October 30, 2012

Return To Sender (Part 2)

One of my drafts from years ago came back to haunt me...

Dearest daughter, what happened in the provinces cannot compare with the brutality that my generation in Manila had witnessed in those trying times.

In Manila, just two days after the late President Arroyo was assassinated, the power of the government shifted to the military and the police to which apologists today still try to justify it as an inevitable consequence of GMA's announcement of Martial Law. Back then, everyone thought prayers can stop history from happening again, but we were wrong. Too wrong. Too optimistic.

Surviving lawmakers like the late Senators Lacson, Arroyo, Revilla trooped to the Senate Building to discuss how to resolve the present crisis. Also, there was an emergency session at the Batasan Pambansa where most of the congressmen really attended. Each forum called for an immediate cessation of military intervention in all matters politcal. Each lambasted at the underhanded way the men in uniform subverted the rule of law for their own selfish interests. Each vowed to take up the cause of EDSA.

While the TV rankled with electrified remarks from the likes of Remulla, Beltran, Pichay, Dilangalen, they did not suspect that the military will take action against them. The military led by turncoat General Aglipay, locked all possible exits of both houses trapping all the existing politicians into one hellhole. Aglipay then gave the command to turn on the several car engines wherein exhaust fumes immediately wafted via the ventilation system into the chambers of Congress and Senate. From the start, senators and congressmen were first fidgeting at the lack of air, then the coughing began, followed by panic. Sheer panic. In live television, the morbid horror of seeing your elected officials being killed one by one by an unknown and unseen force shocked the entire nation. People remembered watching Loi Estrada clawing her nails into the main exit and shouting invectives to the military. Senator Flavier vomited in his seat then collapsed instantly. The male senators like Mar Roxas, Lim and Jinggoy tried using the heavy hardwood tables as battering rams but instead, they accidentally rammed Senator Enrile in the process thus leaving a wet crimson mark on the exit door. Senator Santiago tried pounding the doors but to know avail, her face contorted indicative that the end was near. Some prayed quietly but many wailed and shrieked as they perfectly know the grim consequence of the Nazi gas chambers. After two hours, both chambers were no more. The military then barged inside peppering all bodied found with bullets ensuring no one will walk out alive. This was in full view of national television.

...to be followed

The 711 Allegory: A Matter of Convenience

A Japanese 7-11 store at night

People like convenience stores. It's always available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You can just go in confidently knowing you can buy the things you need without having to stress yourself the deprivation of not having. It's there and it's convenient. No worries, no headaches. Because of it, you take it for granted. You don't mind it nor do you put great importance to its existence, to think that without that convenience store, you'd be stuck soapless, soda-less, load-less, food-less for the rest of the night.  Perhaps that's why people don't appreciate 711 or really put their loyalty into it- because it is there. It's not like Coke and Pepsi, or McDonalds and Jollibee, or Globe and Smart, wherein people fight over it, or protest over it, because such stores can not elicit passion among the people mainly because it's being taken for granted. It's like thinking about 711 becomes an afterthought.

I wonder how people would react if one day 711 and the like would suddenly close shop and never to open again? It's a horrible parallel scenario however paradoxical it may be. No more bags of ice or cold sodas for instant gatherings, no more chips for that sudden hunger pangs. It's scary but it's possible.

And a lot of times relationships can become like a 711 convenience store. People take people for granted knowing they will be there. Children take parents for granted thinking they'll grow old with them. Friends take friends for granted knowing they'll be there with a just a SMS away.  Mentors take students for granted confident that the latter would always be beholden to the higher man, couples take each other for granted thinking one cannot fall out of love.  Spouses take each other for granted feeling as if their marriage is permanently etched in stone no matter how abusive the relationship becomes.

