Award-winning graphic novelist and playwright Visconde Carlo Vergara announced today that he’s leaving his beloved medium, comics, for monetary reasons. In short, making comics isn’t enough to live on. He writes:
“Yesterday, I met with the organizers of Komikon, and during that meeting we talked about the challenges that local comic book makers are currently facing. Suffice to say, there’s a lot.
“Later that day, I was in a coffee shop and ran into a couple of dear friends I haven’t seen in a long time. During our conversation, one friend talked about a medical procedure he had gone through, a procedure that cost him quite a bit of money.
“After we parted, I began to wonder what would happen if I suddenly had an emergency and I needed a significant amount of money. Money that I didn’t have. And when you reach a certain age without a retirement fund, without a backup when something goes wrong, things become very scary.
“This is the reason why I thought of quitting comics.
“Sure, I’ve had great success with Zaturnnah, but the truth is, I’m practicing my art at a huge loss.”
Vergara is one of the country’s most successful graphic novelists, and even his art is not enough to pay the bills. He breaks it down below:
“What about sales, you might ask? A book author gets less than 10% of a book’s retail price. So if you buy your favorite author’s book at a price of P200, which is the price of Part One, you’re giving him less than P20 for the story. The bulk of that P200 goes into converting that story into a physical book and placing that book in a bookstore.
“In Metro Manila, the current minimum wage is P481 per day. If a minimum wage earner works for four months, then he would earn about P42,000 or P10,250 a month. For a P200 book to reach the same amount, it should sell about 2,100 copies.
“If the author wants to earn just P20,000 a month working full time, then more than 8,000 books have to be sold. And selling 8,000 copies of any book is very, very difficult, moreso for the graphic novel which carries a higher price tag compared to a prose novel. I’ve heard too many comments from people wanting to buy but can’t afford it.
“And this is why I’m thinking of quitting comics, even if it has opened many doors for me. We might point to the adaptations (which I’m grateful for) and merchandising (which honestly hasn’t worked for me), but these are not assurances, and the author has to devote extra time for these.”
This is heartbreaking to fans, but also a wake-up call to the realities of being a creator. Simply put: you don’t earn enough money. Not even when you’re Carlo freaking Vergara. Not even when you are the mind behind brilliant works like Zsazsa Zaturnnah and Kung Paano Ako ay Naging Leading Lady.” Not even when your creations are loved and lauded, not even when your characters have helped shape Philippine pop culture.
This is embarrassing. We want to be constantly entertained and we’re constantly complaining about the Filipino not making enough quality work, and yet we can’t even support the ones that actually do come out with groundbreaking stuff. Sometimes, this is due to economics and can’t be helped–we’re a developing country with a high poverty rate after all, and when it comes to survival, food and shelter will always trump reading. But a lot pf people who do have money to spare either won’t but local because they complain, ‘Why is it so expensive when it’s just locally made?’ or they automatically assume that local equals corny and won’t give Filipino-created works a chance. This is why we’re losing great creators like Carlo, and we’re all going to suffer for it.
However, like many artists, for Carlo, art is a calling and not a job (otherwise, why would he have kept at it when it wasn’t financially viable? Why do any of us keep at it when it isn’t financially viable?), so he’s hoping for a way back:
“The only thing I feel that can really help the graphic novelist is if readers are willing to buy the digital version.
“I understand people’s apprehensions for not buying digital. I, too, love the feel and smell of a new book, plus the fact that I’m holding a physical product, not something that’s just made up of bytes. And, reading comics on a digital device is challenging as well. But it’s about the only opportunity for a comic book creator to charge an amount that’s a little better than what he gets from the sale of a physical book.
“When Zaturnnah sa Maynila is complete, it would cost a reader more than P600 to buy it, and only if its available in the bookstore (which is another problem altogether). The reader would be paying me less than P60 for over 240 pages of artwork and story.
“But what if I charged just P240 for the entire story, broken up into 12 “issues” (for easier download). Over 95% of that amount would go to me, allowing me to spend on online marketing. It’s about the price of a movie.”
For the independent creator, the advent of digital technology is a godsend, because it enables them to keep creating at lower costs to themselves and the consumer. Vergara even has an answer for folks who may not have credit cards:
“A reader might say, “But I don’t have a credit card.” Well, there is a free app called Paymaya that can generate a unique credit card number that a reader can use to pay for online transactions. Paymaya is regulated by the Central Bank of the Philippines, and it can be loaded up through the bill payment centers of Robinson’s and SM, kiosks in 7-Eleven and Mini-Stop, and other establishments.”
He lays out how the digital format can help the graphic novelist:
“Going digital helps the graphic novelist by:
“1) Ensuring that that book is readily available 24/7. No more, “But I can’t find your book!”
“2) Allowing the graphic novelist to spend on online marketing. No more, “Oh, I didn’t know you had a new book!”
“3) Giving the graphic novelist his due for the amount of time and effort spent.
“4) Making the work more affordable for the reader, though the reading experience may suffer.”
Though he admits that the reading quality may suffer for readers used to a more tactile experience, when you think about it, all four reasons for the digital format helps readers and fans, too.
In the end, it comes down to this: If you want Carlo to keep creating, if you want the Philippine graphic novel and storytelling traditions to remain strong, support Carlo Vergara in this endeavor. Make sure that he can stay in comics. Because if Carlo decided to quit comics for good, we’re all at fault for it.
“If enough people who like my stories are willing and able to buy my digital comics, then I can continue with less worry about my future. The physical book can still be released later on with bonus material, and there’s less risk for the publisher and the bookstore.