By Patricia B. Mirasol

“We position comics as affordable art,” said Paolo Herras, co-founder of comics and art market Komiket and festival director of the 1st Philippine International Comics Online Festival . “That’s why comics are still doing okay as opposed to glossies that are struggling.” A recent talk on the state of comics in Southeast Asia showed that there are opportunities for growth in this space.

Budjette Tan, co-creator of the horror/crime comic series Trese, said that the surge in online demand for comic books is fueled by fans who are discovering how to find their favorite titles on the Internet. Publishers, he added, were “happy” with book orders derived from Aklatan, on online book event that took place in August. “As far as the Philippines people are on a learning curve. They are slowly learning how to get their comics. Bookstores themselves are finding ways to get comics to readers.”

The panelists agreed that non-traditional comic platforms such as Instagram and Tiktok are being used as hacks by some in the industry, although it’s still too early to tell if this will translate to success. Julian “Lefty” Kam, creator of the Major Zombie franchise and co-founder of independent comics outfit Gilamon Studio, noted that social media may get your work noticed but that only a very small percentage can monetize such efforts. 

“Monetizing your content is a lot harder than getting people to discover your work,” said Ariel Ries, a webcomic artist based in Melbourne. “There might be people in Southeast Asia who are making comics and are able to survive via Patreon, but for me it would be hard to live just on that. Still, it’s a great way for larger publishers to realize there’s a huge market for comics. It tells people with money that there’s interest in comics.”

Transmedia and transnational opportunities continue to abound for comics creators. Take ZsaZsa Zaturnnah, a graphic novel by Carlo Vergara that was turned into a musical in 2006 and then streamed online by the Cultural Center of the Philippines this May. 

Meanwhile, Mr. Tan pitched Trese to different studios for 10 years before it was picked up by Netflix, which is adapting the supernatural comic based on Filipino myths and folklore into a TV series. “The right ingredients were not in the right places,” he said. 

The right moment came when Netflix decided it wanted to produce more anime from countries other than Japan. “The more localized we made it, the more it appealed to the international market we were catering to,” said Mr. Tan.

Many American comics are written in ways that are well-suited to be translated to a series or a movie, Mr. Kam said. The DC and Marvel Universes, which have spawned blockbuster after blockbuster, provide ample proof.

“For the longest time, we kept saying, ‘I’m just a comic book artist.’ I tell the new generation to position themselves as IP (intellectual property) creators. … It’s about words and pictures and telling your story. That’s the core. From there you can evolve to other things,” said Mr. Kam.  

Another trend that has emerged from the rubble of COVID-19 is the use of comics to highlight the issues surrounding the pandemic. Singapore’s Weiman Kow uses Comics for Good to inform, educate, and empathize with humanity’s latest pressing plight. “Educational comics aren’t just limited to kids… People are starting to understand the power of comics,” she said.

If you look beyond the COVID-19 sea, said CT Lim, Singapore country editor of the International Journal of Comic Art, you will realize that people are still creating. “People are still finding ways to tell stories.” 

The 1st Philippine International Comics Online Festival (PICOF) runs until September 20 The next set of online webinars and workshops are on content creation and adaptation. PICOF is a project of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the Film Development Council of the Philippines, British Council Philippines, Alliance française de Manille, SIKAP – Creative Content Creators Association of the Philippines, Inc., adobo magazine, and Thames International.