Photo by Gio Paredes
What began as a small movement of self published comics in 1993 has now grown into something people least expected: an ongoing thriving industry that has produced hundreds upon hundreds of individual titles. But make no mistake, while this industry is very small compared to what our old industry was like decades before, an industry that produced millions of komiks in a single month, this new industry has achieved all this without the benefit of big publishers, at least for the most part. Majority of titles produced remain self published by artists, or groups of artists.
A lot of these self published creators started by either having comics printed with their own money (or their parents’ money), or if they didn’t have that kind of capital, they photocopied their comics, stapled the paper together and produced comic books. The photocopied format is still by far the favorite way to produce comics by a lot of indie creators. It is inexpensive, and its easy to produce.
I myself began “WASTED” by photocopying one issue at a time, until all eight issues were finished. Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo’s “Trese” also began as a photocopied comic book, as did comics like Joanah Tinio-Calingo’s “Cresci Prophecies”, Jon Zamar’s “Digmaang Salinlahi” and Aaron Felizmenio’s “Gwapoman”.
Over the years I’ve noticed a definite evolution of the format. Wasted was compiled into one book by Alamat Comics in 1998, and in recent years, collected editions of previously photocopied comics began to emerge including Tepai Pascual’s “Maktan” and Gio Paredes’ “Kalayaan”. Other creators really pushed the format like what Joanah did with “Cresci Prophecies”, collecting multiple issues in one book, albeit still photocopied, but hard bound. Jon Zamar collected multiple issues and printed, through a printing press, a monster-thick Digmaang Salinlahi book, complete with colored covers. Take note that all this is still self published. I’ve spoken with a few creators to ask about their thoughts on the evolution of the format, including Budjette Tan, who found success with a book publisher for Trese as another avenue through which the local indie has evolved.
Can you tell me something about yourself as a comics creator, the comics you have done and the comics you’re currently doing?
I had a general interest in the visual arts when I was I kid, especially animation (I wanted to work at Disney). I grew up watching cartoons, but it never became a habit to buy comic books, except comic books about the cartoons I watch (Garfield, Ghost Busters). There were a few exeptions like Ikabod and Pugad Baboy.
Around third year highschool, I enjoyed writing stories and wrote my first novel (if it can be called a novel). Also around that time, I got introduced to Sailormoon. I’m the type of person who geeks out on her favorite shows, so I collected everything that has to do with the show. One time, I saw anime/manga shop near my school and came across the Sailormoon comic (in Mandarin). It was the first time I saw a full blown comic book that’s in black and white. My general fascination for comics started there, since the comic was totally different from what I was watching at the time (I never saw any character committing suicide in comics before…or stabbing her own lover). It was in black and white, and it still shocked me.
I also got exposed to the comic industry in Japan after reading an article, in a business magazine, about how different genres of Manga tapped different readers (based on what titles were famous at the time).
When I was in college, I took up Visual Communications in UP Fine Arts. There I met people who have the same interest in Manga. That’s when my friends decided to make our own photocopied comic anthology (Philippine Mangga), and each of us were assigned a specific genre. I took Fantasy (my favorite), and from there, I created Cresci Prophecies. But the project didn’t push through, since we were busy studying.
CP was the first comic I ever did. I treated it as a hobby, since I had little confidence to sell it. But I made my friends read it, so I continued making the drafts, and developed the story over the course of 4 years. Around 1998, I met the members of Point Zero (including Melvin Calingo and Michael David) in an animation class. From there, I joined their group (who was already releasing their photocopied comics since 1996), and mustered up the courage to release CP #1, and sell it during our college week. From the same animation class, I made a chapter of CP into an animated short.
After I graduated, I was offered a comic strip making job in Manila Times. The strip was called D-koi Junkie. It’s about a highschool girl who posed as a crime-fighting heroine (heavilly inspired by Sailormoon), and who also mistook someone else’s powers as hers. The comic strip ran for just 2 months because of budget cuts, and they had to remove all comic strips from the publication.
I also took other comic commisions, including a rice planting manual under a government agency.
Sometime 2000-2001, I met the store owners of Anima-Anime, and they offered me to sell Cresci Prophecies (and D-koi) at their store. My serious comic making days started from there. I gained a small following, and it definitely pushed me to make more comics. I also joined a comic making competition in Ateneo, where I won third.
