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.
I just came from the MTRCB where Ilawod was given an R13 rating.
The experience while waiting for the rating was interesting in itself. Three MTRCB representatives screened the film and deliberated on the rating after, while we waited outside. As my producer and I sat there, MTRCB Chairman Eugenio Villareal, who did not watch the film, wandered by and asked us about our film.
“Ilawod!” he said. “Is it Bisaya?”
He proceeded to tell us that there is an Ilawod Elementary School in Capiz, and that ilawod means downstream, the opposite of iraya. More interestingly, he said that in the area where he grew up, people were warned not to go near the suba, or stream, because there was a force there that took a life at least once a year.
He said that a friend who escaped drowning in that stream said it felt like a hand had reached out from the silt and tried to drag him down. He also said that people have been warning each other about playing there for as long as he can remember, even before the war. “I had to run and get my son when I found out he had gone to play in the area,” he said. Better safe than sorry.
Later, one of the representatives who watched the film said the same thing, but about a different river. “They say that someone drowns in the Sampaloc river every year. That something takes them.”
We have a lot of stories about bodies of water claiming lives. Some of them, like dams and swimming pools, are even man-made.
In Ilawod, we touch on why a water spirit would want to stalk a family seemingly at random, but we grounded it in folklore, exploring how old beliefs merge with and thrive within modern society. We hope you enjoy it.
A lot of people have been asking about the title of the movie. Why Ilawod? What does it mean? How did you guys come about it? This post will answer that question.
When director Dan Villegas and I brainstormed on what was to become Ilawod, we had no idea that we were going to create what is essentially a coming-of-age film. Dan wanted to work on the theme of possession because it was so rarely done in Philippine cinema. At first, he wanted the film to revolve around demonic possession, like in William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, though I’m glad that didn’t push through because apparently, as I learned from Richard Somes (who directed Yanggaw, my favorite Filipino horror film), movies that deal with demonic possession have been thought to be cursed.
Aside from weird goings-on on set that seem to be the norm not just for horror films but for film production in general, the curse also took lives. The last victim was Julie Vega, who passed away in 1985 from Landry’s Paralysis. Despite this scientific reason, her cause of death has become the stuff of urban legend. One of these is the belief that her death was caused by her starring as a girl possessed by a demon in Lovingly Yours, Helen: The Movie, her last film before she passed away. Even Hollywood has its own share of stories like this. Whether you believe in such things or not, sometimes it’s best to let other people take that chance.
Back to my story. At the end of the brainstorming session, Dan and I had agreed on a story. It was to revolve around a family plagued by an elemental. But what elemental?
People who are familiar with my work know that a lot of my stories revolve around bodies of water. “Sidhi” and “The Child Abandoned” take place along the Pasig River, “The Bridge” involves the San Juanico Strait, and “Stars” happens on Balicasag Island in Bohol. The Philippines is an archipelago, so it’s easy to imagine water elementals everywhere. Water is beguiling because we need it to live, but it can also take lives.
Once we had our elemental, we needed a name. It was director Antoinette Jadaone, who is also Dan’s girlfriend, who suggested “ilawod,” which means downstream in Tagalog (it means other things in other Philippine languages) and is the opposite of the more familiar “ilaya,” or upstream. We had never heard the word before, but it intrigued us because it played perfectly into our analogy of water as a force of life and death: if you can swim upstream (or preferrably, to the riverbank), you live; if you are swept downstream, you die.
And so we reached a happy compromise: we had a story of possession, and it didn’t involve an actual demon. No curses for us, thank you very much!
Part of what attracted me to freelance life is being able to work anywhere. This is something that I take advantage of as often as I can, thanks to technology. Aside from the internet making it possible for me to submit assignments from anywhere with a good connection, portable devices make it possible for me to work almost wherever I want.
I try to travel as light as possible, so my mobile office, at its most basic, consists of:
Smartphone. I use this for writing and communicating. I’ve loaded mine with cloud-based work apps like Google Docs that I can access from all my devices. I also have VOIP apps like Skype and Whatsapp to lessen spending on calls and SMS, and a recording app for interviews. The small screen takes a bit of getting used to, but I’m able to write stories, scripts, articles, and blog posts on my mobile phone. My Smartphone isn’t solely for work; I’ve loaded all my ebooks on it, too. The only thing I can’t do is read comics, owing to the small screen.
Earbuds. For transcribing interviews, listening to podcasts, talking on the phone, and watching videos. Bluetooth keyboard. Smartphone thumb ache is a real thing, hence, the bluetooth keyboard. I was resistant to getting one at first, but now that I own one, I’ve found that I write faster, and more when I use it.
Battery pack. Running WiFi and bluetooth drains the phone battery faster, so a battery pack is essential. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get one; it’s saved my life countless times since. I sometimes bring an extension cord as well, just in case a place has only one outlet.
Pen and paper. I usually have my journal with me. It’s got my to-do list as well as my notes, schedule, and deadlines. I use a multi-pen with two ink colors, a pencil, and an eraser in it. I also bring a watercolor and brush set when space allows, though this is obviously not part of the mobile office.
This simple setup has served me well when I don’t have my laptop with me, enabling me to write, coordinate with clients and suppliers, run meetings, and work on various tasks on the road. It’s not perfect yet, but it’s allowed me to work from different places, which is a sanity saver because even the most grueling 15-hour workday seems like a vacation when you’re working by the ocean.