Monday, January 10, 2011

Comics and Komiks diversity

Comics diversity is a great thing. The differentiation in terms of art style, format, target markets, etc. is an indication of the health of the medium. A market where only superhero comics existed, or only shonen manga existed, no matter how brilliant those works could become, would be dead creatively. Much like biodiversity, comics diversity is an indication of how much creativity is fostered in a particular comics making community.

Here's a short list that should give you an idea how diverse comics actually are:

mah jongg manga - entire comics stories revolving around people competing to be the best at manga, often using fictitious moves and abilities that are simply impossible in mah jongg in real life. One recent manga, The Legend of Koizumi, became infamous for portraying world leaders like George W. Bush, Kim Jong-Il and Vladimir Putin play mah jongg against each other. This genre was unknown outside Japan until Akagi, which was turned into an anime in 2005.
source: Akagi still from Madhouse
photo comics/look books - a comic genre that crossed boundaries from Europe, to South America and Africa. Instead of drawings, photographs were laid in sequence with text and word balloons filled in. Many photo comics were adaptations of films and TV shows using captured stills, while others actually featured original characters. On a side note, I remember getting reprinted photocomics of the life of Mary, Queen of Scots and National Velvet, which probably date back to the 50s, as a kid.
source: Matias-TV magazine
war journal comics - Don Lomax and Joe Sacco blur the lines between journalist, autobiographer and war comics creators with their work. They distinguish themselves from other war comics biographers like Harvey Pekar, Gary Trudeau and Art Spiegelman by documenting their own actual war experience in comics form. For Lomax, it was as a Vietnam veteran, for Sacco, it was as a journalist in the Gulf War and Bosnian War.
source: High Shining Brass, Don Lomax, Apple Comics
 source: Complacency Kills, Joe Sacco, The Guardian
constrained comics - previously nothing more than an experiment, constrained comics gained prominence when qwantz/dinosaur comics and garfield minus garfield went viral. In a nutshell, these comics are produced under specific constraints or rules that cannot be broken. These comics often reuse older material as the constraint, & often the impetus for new insight. Other examples of constrained comics are Married To The Sea and Scott Meets Family Circus.
Globalization has both facilitated and threatened this comics diversity. On one end, it's easier to discover new comics of different kinds, as well as find more comics related resources and information. On the other hand, local comics have been dying out as people worldwide start reading more of the same thing.

Komiks makers are affected by this in two ways:

1) komiks are part of that diversity. Pinoy comics have a different flavor from comics in Belgium or Hong Kong.

2) komiks makers themselves are affected by globalization, to either join in what other people have been doing or to stand apart from the pack.

Locally, I think you can make connections between Trese and horror komiks stories of old, as well as superheroes then and now, and also with Mwahaha and the old satirical komiks. But I am concerned about other genres, like the old style adventure komiks serials, romance and love stories, magical stories, and the recurring soap opera style serials.

Now, some of these stories are of course being retold in film and movies. And some core concepts are being reexplored in different ways, such as love stories in manga style komiks, or adventure themes in superhero komiks. However, you couldn't really say these genres survive if they aren't being reexplored the way they used to be.

But, this may not necessarily be a good or bad thing. Perhaps some of these genres aren't worth reexploring, or no one active is interested or capable of doing so. In any case, I want to urge you to take a look at komiks you bought today and consider how much it contributes to komiks diversity.

This Wednesday I'll tell the story of how I discovered the beauty of comics diversity.

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