Before I write this, there are things you have to remember. This is ONLY about the Philippine komiks scene, if you are thinking of any titles, situations and successes outside the country, you are reading everything inside this article wrong.
I have been making a living out of komiks for more than twenty plus years now. I have to add that most of my work if not all are all comic related. I have been a reader of the medium as a kid up until today. I have stories to tell, as much as possible stories with no names. I will tell you some needed details that I think is enough for you to understand without me telling who done it or said things that might place me in a situation I wouldn't want to be in. All the stories will be true.
A few years back a friend of mine told me that he saw this guy riding the MRT. He was old and looks like he's very tired. He then took out a drawing board or cartolina and started sketching. It was work and my friend noticed the style, he suddenly realized that this guy used to be one of his komiks hero, a veteran comic illustrator. He said something like, " He still got it." but I wasn't interested in that. I can only picture him as kinda sickly from my friend's story. This is not a surprise, since most us are freelancers. Pay per work people. I can only imagine how many pages he had to draw just to earn for a living. This is the not the first time but right after my friend expressed his concern and said something like. " Poor guy." I said to myself "Komiks had failed him."
I have heard other incidents like a comic artist who committed suicide, and another one who worked on so many pages trying to meet deadlines and died on his desk. Some stories are a bit lighter but I have heard a lot of sad stories about these artist who are not just the common illustrators but are those who we can consider the greats!
Okay now, technically speaking some people fail and some succeeds in any field of work. We can never really blame an entire industry for any of these situations but bear with me. I'll present everything on the table and I'll leave the conclusions to you okay?
Back in the nineties, I went to GASI to try and get work. It took time for me to actually get real work since the editors said I wasn't ready yet, luckily they liked some of my writings so I started as a writer then an artist. The atmosphere was fun and always full of creative energy. Back then, artists still had this room where they have tables to work on and it has air-conditioning. I used to go here and look at the other artists work. Editors would tell us that we can learn from them. The great thing about it was that you'd get to see them all work, talk to them for tips and it was for free.
A few months after, they had to use that room as an editorial room. No more place for the artists, all that was left was this hallway leading to the restrooms. No air-con, just a looong table on a wall and we get to sit and draw there. It was still fun because it was like in a barber shop, artists are great story tellers. The real reason why we stay there is visibility. Usually when a title is on a deadline. Editor needs trouble shooters to finish some short stories as fill-ins. That is an opportunity for us to be called in and help. I know a veteran artist who would get sets of scripts a day and he would finish them all before 6pm. He said, that was his secret to get his weekly salary to go up. Another great tip I used later on.
The stories within this hallway are always a treat but some sad stories about the state of the industry are usually told every now and then. I've always thought when we were still buying tons of komiks from the newstands near the market place in Libertad, Pasay that these artists are hmmmm, let's just say, well paid superstars. Their work are so good and they were famous among the komiks-reading public which was like almost everyone we know back then. Except for the upper class people who would be clueless of any local titles like Aliwan and the other 80 plus komik titles nation-wide.
Unfortunately, the hype that was in the pages does not match the living condition of us all in the industry. Now don't ever get us wrong. Everyone were very happy with this kind of work. We LOVE it. The rate per page when I worked there was like 55 philippine pesos per page for new writers and 60-75 pesos per page for artists. Artists would pencil and ink their own work. There was a lettering dept. and a coloring dept. which handles the other stuff. I am such a nosy person that I have manage to go inside these departments and even got to see the color-stripping department where they manually cut plates to be used for the machines. They are great people.
Things I have learned from these people are quite educational. I have learned that the coloring department used to hire real artists but was reduced when they can't adjust the salary, so now most are slacking of because that is what the company are paying them. If you compare the colors from the 80's komiks from the 90's issues, I think it is evident that most colors does even connect to the lines of the artworks. Proof of discontent.
Also learned that the rate for writers and artists had been like that for quite a number of years now. I was surprised to find an artist storming out of the editorials office saying that he doesn't want to get a raise, adding that they will give him less scripts to work on since he'd be too pricey for them. He was only asking for more scripts to work on instead of giving him a higher page rate.
The great thing about the old printing machines was that it was from the 30's. They said this machine although old, can really capture all the lines from an actual art. Clearer than the new machines these days. I would agree.
Outside the country, an artist need only to finish 1-2 pages a day to keep deadlines in check, we needed to finish like 5-10 pages a day just to make sure the salary would be enough to support a family. I was lucky I was single during those days. We work from morning til night to be able to do this. Some complain that some editors have friends thus cutting them off from some scripts. The editors were like kings and queens. I would like to think that they were just doing their jobs, a title reflects their performance so they had to make sure it sells.
One thing is really terrifying to some of the contributors and that is the dreaded cut-off time for collection. You see we have to fall in line just to get our salary. If the money runs out of gas before you get to the cashier, bad day for you. See you next week. This is sad because you have done your work and expect to pay rent, buy clothes or anything you need like materials. Most of the time, i would lend someone money because of this. It was just seem ungrateful of the company sometimes, but they said it was according to the budget per week. Nothing we could do about that.
We are not superstars inside those walls. We are called contributors. We are like Peter Parker during his days as a contributing photographer, sometimes he gets paid and sometimes he doesn't get any. This only meant that we don't have benefits and we have to work double time to get above the poverty line. A writer I talked to used to complain how hard it was to write lots of short stories within a week, every week. I asked him, how did he came up with so many stories. he told me, he would sometimes watch old movies and series and just reinvent an idea. Sometimes if he gets desperate he would just change the names and locations and words and that is bad. he said, he's manage to get all his kids to college, some are already working. What he can't get is respect. That gets him down. He is happy and proud that he was able to do his duty as a parent but still, a little respect would have been nice.
In some ways, it is maybe because of media calling komiks as the lowest form of entertainment in the country. I think they are mistaken. How can you say that when most of the movies back then came from serialized komik series. They were certain that a movie is a hit whenever a komiks that came before the film is a hit with the masses. How disrepectful can that be? Yet, it was something that creators just doesn't seem to mind.
Since we are on the topic of respect. I was able to find out what they do to the original pages. They rip them to shreds and sell them to the junk shop. Paper scarps is what they were. I think some of them original survived since some editors get to take some home. They reason behind this was piracy. They said a few years ago. some titles would have the same pages because the artist would sell the work to another company after he gets his original. Imagine how this likely this can really happen. The form of komiks here was in a magazine format. A title would have like 4 short stories, a series and a novel in each issue. So those stories can surely be resold. But I still think that this violates the artists' right to get their work back. The copyright said that what ever you do. The original will always be yours, in fact you can sell the originals but still the owner cannot reproduce without your permission. It was a sad moment for me back then as i looked at stacks and stacks pages gone forever.
I have to continue this later.............