Indie Komiks Panel: Metro Comic Con 2009
To all future panel moderators, here’s a protip: know who the members of the panel are. I don’t know if Male Host #2 was joking when he asked whether Pol Medina was amongst the waiting panelists but it was more of an awkward moment than a humorous one.
Inauspicious beginnings aside (the announcement about the missing laptop was also made before the panel began) the Indie Komiks panel proved to be an insightful glimpse in to the prevailing attitudes of some of the most successful veterans in the field of Independent Local Comics. The panelists were Heubert Khan Michael (Unstoppable), Reno Maniquis (Maskarado), Gener “Ner P” Pedrina (Sanduguan), Elbert Or (Bakemono High), Gio Paredes (Kalayaan), Gilbert Monsanto (Bayan Knights), Budjette Tan (Trese), and, in an appearance that was a surprise even to him, Andrew Drilon (The Love Eaters).
What follows is a summary of some of the salient points raised during the panel. If I missed anything significant or interesting, please feel free to let me know in the comments.
Q1: Why do you still call yourselves “Indies”? There is no longer a local comics industry right?
Gilbert: Well, in essence that’s correct. What we mean by “Indie” however is that we produce our komiks with our own resources, without depending on external corporate backers.
[Can't remember if it was Gilbert or Elbert who mentioned that Liwayway still published, though their komiks are a different format. Psicom also gets mentioned, but for its foreign licensed DC and Marvel titles.]
Elbert: Actually, there are still some publishers. There is also the book publishing industry. The komiks industry is mature enough that there is much less of a distinction between komiks and books.
Budjette: Many of the local book publishers we’ve worked with, such as Visiprint and Adarna, give us a lot of creative freedom. Also, we are “Indie” in the sense that, unlike creators who work with Marvel and DC, we own our characters.
[More Q and A after the break.]
Q2: How vital is the Internet to komiks?
Gio: The Internet helps generate sales. I don’t agree with the position of those who believe that going digital undermines sales of physical items.
Ner P: The Internet helped me to build a following. It allowed me tor each Filipinos living abroad who wanted to see super heroes who were obviously Pinoy.
Gilbert: The Internet can be competition, but it can also be a tool. I was able to form the Bayan Knights group through the Internet. That was how I became aware of the works of many of the younger artists.
Reno: Actually my creations suffered because of the Internet… because I was scouted and deluged with commissions. The Internet is a good way to expose your works and promote them.
Heubert: We need to use the Internet to our advantage. The Internet is especially necessary to offset the fact that many Indie Komiks are only sold in the conventions, which in turn only take place in the city.
[Heubert then cites Andrew Drilon’s online work. He calls Andrew up from the audience to join the panel.]
Andrew: I give it five years, and then the Internet will be essential to komiks. Webcomics used to be ostracized but not any longer. On the internet, komiks are just a form of content, and content is what people want. (Cites PVP and Penny Arcade as examples of Webcomics that are free but profitable because of merchandise.)
Budjette: I tried releasing the first issue of Trese online, similar to the experiments of Marvel and DC, and from my experience, after people read it online, they want to buy the physical copy. (Cites Boom! Studios and Image as publishers who have successfully used this method as well.)
Gilbert: People will still want to buy physical komiks because reading from the monitor can be hard on the eyes.
Heubert: The ashcan komiks can also double as coloring books.
Elbert: And I like the fact you can bring them to the toilet with you.
Q3: How much would the suggested retail price for a komik be?
Elbert: Depends on your production cost. In addition, factor in your talent fee.
Gilbert: Charging three times your production cost is normal, although you can charge less if you simply want to get the komiks out there.
Elbert: Each copy you sell above cost helps pays for the copies that don’t sell.
Gilbert: And if you sell all the copies, they can pay for your next print runs.
Q4: Does the local comics industry fail to progress because all the characters are based on Philippine culture?
Elbert: Actually, because of globalization, there is a greater need to tap in to local culture. (Cites Facebook as an example.)
Ner P: Well, I feel alluded to hear. Some people say my characters are stereotypes. As I said, I cater to Filipinos abroad who want distinctively Filipino heroes. Sandata was initially a throw-away character, but it turns out that he was the type of character my target audience wanted.
Gio: That characters are based on Philippine culture is not a hindrance. It is the stories that matter. “There are no bad characters, only bad writers.”
Heubert: The obstacles faced by the industry can’t be reduced to the clothing/costume the characters wear. (Cites Snake Eyes’ costume and, er, something about rabbits.) What is keeping the industry from rising is that we are compartmentalized. (Relates how local television producers should be looking to the Indie scene for new teleserye ideas—cites Trese as an example.)
Elbert: There are lots of reasons why the local industry is in the state it is in, but the costumes are not amongst them. We need to do more than just make and sell komiks during the conventions. Part of the “indie spirit” is thinking out of the box, finding a target audience. Why is no one making komiks sent in a gym and peddling them at Gold’s Gym?
Gilbert: There’s nothing wrong with using local culture. There was a research team that came here years ago trying to find some local myth to make in to a movie… but they were frustrated since no one here could give them a straight answer. Instead they went to China… then made Mulan.
Andrew: Your culture is your advantage. People are interested in the culture of other countries… Look at how fascinated we are with Japan. They would be just as fascinated with us. The problem is we’ve got so few resources. I own three books on local folklore… and they’re not all that well written. The problem is we’re an archipelago, and we’ve got multiple languages and multiple versions of the same myths. This is a problem not only for komiks, but prose as well.
Q5: What drives you? What does the industry need? How can we help? Marketing? PR?
Budjette: We need to imitate the boom of the Tagalog romance titles. We need to keep creating stories and fill the shelves until people can’t help but notice the industry. Only when we have the stories will marketing and PR come in to play. (Relates the story of how Carlos Vergara’s Zsazsa Zaturnnah—still self published at the time—exploded in popularity when it was reviewed in the Inquirer.)
Reno: Start with a good product. What is dead here and in the United States is the newsstand comics industry. What is rising are sales from comic specialty stores and bookstores.
Ner P: We should advocate Filipino culture. We need to do this together. If I get it wrong in my stories, I need you to tell me. Share your resources, your knowledge about the culture.
Gilbert: There are lots of problems that yet remain, We have a lot of artists, but haven’t yet tapped a lot of readers.
Elbert: If a bigger industry is the goal, the solution will have to involve more than just us. The good thing though is that each of us here attacks the problem from different angles: some produce stories, others publish, others keep costs low, and people like me try to educate. What you can do? Buy the books. We’re hard to find, so buy them now while we’re here… We won’t play hard to get with you.
Heubert: Yes, buy the books to support the creators.
Gilbert: We’re all proud of our friends who work in Marvel and DC, but the people with me here are heroes too. We don’t want the komiks industry to die. What we are building is just the foundation… support us and we’ll show you what we can do.