Tuesday, April 08, 2003

comic babble

El has an interesting (and nicely lengthy) post over at Best Viewed With Eyes Wide Open about comix (read it and come back).

Some of what he wrote or questioned got me thinking about comics and the independent creator (or more properly, got me thinking some more, because over the weekend my friends and I spent a lot of time on related topics).

When I started Kestrel Studios with Nikki, it was primarily to give us an identity, a brand through which we would publish stuff and offer our content development services to market. But honestly, it was to create an entity for The Lost. During those halcyon days of Hong Kong cash (and Sage was just a twinkle in my eye), we projected several titles into an imaginary timetable: The Lost, KC Strange, Ruin, High Adventure, The Strong (sequel to The Lost) and other stuff like a book of my plays and fiction. We also made plans to publish stuff from other people, other creatives whose work deserved an audience beyond their intimate circles.

But really, it was to make comics written by us.

However, time, circumstance and a change in priorities do fuck up the best laid plans of mice and men and so Kestrel as a business was set aside in favor of something else that would generate regular revenue streams to support us (the initial plan for Kestrel was for it to be subsidized by my Hong Kong income, but then I decided to return to Manila to set up shop with my partners necessitating a reallocation of funds all around – and of course, Sage determined that it was time for her grand entrance). So now Kestrel does a lot of writing but not primarily for comics.

Kestrel still makes comics when we can afford to. In this context, Kestrel is fiercely independent. In terms of content we control (as opposed to work we do for pay), we write for ourselves first, presumed audience second.

In terms of funding, we are independent. For The Lost, every cost was paid for out of pocket, no sponsors, no nothing. I paid everyone involved in the creative production, nothing gratis – because it is the right thing to do.

In terms of spirit, we are independent. We have never entertained notions of being huge and have no aspirations of world domination.

We just want to make comics, comix, komiks.

The stage we skipped was the photocopy or risograph stage. We went with offset printing because we were fortunate enough to be able to afford it. We decided that to be able to create the impression of being on equal ground with all the other books on the market, we needed quality in terms of production – full color covers, good paper stock.

But apart from that cosmetic decision, we are small press, proud and happy to be so.

We experience no desultory illusions. A book every year or so is fine, as long as it is a book we like. Or we forsake the notion of brand equity and collaborate with friends, just to tell stories.

Once in a while, we are fortunate enough to publish something like Ab Ovo, which obviously is a marketing tool for a client but also an opportunity to try something new, get our names out and create mindshare for our brands (and subvert the notion of what makes a comic book a comic book by including short fiction that is not an easy read, not talking down to the readers).

But really, we just want to make comic books.

Which, long-windedly, brings me back to El and creators and producers like him.

I am delighted that there are people who still believe in finding clever ways to circumvent importunate barriers to publishing. I am happy to see people fighting the same struggles we fight and finding ways to succeed. People like him are not intimidated by the larger pieces of crap floating in the same toilet bowl we commonly occupy but look at things as challenges. They question why things are the way they are, consider options, innovate to counter problems with format, distribution and payment, and stress out about the quality of the content they produce.

This is a far cry from the vacuous Filipino arriviste manga masquerading as something it isn’t, held together by words that no one in their right mind would deign call a “story”.

This is creatively distant from hoping the popularity of an established so-called iconic character is enough to disguise the sad sad sad lack of depth or heart which seems to be strategy of some gimcracks.

This is so far removed from the strategy of just publishing farrago, something, anything, that seems to be in vogue, riding trends and hoping to make some money at the cost of actually saying anything of worth or contributing to great Filipino comic book state.

This is different from the tired, jaded, spavined, bitter, formerly trailblazing wunderkind and rising stars who burned out due to lack of oxygen (in their invented rarified atmosphere), scoffing at and discouraging others who do not share their tranquil hebetude and dare to try to fly where others have failed.

This is different from the elder statesmen who rest on their laurels and create nothing new – and you know how I feel about the creative complacency triggered by awards and accolades.

This is the spirit of the independent creator that I identify with, reach for and hope to achieve. Fresh, minatory, edgy, brutal, never conventionally pretty, never Panglossian, evocative, brimming with hope and fire and despair and potential. And productive, of course (for mordacious rhetoric may sound amusing, but do you have anything to show?).

Cosmetics aside (though not completely aside, because remember that the comic book has a visual and tactile component too), it is content that matters, and the spirit that moves and breathes through it.

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