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Manila Comics Fair: A love letter to komiks creators everywhere

The first Manila Comics Fair (MCF) will open on May 25, 2024, Saturday from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Comuna, Makati.

The MCF celebrates Filipino comics, or more accurately, komiks, through exhibitions, panel discussions, and workshops. The lineup of guests and exhibitors includes artists, such as Electromilk and Tarantadong Kalbo, and presses, like Anino Comics (an imprint of publisher Adarna House) and Studio Soup Zine Library

While the Manila Comics Fair is a welcome addition to the roster of conventions and expos, MCF organizer and comic creator Rob Cham maintains it has different goals. 

“We’re not trying to go big with this,” Cham says in a video call with Scout. “These larger places have their own vibe, and then we kind of wanted something smaller.”

The fair’s more intimate scale seeks to bring comics lovers and creators, from fresh faces to industry mainstays, closer together. Cham, along with his co-organizers and fellow comics creators Diigii Daguna and Elle Shivers, want to pave the way for the komiks community. 

“Hopefully, we can get to a place where the Philippine comic scene is better… I feel like it starts with us as a community coming together,” Cham adds. 

MCF exhibitors and guests poster

MCF exhibitors and guests poster | Photo courtesy of Manila Comics Fair

Filipino komiks history in a nutshell

Today’s komiks creators inherit a storied legacy of the craft. 

Philippine magazines and journals published cartoons as early as the 19th century. Eventually, comics’ popularity with the general public took off after the Second World War. 

Komiks creators in the 1930s to 1960s churned out work modeled after mainstream American comics. Mars Ravelo and Jim Fernandez created “Captain Barbell,” a Pinoy take on the superhero genre. Fernando V. Coching wrote and illustrated komiks on Filipino heroes, such as Gabriela Silang and Lapu-Lapu.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Filipino creators made waves locally and abroad. Artists such as Whilce Portacio, Leinil Francis Yu, and Gerry Alanguilan lent their talents to several Marvel and DC titles. 

In 2005, writer Budjette Tan and artist Kajo Baldisimo created the dark fantasy and horror series “Trese.” The pair initially shared it through photocopies and indie blogs—eventually finding its audience and leading to its compilation into a hardcover graphic novel. 

Today, budding creators face an abundance of options in publishing. Online platforms like Webtoons, Tapas, and homegrown Penlab let creators make vertical scroll comics. Conventions, commonly known as cons, especially Komiket and Komikon, are meeting spots for fans and creators alike. Living the dream of making komiks is becoming more and more of a reality. 

Komiks come with challenges

“It’s so easy to glamorize any job or profession, especially on social media,” warns Daguna of Manila Comics Fair.

Cham, Daguna, and Shivers are all accomplished creators and are refreshingly open about the challenges of making komiks. On top of being an artist and writer, Cham serves as the creative director of a startup and has taught at the university level. Daguna illustrates for international titles including “Over The Garden Wall” and “Adventure Time,” and creates original komiks. Shivers has been published by indie press Silver Sprocket and self-publishes zines and (soon) webcomics.

Manila Comics Fair 2024 poster by Diigii Daguna

Manila Comics Fair 2024 poster by Diigii Daguna | Photo courtesy of Manila Comics Fair

This dream team makes komiks creation and publishing look effortless. But, behind each comic book, zine, and webcomic are countless hours of labor in the face of uncertainty. “The royalties really depend on how well you sell the comics,” Daguna explains. “You also don’t have a lot of options to get [them] into the bookstores because consignment rates of certain bookstores are really high.” In short, not all komiks turn a profit for their creators. 

What’s a komiks creator to do? “I have to be smart with where I put my time and my resources,” Daguna adds. Creators often pick up additional gigs to supplement their income and they also need to prioritize and juggle multiple projects to avoid putting all their eggs in one basket.

During the pandemic, the komiks community took a massive hit. Stay-at-home mandates canceled cons, the primary way of sharing work and making connections. “People were trying to survive,” Cham says. 