I got more exposure when C3Con (Culture Crash Comic’s first big event) opened its doors to independent comics sellers for free. There I sold CP (I had 9 issues at the time), and the compiled version of D-koi Junkie strips.
In the following years, I came up with more stories, and some were released as comics. Curtains for Hire #1 was released in 2005, during the first Komikon. I also did several issues of Empress 9 for the Point Zero’s Anthology, Komiks ATBP. And I continued making comics since then. I even taught kids the art of making comics, when I was hired for a series of workhops.
My influences range from independent films and animated shorts, independent komiks (namely Mythology Class and Angel Ace), Art Nouveau and Sandman (and Neil Gaiman’s storytelling and themes), and reading novels (classics, and Sydney Sheldon books). I really had no formal training in making comics or writing for comics, but I learned quite a few tips from Point Zero members, and retained a few graphic design and marketing principles (which I learned in college). I did read books about making comics, and theories behind it when I got a little more serious.
I went through the process of being rejected by photocopy shops, and finding ways to get around their reasons for rejecting my pages (mainly, “it’s too black, or too dark to photocopy”). It led me to developing a shading technique with crayons, which allowed me to photocopy my work. That technique, is now the staple look of CP. I eventually became comfortable with a comic making process that allowed me to regularly release my comics. I learned use acetate sheets for sfx, stick dialogues to original art in the early issues of CP, and use correction fluids to do comic effects, and learned to make my own compilations.
I’m still working on Cresci Prophecies (my main comic project). I’m also co-writing Kanto Inc., with my husband, Melvin Calingo. I still plan to continue Curtains for Hire, along side Kanto Inc.
Cresci Prophecies started out as a photocopied/stapled style comic book. What made you decide to make a hardbound collections of them with colored covers? How has the response been towards those collections?
It took me 12 issues to decide that it’s time to make compilations of Cresci Prophecies. During conventions, I made at least 15 copies of each issue. Imagine how heavy it was for me to carry a big bag of comics, and carry it going up stairs (since the elevators and escalators aren’t moving before store hours, and set-up time is early). I even asked my Mom’s help to carry some of it. It was just exhausting, so I decided to make compilations of the first 8 issues.
Of course, it was also my dream to have CP in book form. I browse volumes of my manga references everyday, and I hoped one day that I could make enough issues to make a thick compilation. Manga voulmes have at least 170 pages each, so I wanted to give the same reading experience to my readers.
Since I was in a University that has a mini-mall, that have shops that can compile thesis books and photocopied pages, I knew it was possible to make my own compiled book.
At first, I wanted to go “manga”, and use soft binding, and then wrap the colored cover around. But Melvin advised against soft- binding since “student-grade” bindings weren’t as good as perfect binding by big publishing houses. The price difference between soft-bound and hard-bound books also wasn’t that big, so I decided to use hard-bound.
At the time, binding shops didn’t include wrapping a printed cover as one of their services, in place of the leatherette one. So I patterned my book after my art books at home, where hard-bound books have a dust-jacket. My comic pages are already in black in white, it would be nice if I could have a colored cover. So I did.
The response was really good. Their first impression (or what my comic friends told me) was that the book looked like it can be sold in bookstores, based on the shiny cover. They really liked it.
At first I thought my current readers wouldn’t buy the compilation, since they already have the singles (and the book is pretty expensive). But they still bought it. It was such a relief for me. It took me several months to work on the book format, and it paid off. Some readers actually like the idea of reading a continous story (yung hindi bitin masyado). So it was a cue for me to continue releasing the comic in volumes. They also like the bonus stuff that comes with the book.
There was also one time that one of my readers used the book to escape a potential hold-up. He used the book to whack the guy in the face, and escaped. His copy has a dent now, but I was was glad my book helped him escape. And it wouldn’t be as effective if it wasn’t hard. :P
Can you tell me something about yourself as a comics creator, the comics that you have done, and the comics you’re currently working on?
I mainly work on comic post-production, mostly letters, I also do a bit of coloring and/or tones, sometimes a bit of inking, and sometimes I write and when the opportunity comes or I can’t find anyone else, I try to draw too. I started to self publish (photocopying) my work around the time Culture Crash Comics announced that they were holding an Independent Comics contest for their 1st Convention. I joined that contest with what would become Digmaang Salinlahi as my entry and was fortunate enough to land at 3rd place, good enough to be offered a staff position at their bullpen. I spent 2 years at Culture Crash as a Graphic Designer for their magazine part and doing whatever the other creators need to be done on their comic book titles (mostly flats, or color-work).
