Yep, it's still Robin, but nevermind me. Read on :) The article I did for Playboy Philippines is my favorite assigned article so far since it gave me the opportunity to write about the people whose role in reviving the local comics industry has in my opinion been ignored in favor of a more flamboyant showbiz personality (with questionable merits I should add, but I already vilified him in an earlier post). It also allowed me to meet and chat with veteran artists Danny Acuña and Clem Rivera whose work I'm ashamed to admit I wasn't familiar with prior to working on the article. Now that I know what they've accomplished and how hard they've had to struggle, I'm all the richer for it.
This post-interview supplement is my way of thanking them again for their time and their candor. In some way, I also hope it pays just tribute to their immense talent and the generosity of their spirit.
"Hindi nila iminulat kung gaano kahalaga ang trabaho ng artist"
Most of the anecdotes Sir Danny shared with me I was able to include in the article, but I wasn't able to write about the production-line style of page creation he described. This was adopted as circulation for comics increased and more pages were demanded of each artist. Lesser known artists were allowed to assist the "big name" artists, but only the well-known artist got the credit. The assistants though were given a percentage of the main artist's fee.
Now Sir Danny spoke of a pay scale that ranged from A1 (for the likes of Francisco Coching and Nestor Redondo)to D at PhP125 per page which goes down to 100, 75, 60 and 45 depending on where the artist was on the scale. He says it was possible to assist multiple artists at the time and he himself preferred to assist Nestor Malgapo and Fred Carrillo and share a percentage of their fee rather than slave away at a full page for only P45.
I wonder now if that system may have in part contributed to the eventual stagnation of the industry in the 80s, with new artists not being given the chance to develop on their own and opting instead to assist those who were already established.
In those days, though, the acknowledged comics superstars were undisputed masters of their craft. Of Coching's 45 comics novels, Sir Danny says, "nagsisimula pa lang, binibili na ng producer (they weren't even completed yet and producers already wanted to buy them.)" He compares this with another who has claimed that 80 of his 1000 novels have been turned into movies. Sir Danny smiled at me and said, "What percentage is that?"
He remembers the big billboard ads for the P10 comics only a few years ago and asks where they all are now. The real revival he believes is in the hands of a determined new generation of creators.
"Mahina pa rin ang comics pero nakikita mo naumpisahan na, ayun sumisigla (Comics are slowly coming back,)" he says,"ang comics magagawa mo ngayon na paxerox-xerox lang (you can make comics now through photocopies)" and you hear in Sir Danny's voice just how much he marvels at this.
He urges support of comics today if only for patriotism and he also stresses the need to educate audiences about the value of art. He tells of a colleague whose original pages were used by his wife to pick up dog poop. "Hindi nila iminulat kung gaano kahalaga ang trabaho ng artist," he rues. It saddens him too that many are still unfamiliar with our own rich folklore and mythology. "Sinarahan ng kamangmangan."
And yet Sir Danny admires the creators who persist in creating comics today. "Ang lakas ng spirit non no! Iba yung sa kanila eh. Di nila tinignan yung pera"
"Dun sa comics convention, dumami sila, nabuhay sila. Kaming mga senior, kaming veterans, nabuhayan na din. Gumagawa na rin kami ulit ng comics." (Their spirit is amazing! They don't care about money. There are even more comics creators now because of the conventions. They've inspired us seniors to go back to creating comics too.)
"Ang comics pag binuhay mo, zombie lalabas dyan. Patay na eh."
Animator Clem Rivera was one of the veteran artists Sir Danny convinced to come out of retirement at the height of last year's National Artist controversy. Their outrage over those questionable proceedings and the developments in the local independent comic book scene encouraged them all to go back to creating comics. ""I knew i wasn't going to earn from it," he says, "but I wanted to be part of the industry again"
He told me that years before, he really had no plans of going into comics. "Dati akong nagtatrabaho sa pabrika ng sinulid. Factory worker ako. Pagkatapos nagkaroon ng problema sa post ko. Nagresign ako. Nun pa lang ako naging interesado sa komiks." (I used to work at a thread factory. It was only after I resigned due to some trouble at work that I became interested in comics.)
Sir Clem says he knew a little bit about drawing but it was his godfather, Mar Santana, another local comics master, whom he really learned from. "Walang formal training," he says. He just watched and copied what his godfather was drawing until 15 days later Santana said he was ready. He was 25 at the time.
As a full-time comic book artist, Sir Clem says he used to be able to produce eight pages a night for 16 hours of continuous work daily. Those were fully penciled and inked pages so he got used to only getting four hours of sleep a day. He did that for 15 years, with only Saturday night as his time off. The punishing work paid for the college fees of his three children, something he says he couldn't have managed if he didn't work that hard.
When he started out, Sir Clem says he was paid P15 per page; by the time he left the industry he was up to PhP300 per page. Rates for artists he says didn't increase for years; it didn't matter if a local talent already got international exposure, publishers had to keep the prices of their books down.
It was from Sir Clem that I learned that an artist's drawing table is never silent. He used to turn the quarter sheet of cartolina he was drawing on repeatedly to get the right perspective. If you don't hear the sound of the paper scraping again and again on the desk, he says, the artist probably isn't really working ;)
My final quote for the Playboy article came from Sir Clem. Here's the quote in its entirety. "Bubuhayin mo yung comics, tapos ilalabas mong comics yung namatay na comics. Sinong bibili nyan? Sabi ko nga kay Rico Rival, pagka ang comics binuhay mo, zombie lalabas dyan. Patay na eh."
"Pag yung patay pinabangon mo, zombie yon. Ang kailangan sa komics ipanganak muli. Maging brand new." (If you revive the dead, you'll end up with a zombie. Comics need to be reborn.)
Photos by Myke Guisinga :)