it was Carlo Caparas who revived komiks in 2007, when in reality, it was Sterling Paper. You need to involve the younger creators, because if you don’t, any effort you may have will surely end in disaster.
And what is Carlo J. Caparas doing now with regards to “reviving komiks”? I have no idea.
But the Independent Komiks creators are still at it. They are still spending their own money to publish their own comics. Other fans are still organizing events across the country. In July 16 is a comic book convention in Baguio. In November is the 7th Annual Komikon. Carlo Vergara is on his way to creating a new ZsaZsa Zaturnnah Book. David Hontiveros is continuing to write Bathala. Budjette Tan is creating more Trese. Arnold Arre and I are going head with our Darna plans (and a project of our own). The same is true for hundreds more creators who continue to do Philippine comics today.
If you would like to meet some of them, click here.