Well, sad to say, regret is the opposite of foresight, and termination is the realization that such debacle cannot go on.  Many ended in a downward spiral mainly because the "relationship of convenience"  become so entrenched that previous tolerance to it dissipates entirely.  At the end of the spectrum, the "conveniencer" thinks that this kind of group dynamics is already banal, hence, he or she is not aware or sensitive enough to its existence, while the "conveniencee" continues to tolerate the dissipation of group dynamics that when it already has reached a point of no return, it will snap him or her to realize that such relationship is unhealthy.  Only when the "conveniencee" buys him- or herself an ounce of self-esteem and self-dignity can he or she realize and stop the cycle of abuse. Parents would remind kids of responsibility and threaten to cut off any monetary support, wives would threaten husbands of divorce, students would complain, and friends would tell friends enough is enough.  Sometimes it's only when people love themselves more that they can stand up on their two damn feet.

So, the moment one has brought this cat out of the bag is when it becomes complicated.  The "conveniencer" may think you're merely over-acting and being too demanding. If that person is able to realize that he or she is treading on delicate ground, then assuaging and allaying the issues at hand may set the boiling point a few degrees back. It's really doubtful it will set the temperature to zero.  It's like shaking a container of oil and water; though it will go back to its separate levels, but never again it will have that same clean-cut separation.  If pride and/or ignorance continue to be the blocks that make the "conveniencer" difficult to move, then the "conveniencee" may take drastic actions to prove his/her point.  Perhaps that's why after failed counseling comes forth divorce or failed reconciliation comes forth bitter goodbyes.

However, if people would find common ground between those lines of separation, then only perhaps then  can they make a possible arrangement. It is doubtful that things would return to the way it was before.  As we grow old, we tend to eschew the drama of it all.  Unlike the movies where in just one episode tempers flare up and in the next, all is well, real life tends to be more low-key and more vicious. In this Asian culture of ours whereby overt manifestation of temper is looked down upon, the "conveniencer" has to be more attuned to the subtle misgivings of the other person. For if you can't comprehend its logic (because you're too stupid to know it) and its dangers (because you're too thick-skinned), then it may be just the ticket to push everything into the deep fryer. Then when it's over and done for, both parties might as well go home and sleep it over. It's because tomorrow shall be a new day and a new chapter of their lives.

October 27, 2012

Burning Out

Burning Out
by: Julsitos

When the sun that burnished bright
the heavens with its flame,
has lost its hue to the depths of night,
never will the ends be the same.

A Critique on Philippine Komiks Art

Velasquez's Kenkoy

Philippines Komiks as a genre has been a struggling industry at the dawn of this century- struggling to survive and struggling to discover its identity.

Yu's X-Men
Here in the Philippines where the American colonial mentality is rife, the comic art movement is still influenced by the demigods of Marvel and DC. Although many have been inspired by our old Masters like Redondo and Velasquez, there are artists who draw nothing but spandexed heroes and Disney-like anthropomorphs. While it is true that some try to break out from the scene on their own, others lend their hands to DC and Marvel for financial sustenance. It is the unfortunate but inevitable result of our ailing komiks industry. Priorities are based on survival rather than on creativity, on the basic needs rather on luxury.  That is the sad reality of a Third World comic-loving nation.   Artist devote more time and effort parroting Western physique and Western plots, than on the stuff they wish they would do on their own.

Portacio's X-Men

Though many are struggling here in Third World Philippines, others likes of Whilce Portacio bask in the sunlight of the American dream (and the limelight of the American comics industry).  His stereotypical Westernized art is commendable in terms of technical virtuosity but I still feel that too much of his super hero characters can be bad for one’s health.  I mean, they're too puerile to be anything more than in its present state no matter how window-dressed it is for mature audiences.  Although it is a fact that Filipino old masters have served the altar of DC and Marvel, they still retained their air of originality with works leading the horror and adventure series, thus, they stuck to their own style without being smothered by American spandex. 

