By Menchu Aquino Sarmiento
IN KEEPING with International Women’s Month, the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Intertextual Division held Gandang-Ganda Sa Sariling Gawa (GGSG) 2, a one-day Women’s Small Press Festival. Small is literally the size of many of the works: zines just 1/8 of a bond paper, colorful postcards and original laminated digital art stickers barely bigger than postage stamps. Postcards and stickers as the cheapest way to reproduce and to sell art are a mainstay of such events.
The CCP’s Silangan hallway had the sense of a nave, but instead of pews at either side of the aisle, there were 30 tables showcasing the women’s writings and artworks. The church metaphor is appropriate because independent publishing is very much a communal affair of those who keep the faith and keep on believing in having their say. Many of the participants buy or trade for each others’ works. Thus, you could name your price for the colored zine Angry Feminists by Pauline Cole, aka Chicken Joey, a philosophy major at UPLB.
Nine-year-old Sophie Blanco wore a sticker she made (“Go Away, I’m Reading”), and offered her services as an illustrator to the other GGSG 2 vendors. The caveat was that she doesn’t draw dogs. She is also the subject of two slender non-fiction comics, Tiny Boss, by her mother Czyka Tumaliuan, aka Freestyle Mommy. The latest glossy edition opens up into a mini-poster stating, “God doesn’t know everything, mom — it’s half Google and half God.” Asked how she feels about being a character in a comics zine, Sophie declared, “I like it!” Told that she’s a great kid, she lightly scoffed, “You just met me, so how would you know for sure?” again showing uncanny wisdom.
Zines are a medium for wise women of all ages to express more painful life lessons. Twenty-something Mao Factolerin wrote and illustrated Yumi, mga Kuwento at Karanasan, an unblinking, poetic chronicle of serial rape and male-inflicted abuse from girlhood on. But she ends with an affirmation:
“Ako’y isang babaeng may sariling paninindigan na hindi patatangay: Sa ano mang sigwak ng alon. (I am a woman grounded in my very self: no waves shall shatter me.)/… patuloy na namumukadkad gaano man karami ang tinik sa aking landas. (I grow and I thrive, though thorns may choke and stones may block my path.)/ Babae ako at hindi dahong natutuyo’t nalalagas sa hagupit ng habagat. (I am Woman, not a trembling leaf which shrivels in a storm.)/ Hayaan mong yakapin kita. Sa laban na ito, hindi ka nag-iisa. Tayo ay iisa. (Come into my arms. In this battle, you are not alone. We will be as one. English translation by this writer.)
The act of writing itself may be therapeutic, even sacramental. Proudly queer and out, silver-haired Via Bulaon, formerly of the UP Manila’s Center for Gender and Women’s Studies, handwrites the text and draws the illustrations in each of her Grid-Zine Puke (pronounced the colloquial Filipino way) which has adapted the Ama Namin (Our Father) into her own gynecological paean. She sells these for less than a dollar each. It is not a viable business model. Something other than profit, or even popular recognition, clearly drives these women to create.
Zine-makers are not in it for the money. They have overturned the model of artistic creation as being at the beck and call of capital. Back in 2010, in his manifesto for BLTX (Better Living Through Xerography), the juvenile forebear of independent publishing festivals like GGSG, Adam David called profit “that insidious bug up the arse of art production.”
BLTX has since gone nationwide which proves that there is a spreading hunger and a market, no matter how minuscule and niche, for such works and events. It still pops up at Ilyong’s Bar in Quezon City’s Project 4, or at Cubao X. The Cebu-based Bomba Press organizes its own events. Jay Salvosa of the Meet Every Other Weekend Club does it for Naga. Even in Duterte-land, a brave woman, Angely Chi will not be silenced. Baguio’s vibrant independent creative community was represented at GGSG 2 by Alam-Am Publishing of Padma Perez with her daughters Solana and Aila.
GGSG 2 was the occasion to re-launch Quickie: Drive-In Stories, fast fiction by the Polytechnic University of the Philippines’ Atsara Collective. Award-winning illustrator Ara Villena sold printed copies of Laya, which is available for free on her website: augustinspirations.carbonmade.com. There’s nothing like actually holding a real picture book, especially while reading it and perusing the gorgeous illustrations with a beloved child.
The journalist Margie de Leon had a table by her lonesome, for her two fiction collections: People in Panic and A Corpse, A Party, And A No-Good Nobody. The first book had a spine, and was surprisingly modestly priced. It had 11 stories, including one about giving blow jobs. The author explained it was competitive.
Darwinian survival of the fittest is not characteristic of “the cut-and-paste, do-it-yourself ethos of Xeroxed zine-making,” wrote the public intellectual Paolo Jose Cruz of Philippine zine-making’s origins with the Pinoy Punk Community elsewhere. “It’s an ephemeral, blink-and-you-miss-it approach shared with chapbooks, newsletters, and other forms of print media with miniscule, very brief and limited runs.”
Coincidentally, during the one-day event that was GGSG 2, there was a retrospective titled Nasaan ka na, Mara-Bini? (Where are you now, Mara-Bini?) on the CCP’s second floor of the National Artist Francisco V. Coching, best-known for his comics and illustrated novels. Mara-Bini was a contraction for “Marahas na Binibini” or “Fierce Maiden.” Coching’s warrior heroine was radical and unprecedented 85 years ago. The Mara-Bini strip was discontinued during World War II.
The show’s curator, Alice Sarmiento, points out that “Declarations of ‘The future is female’ as well as hashtags like #Babae Ako and #IamEveryWoman can find a safe space within the frames Coching drew… By asking ‘Nasaan ka na, Mara-Bini?’ in light not only of Coching’s women, but of the rebel daughters of today, can we trace an arc from Mara-Bini’s first appearance to the leaders of contemporary feminist movements?”
Mara-Bini’s great granddaughters were at the CCP that day, just two floors above, being beautiful and fierce.