Around the time that publication closed down I was lucky enough to be offered to oversee production work for Seven Seas Entertainment, an LA based publisher which hired Filipino illustrators to draw their Manga titles. Several titles I’ve worked on were Ravenskull, Mr. Greaves, and Hollow Fields, titles which all won an award at Japan’s first International Manga Award for their creators. Around this time I also did work for Level Up’s Ragnarok-Online strips with Mark Navarro, Wenz Chua and then Jhomar Soriano which was published every Sunday in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. One of the last titles I’ve worked on before I left was a Speed Racer title done around the time that movie came out.
This was also the time a lot of pop culture conventions were popping out of the woodwork and I was part of an art group that joined a lot of them. I produced a bunch of issues for a comic book anthology with friends entitled Komiks, ATBP which featured shorts and previews. Around this time also I was fortunate to be part of the founding of Komikon, which aimed to put a spotlight on local comics instead of the usual all mixed in kind of event. Fresh: A Sequential Portfolio was the first offset printed book I produced, it was an anthology with contributions from artists that were part of then defunct groups and new friends I met while working for Seven Seas. It was a kind of graduation from the photocopied anthology Komiks Atbp and from then on I would be releasing my other books no longer in photocopied format. Other works I did around that time was do graphic design work for Blitzworx.
In 2008 I joined a local art studio, Digital Art Chefs Creative Media Studios which also offered comic book production services. Titles that I’ve worked on for them were an Indian comicbook adapting the Chakravyuha, FHM’s The Adventure of Erek Shawn, strips for K-Zone, a Coke Manga project and Erik Matti’s Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles comic adaptation. I also did a bunch of comic book related work for other publishers like Groundbreakers with Mangaholix and Sacred Mountain with Bayan Knights.
Right now I’m freelancing and aside from Digmaang Salinlahi, I’m also working on Codename: Bathala. It’s a superhero themed comic book about a differently abled man who came into possession of a technomystical armor that grant him power. Also my new studiomates and I are doing another anthology sort of thing which we will hopefully release in November, it’s entitle Next Issue and it’s formatted to follow the old Saturday morning cartoons genre lineup. I also do most of Komikon’s creatives and publications including our first comic book anthology Sulyap.
I have a copy of your Digmaang Salinlahi collected book and it’s impressive. It is probably the thickest indie I’ve seen so far. How many pages is it? What has led to your decision to collect your comic book in this format? How has the reaction been so far?
The compilation is 388 pages with a lot of pinups and character sheets. As on why I decided to collect everything; I came into a realization that I’ve been doing that title for 10 or maybe more years and I wanted to do something to commemorate that. So far those who faithfully followed my project have no violent reactions to it so I’m glad for that. And thank you for buying a copy.
I noticed you had one hardbound collection made for yourself, which is even more impressive. Do you have any thoughts of making your work available commercially in that format?
I tried it out at a whim and was kicking myself for not using that format in the first place. I’m actually torn, if I was to release the DS compilation in that format it might not be fair to you guys who bought the first editions. It’s still gnawing at me, will find out when the next event rolls in.
Can you tell us something about yourself as a comic book creator? What comics have you made and are working on?
I’m Aaron Felizmenio. I started doing independent comicbooks back when I was in college in 2008 with my classmates and I’ve been lovestruck with creating ever since. The first one we did was an anthology titled Obvious Productions Presents: Komiks! It has the first appearance of Gwapoman 2000 which has been recently collected into paperback form.
I’m currently working on the second book of Gwapoman 2000 titled Hari ng BasagTrip and Manila Acounts: 1081 – Good Criminals Wear White with Wan Mañanita, RH Quilantang and Alyssa Mortega.
I’m also doing The Minkowski Space Opera but it is currently on hold for research reasons. It is part of Neverheard Webcomics under Frances Luna III Illustration Firm.
Can you tell us something about the Frances Luna III Illustration Firm? What is it, and what are your objectives/goals?
FL3, as we call it, is a non-profit group of local comic book creators dedicated to publish comicbooks alternatively with the best quality and professional looking output while having fun. The group is working towards making their comic books stand-out and be accepted as they strive to make it worthy to be put on shelves. Creators included are: Paul Michael Ignacio, Kai Castillo, RH Quilantang, Alyssa Mortega, Audrey Gonzalez, Mel Casipit, Wan Mañanita, Tepai Pascual and Paolo Herras.