On the flipside, Filipino manga artists who have been suckled from the teats of Tezuka, Asamiya, Toriyama, and Watase have lost their originality when they aped the big saucer-like eyes, smudge-like noses and lips as thin as a hairline. Even with all the arguments in the world telling me that “it’s the story that counts” or “we’re just manga-influenced but our art is still original” whittles down to the fact that these artists (me included- I never cared for originality) took the best from Japan and morphed it into something half-Japanese. Though one cannot be blamed for it since many Filipinos have been weaned on Voltez V, Transformers, Ghost Fighter, Fushigi Yuugi and Dragonball, it’s frustrating to see that these artists feel they have a need to copy everything from the technique up to the patently Japanese semantics and non-verbal expressions. In effect, their pursuit is not to produce a Filipino identity, but to satisfy their manga cravings. Ask yourself: Is there a place in the Filipino identity for gigantic robots? For school kids in miniskirts? For nosebleeds and sweatdrops?

Culture Crash's take on manga Pinoy-style

 If we remove all the capes and spandex from the scene, and the manga from the pages, we will be left with our own classic Pinoy style. If one collectively puts the works of the aforementioned Masters, you would be able to find a style that is uniquely Pinoy. Ours have more ornate and elaborate details. You can find it in the background, in the folds of the clothes, in the ripples of the/ lakes, or in the facial expressions. They evoke a beauty that is richly Baroque unlike their American counterparts whose lines seem spartan, sparse and lazy. The draftsmanship of Pinoy komik style is borne from the Filipino mentality of horror vacui wherein every corner must have its use, its decor and its embellishments.  We take inspiration from the florid lines of our churches, from the creative strokes of the Art Noveau bahay na bato, from the grimy pollution and garbage filled scenes of Manila.  We make horror vacui our style of rendering, and it works.

Hiroshige's woodblock print
Tintin in Tibet by Herge

Apart from those that make our style unique, there is still one foreign art style Filipino artists may want to try- the ligne claire. Ligne claire, French for “clear lines,” favors the use of deep bold lines of equal strength and thickness to draw the entire scene. It’s what some would call a “democracy of lines” for there are no crosshatchings, no chiaroscuros. Unlike the Marvel way of drawing where realism and shadings are de rigeur (Think: Moore’s V for Vendetta), Franco-Belgian graphic novel artists tend to do the other way. With the Belgian Hergè at its forefront, bandes desinees like “Adventures of Tintin”and “Asterix” have been churning out art published in the ligne claire style. Is it because perhaps they were influenced by the Japanese ukiyo-e prints of Hokusai and Hiroshige just as Van Gogh and Tolouse-Lautrec were inspired? Perhaps so, for the Japanese influence is apparent in these contemporary artists of bandes desinees. However, what’s most striking is that they adopted this form as entirely their own that if one has not studied Japanese prints and its connection with Post-Impressionism, you won’t realize that Tintin is part Tokyo.

Here in our country, the only one I have seen practicing this style while infusing the techniques of the Old Masters is Gerry Alanguilan. He has not abandoned the legacies of Velasquez and Redondo for it can be appreciated clearly in the meticulous details of his backgrounds, but also he has been making his characters in the ligne clair style which is a breath of fresh air in the industry.

Alanguilan's Elmer
I am not advocating this style over the others just so we can have an identity in this artform. Rather, we should learn from these styles to supplant and enrich our already “existing” style- the same one that of Velasquez and Redondo. Their form is the reason why foreigners appreciate Filipino Komiks because for someone from the outside who has little bias as to what is here, identifying their art as uniquely Filipino is something to be proud of.

Peter van Dongen's Rampokan Jawa, a novel about the Indonesian Revolution
Enriched by taking what’s best the world has to offer like how the Belgians did with Tintin, and by not mimicking entirely another country art form is one key to enrich our Filipino identity. It may not mean that we are limited to copying those of Velasquez’s just in order to have consistency in style, but instead of going for the ultra-detailed background favored by the old, artists can create their own form without being hypnotized in drawing samurais or caped crusaders. My point here is that ligne claire is blind when it comes to country-specific iconography and stereotypes that such a technique can eventually foster a brand new, uniquely Filipino komik style. The anatomies can vary, the eyes can range from saucers to pinpoints, all in the style of ligne claire. It's up to the artist, but the style can become infused with our own. And that is the exciting thing to see.