Friday, November 5, 2010

Of Komiks laws

Lost among yesterday's headlines may have been the news that Lito Lapid was proposing a new law to preserve komiks. My initial reaction to this was my usual distrust of politicians, compounded by the fact that the legislator in question is a former action star. However, I found myself making a full 360 after reading some of the comments on this page:

Just to quote: 
Kung bakit sa tatalino ng mga Pinoy e nanalo si Lapid ! si Jinggoy ! at si Bong Revilla ! ay eto ang dahilan .... KOMIKS 
 Tama lang po ang ginawa nu mr senator, tingan mo nakinabang ang dalawawang higanteng istasyon ng TV lalo na ang isang bias dyan kita mo naman halos lahat ng telenovela nila galing sa komiks.... lol
ang galing ni senator lapid, suportado ang komiks. doon kasi nagka-pelikula. nakasakay sa kabayong puti, may baril at pasirko-sirko.
 Kaya pala maraming komedyante sa kongreso graduates pala sila sa komiks.
Now, I understand that message boards and comments don't always yield the most constructive conversations. However, I felt the need to speak out against the hate speech propagated here against komiks, which seems to be fueled by reaction against Senator Lapid. These comments generally assume that an attack against komiks equates to an attack against Lapid, therefore, they are logical fallacies.

However, I am still dismayed that some people demonstrate a general disdain for komiks, and not just because I call myself an advocate. I can understand outright ambivalence towards komiks, or even the condescending attitude that it is not high art. I'm not new to that, although I may not like it. I also can understand hesitation towards the bill, after all, the proposed budget is at PH P 50 million. But the outright condemnation of komiks, that it is some form of propaganda tool, or that it hinders poor people from rising above poverty, it just hit me as discriminatory.

So I asked myself, what is in this law anyway? What would the money used for, and who would benefit from it?!.pdf

The document is only 10 pages long, so I will only quote select passages. In justifying the bill, Lapid refers to our Constitution and states:
Our heritage needs to be preserved for all to share and benefit. A nation is defined by its history and culture. Our graphic novels and all its write-ups reflect our history and culture.
His definition of graphic novels is compatible with those used by Will Eisner and Scott McCloud.

In non legal terms, Lapid explains

The proposed Philippine National Graphic Novel Archive shall be responsible for acquiring, safeguarding, documenting and making graphic novels available to current and future generations for private study and public pleasure.
 Concurrent to this cause, the Archive

shall have all legal powers appertaining to a juridical person

 These powers include the ability to enter contracts, buy property, receive gifts & donations, make their own rules & to establish offices in Manila & other regions. Furthermore, the Archive's Board of Directors will have representation from several other gov't offices, including DepEd, the National Archives, the NCCA, the NHI, the National Museum, a member of academe and a representative from the graphic novel industry. The last 2 members of the Board also have to meet certain requirements to be considered eligible.

Regarding access to the archive itself, the Board is given free reign to set rules and even charge fees for access
Provided, That copying or duplication shall not be allowed except with the written permission of the copyright holder.
Now, do I like everything in this law? Certainly not. What bothers me the most is the inclusion of board members from gov't institutions that have for years refused to acknowledge the value of komiks as to merit archiving. As Gerry Alanguilan pointed out here, the National Library refuses to give komiks ISBNs, the NHI & National Museum do not archive komiks, and the NCCA has never named a komiks artist as a National Artist*. Why do these institutions get a free pass in entering this body? Why are they not held to the same requirements as the proposed members from the academe and the komiks community?

I also feel wary regarding copyright protection and corruption issues. Clearly, there is possibility for corruption within the system, currying favor as well as embezzlement, but the possibility and the actuality are two different things. It ultimately depends on the Archive Board members if they will sincerely carry out their functions. They also have to balance out the need to protect individual creators right to their work with the public interest. How do we expect them to do that when they are given free reign in making these rules?

In spite of all my objections, I feel this law would be a major step forward, not just for the komiks industry, but for all arts and culture in the Philippines. It will increase the quantity and quality of  the our goverment's recorded history, and will function not only as a record of creative output and artistic distinction, but also as a historical record of our shared mores and values as a people.  In short, this will benefit all of us, assuming the Archive dispenses its function effectively.

To put this in perspective, please consider Gerry's reporting and opinions regarding the prior proposed komiks laws, none of which have been passed to date:

Komiks Rumblings

*Of course, as a side note to this, we all know about the brouhaha that was created when former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo nominated Carlo J. Caparas as National Artist for the Visual Arts. He was not necessarily being lauded for his komiks work This distinction was meant to reward him for the totality of his creative work, covering komiks, film and television. As a reminder, the Supreme Court suspended his entitlement.

What most people may not remember or even be aware of was that the late Nonoy Marcelo was in the running to be National Artist, but he himself passed that over for a rarer distinction, which was the CCP Centennial Artist Award. In this case, the NCCA may have favored Nonoy to be a National Artist, but in spite of that never gave him the distinction.

EDIT: Other komiks people have also chimed in on their blogs. You can read  the venerable Adam David's  wasaaak and young upstart Gerry Alanguilan's komikero dot com. If you know of other people's articles on this law, please share them in the comments below.

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