Saturday, February 2, 2013

Manga and the Philippines

A recent trip to Manila got me thinking about manga in the Philippines. Given the long history between US and the Philippines and the strong connection till today, when and why the turn towards manga? Part of the global trend? Any resistance given the traditional stronghold the US comic art style has over the Philippines?

I found my answer in pages 132 to 134 of John Lent's The First One Hundred Years of Philippine Komiks and Cartoons (2009). I will quote extensively here.

Basically, Japanese manga and anime is much responsible for the renewed interest in comics in the Philippines. Anime was a formidable force in the country before Marcos banned it, especially "Voltes V", in the 1970s. (Fans remembered the beloved series well - celebrity cosplay photographer, Jay Tablante, was gushing about "Voltes V" when we met him in Manila)

By the late 1990s, manga and anime had made a comeback with Filipino artists doing their own manga in magazines like Culture Crash and Questor. Other titles like Mango Jam and the Mangaholix series appeal to the Filipino manga consumers - mainly females in the 8 to 25 age bracket and buying their books at specialty comic shops and bookstores.

Not all were happy about the manga invasion. Gerry Alanguilan, for one, felt it was inappropriate to use a style that is so uniquely Japanese and to call it "Philippine-made comics." He said that in 10 years of observing Filipino artists who started out with manga, he did not find any who have evolved their own style. Manga's "danger" is that it has a strong and recognizable group style not found in American comics drawn by artists from other parts of the world. (of course, this is debatable - is the style of Ardian Syaf from Indonesia and Carlo Pagulayan from the Philippines that much different from their counterparts in America?)

Alanguilan went on to say:

"Our culture is defined more by what we create, than by what we consume. We are no less Filipino when we eat Japanese food, and although we are no less Filipino citizens when we use Japanese art to create Filipino comics, it does put into spotlight that we no longer have a voice of our own."

Pretty strong words from one of giants of Filipino comics today.

However, for artists like Melvin Calingo (aka Taga-Ilog), he felt that it was "strange and utterly unfounded" that by accepting manga, Filipinos were accepting and promoting a foreign culture. Claiming the major difference between Japanese and Philippine manga was the audience, Calingo pointed out the unique qualities of Pinoy manga to be:

a) having Philippine cultural and linguistic nuances and local settings
b) being oriented to the youth subculture compared to the mainstream in Japan
c) using Philippine humor, drama and cultural values even in fantasy stories

Calingo felt that manga had been appropriated and transformed into something "quite unlike itself back in Japan." For him, Pinoy manga "suggest an intermarriage of influence between Filipino ingenuity and the usage of Japanese and American aesthetic conventions in creating comics."

Writer Joel Chua said that the decision of Filipinos to imitate manga was pragmatic because more work opportunities opened up for artists working in that style.

As in elsewhere, the Japanese government has promoted manga in the Philippines as a valuable cultural and financial export. Filipino artists have been encouraged to enter international and other manga competitions organized by the Japanese Foreign Ministry.

For more info, see Herbeth Fonddevilla's article, "Contemplating the Identity of Manga in the Philippines" in International Journal of Comic Art, 9:2 Fall 2007: 441 - 454.

I will be writing more about this in the next few posts.

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