Lockdowns eventually eased up in 2022 and cons and events resumed. But, like with every other facet of life, a new normal emerged. More people started making and posting comics online. More recent cons saw a rise in artists and creators.  

Starting the Manila Comics Fair

MCF was formed through opportunity, grit, and community. Cham and Daguna met through the komiks industry 11 years ago. Meanwhile, Cham got wind of Shivers through social media, where the latter actively updates. 

The trio got together at the indie press expo Better Living Through Xeroxography, or BLTX for short. They observed young creators getting excited over original zines and books rather than fan art and fan merch. BLTX inspired Cham, Daguna, and Shivers to focus on creating spaces championing original, Pinoy-made works.

They approached Dan Matutina, creative director of design agency Plus 63 and organizer of Manila Illustration Fair, with the idea. Matutina gave his blessing for the first MCF and, along with Plus 63, helped organize the fair in Comuna.

The MCF organizers had to be strategic about the event and sought to differentiate it from cons focused on more fan-driven works. MCF’s Instagram bio says the event is “a small art fair,” rather than a “con” or an “expo.” Of this decision, Cham states, “Comics is an art form.” 

MCF’s programs would also guide komiks creators from all walks of life. Events include a panel discussion titled “Work-Life-Comics Balance,” which responds to the problem of komiks creation while juggling other responsibilities. It will feature Mervin Malonzo, Hulyen, and Tarantadong Kalbo and will be moderated by Kwentong Creatives. The limited number of slots filled up weeks before the event. 

Poster for Work-Life-Comics Balance

Poster for Work-Life-Comics Balance | Photo courtesy of Manila Comics Fair

Cham and Shivers will also host a critique and feedback workshop, “Comics Sharing Is Comics Caring. Here, artists will get the opportunity to talk about their work, and komiks fans will get an idea of what projects to expect in the coming months.

Poster for Comics Sharing is Comics Caring

Poster for Comics Sharing is Comics Caring | Photo courtesy of Manila Comics Fair

“As much as everything is against you,” Cham reflects on the creative process. “It’s still nice to read another story from someone else, or to finally finish the story and share it with other people.”

The future of komiks

Cham, Daguna, and Shivers are busier than ever with the finishing touches for MCF. When asked about what fuels them amid the late nights and precarity, Cham weighs in:

“I am an eternal optimist. If you look at the history of comics, especially from the ’90s, it started with a small group of people who started making comics together… Now, it’s an explosion of so many great voices.”

The vibrant komiks community has also gained recent recognition. Netflix released a “Trese” animated miniseries in 2021, with Jay Oliva serving as executive producer. Liza Soberano and Shay Mitchell voiced the titular heroine, Alexandra Trese, in Filipino and English respectively. 

Komiks at Kultura exhibit at the Ayala Museum

Komiks at Kultura exhibit at the Ayala Museum | Photo courtesy of the Ayala Museum

Fernando V. Coching was posthumously honored with a National Artist in the Visual Arts Award in 2014. In the catalog foreword for Coching’s 2018 exhibit at the Ayala Museum, Filomena Navales Coching writes of her husband’s lifework being displayed in a museum, “This is a breakthrough in the world of komiks, once neglected and dismissed as not achieving the level of fine art of the cultured.”

Komiks aren’t just artifacts of culture; they are culture. This humble medium forged new spaces for connecting ideas and people. They are beautiful because readers from all walks of life can enjoy a great story told through words and pictures. 

The profusion of talent, books, and events is exciting and a little scary. Where does one even begin? And, for those who want to make komiks, how would they know if they’re good enough?

Daguna prays, “I hope people never feel intimidated to make anything they want to make.” 

After all, there’s always a first time for everything.

The first edition of the Manila Comics Fair will be on May 25, 2024 from 2 p.m. to 9 p.m at Comuna. Bring a pen, a notebook, and the best kind of jitters on your way there.


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