Your group’s comic book, including your own Gwapoman were released in book format, a step up from the common indie style of photocopy and staples. What was the thinking behind the the decision to come up with book collections of your works?
I think it’s a common dream of most indie creators to have all their works collected into a book but we know, right now, that it’s impossible for us to have our works be published by big publishers so we thought why not do it ourselves? Besides, most people who buy our comicbooks don’t want to wait for the next event/convention for the next chapter of our stories to be released. And we understand that. We collect indies too and we feel the pain of waiting. The production cost is actually cheaper compared to the singles! We have Tepai to thank for it because without her, we wouldn’t know it’s possible.
What has been the reaction to the books so far?
It’s great! The reactions are great! We’ve heard a lot of positive response, look-of-the-book-wise! They tell us that they’re putting the books in their shelves at home along with other top notch books. We feel really grateful and honored! The only recurring problem that they say is that the books are still expensive for their budget. For now, we can’t do anything about it but we’re still trying to look for ways to cheapen the production so they can get the books in a cheaper price too.
You, of course, really need no introduction, but still, can you tell us a little something about yourself? What comics have you worked on and what are you working on now?
Hi! I’m Budjette Tan and when I was eight years old my most popular work was COSMIC MAN. It was read by a grand total of three people: my mom, my dad, and my brother. They all gave it two thumbs up.
My first published / self-published work was THE FLYING PHANTOM, which came out in the anthology COMICS 101 in 1994. Through that comic book, I got to meet you (thanks for agreeing to include WASTED in that anthology) and the rest of the guys who would eventually become the founding members of ALAMAT COMICS.
After that, wrote the comic book BATCH 72, which was illustrated by Arnold Arre. (A little trivia about that book: the very first issue was actually inked by Ian Sta. Maria and his block mates from U.P. F.A. The three-issue mini-series was lettered by Kajo Baldisimo.)
That was my last attempt at writing comics, because my work at the ad agency just took up most of my time.
In 2005, I got that fateful text from Kajo, inviting me to make a monthly comic book with him. Even though I thought it was crazy and impossible plan, I dug up an old character, dusted him off, made him into a woman, and we gave birth of Alexandra Trese.
You previously released other comics as standard format offset printed comic books like “Comics 101″. What made you decide to do TRESE first as a photocopied and stapled comic book? How successful was it in that format?
Aside from COMICS 101, I released BATCH 72 in offset/printed format and it was just cost me to much. Had to use up my savings and even borrowed from my very generous and supportive uncles. Offset printing meant you’d get a minimum of 1000 copies, which I tried to distribute all by myself to other comic book stores in the city. That was time consuming as well.
When me and Kajo started TRESE, it was really just for fun. We just to do something for ourselves, something that wasn’t “advertising work”. So, we’d only photocopy 20 or 30 copies. We were lucky enough to find a branch of Copylandia was that was willing to photocopy, collate, and staple the comics. So, we’d only distribute it in one branch of Comic Quest, in Megamall. And sometimes, if I ever go to Quezon City, I’d deliver copies to their SM City branch. Afterwards, when Comic Odyssey opened in Robinsons Galleria, I’d sell copies there and also sold copies in Druid’s Keep.
It was interesting when I’d visit Comic Quest, Megamall and find out that we’d sold out the 20 copies. So, I’d photocopy more copies and would be happy to find out the following week that we sold out again.
What led to you deciding to team up with Visprint to produce printed collections of TRESE in the graphic novel format? Is it easier/better to have a publisher rather than self publishing it?
I learned about Visprint through Carlo Vergara, since they published his ZSAZSA ZATURNNAH graphic novel. It amazed me that there was a local publisher was willing to publish graphic novels!
Visprint also published David Hontiveros’ PENUMBRA series of novellas, which showed me that they were open to publishing horror and dark fantasy stories.
So, I pitched TRESE to them and they accepted it!
The biggest advantage of having a publisher is that you don’t need to shell out any money for the printing and distribution. They take care of all of that and we get royalties from the sales.
They also organize the events that help promote your books.
Do you see yourself pushing it further into colored printed comics?
Of course that’s the big dream, right? To have your comic book published in full color! Not sure if that full-color book is going to be TRESE. Kajo has really envisioned Trese’s world to be in black-and-white. Maybe if we find the right colorist, Kajo will agree to a full-color Trese graphic novel!