Friday, September 10, 2004

siglo & darna

And as if the ruckus over the "Okay-she-won-but-is-chick-lit-real-lit" thing wasn't enough to keep my normally laidback readers snickering, there's this. An excerpt:

This seems to be the year for questioning the Manila Critics Circle's relevance and decision-making process, as the questionable verdicts aren't limited to the Young Adult category. I for one was aghast that they would award anything to Mango Comics' Darna, which was mediocre at best. That it should tie with Siglo just makes my brain want to commit hara-kiri, because WHAT STANDARDS ARE THEY USING?

Of course, one can argue that Siglo has its own flaws, but its ambition, its scope, its willingness to reach for and achieve more than your run-of-the-mill slab of sequential lit -- these are undeniable. Meanwhile, Darna offers stilted writing, hackneyed superheroics and gratuitous T&A, which can hardly be deemed an accomplishment, much less award-worthy. Amidst the flurry of congratulations from the local comics mailing lists and weblogs, very few people have chosen to express concern -- at least in writing -- about the discrepancy in quality between the two supposed winners. Hey, we're Pinoys. We're like that. But if word of mouth is anything to go by, I'm far from the only person disturbed by this decision. I'm not looking to diss Mango Comics as a company -- I am very much looking forward to future releases from them, from talents such as Gerry Alanguilan and Arnold Arre (and besides, it seems that so many of my friends work for Mango these days) -- but hey, bad comics are bad comics. To pretend otherwise is to be stupid.


A number of people have come up to me to ask my thoughts on the matter, a few have even written or texted. I told them all the same thing: that we (the Siglo team) were just happy to have been recognized for our efforts to lift grafiction created by Filipinos a notch higher. That a nod from a circle of unquestionably literate critics was a great pat on the back. That it would be mean-spirited to even consider questioning the tie.

As I wrote in my reply to the anonymous commentator on this subject in the "Yes, but is it literature?" post, it is the right of any awards-giving body to declare winners, no winners, or a tie as they see fit. It's their prerogative. For us, just being nominated for the award was honor enough. Being a finalist is not a bad thing. Note: Both Siglo: Freedom and Darna were nominated. We did not "join" the competition in the manner of other contests like the Palancas (where you submit your entries).

Smart minds have reasoned that the Manila Critics Circle awarded two books for two different things, both important to the continued growth and health of our local industry. They awarded Siglo for the being (in the words of one of the critics) "a brave bold step", as a literary effort, warts and all (and of course we are all aware of Siglo: Freedom's flaws - no freshman effort is ever pristine in all aspects, but I'm damn proud of it and happy as hell). And they think Darna was awarded in a nod to the pop culture origins of pinoy komiks, with Darna as a symbol of Filipino pop art, and also because Mango Comics took big steps in terms of the book's production, marketing and distribution.

Let me clarify the paragraph above: I was not the one who reasoned thusly. So, please do not misquote me. Do not even think of it.

But part of the reasoning is sound. In his acceptance speech before mine, Mango Comics publisher Zach Yonzon referred to Siglo as "hifalutin", in the context of his book even being nominated (it was a compliment).

In my own speech afterwards (which Ruey de Vera, in jest, called my "rebuttal"), I said that I accept the term willingly. Because of Siglo's approach, subject matter and design, we are, in a way, hifalutin - with respect to Darna.

After the awards, while chatting with the Yonzon family, we both exchanged happy words and talked about what our groups were planning for the future. Siglo: Passion for us; Lastikman, Moomoo Hunters and Jam for them.

Again, let me clarify: there exists no animosity between Siglo and Darna. The competition for the award ended with a happy tie (in fact, Zach is one of the featured creators of Siglo: Passion). The relative merits of each book were ferreted out by the judges, and both were found worthy for one reason or another. Reasons expounded upon by the judges in the books' respective citations.

And finally, to answer someone who texted me "Do you think Darna is literature?": Yes, of course it is. Popular literature is part and parcel of Philippine Literature. Just because the subject matter is not of the ivory tower mode does not negate its intrinsic value.

Consider this instead: this is the first time that two comic books won the prize, in a year where other categories had no winners.

We each went home with a trophy, so it isn't even a Solomonic scenario where we have to halve the award. How can each be "best"? Gentle reader, the world abounds with ties, whether by clock or opinion.

Granted that everyone else has their own opinions (which are all valid as far as opinions go), but I'd like to let this thing rest before it grows. Instead, let us look forward to new books, new stories and healthy competition.

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