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MANILA, Philippines - By the time you read this, the Pinoy delegates to the first academic pow wow on comics in the planet will have already presented their papers to the plenary and are back in Manila.
Barring events of impending cosmic destruction, Dr. Emil Flores, Carljoe Javier and Ana Micaela Chua — all instructors at the University of the Philippines in Diliman — have successfully conquered the august gathering that is the GN1 Global Conference on the Graphic Novel.
Held at Mansfield College at Oxford in the United Kingdom on September 7 to 9, the conference was divided into thematic sessions during the course of a day. Alongside delegates from India, Australia, Spain, New Zealand, Japan, Poland and others, the Pinoy contingent presented their papers on how an essentially American invention has since become culturally transplanted and assimilated into foreign shores.
Organized by At the Interface, the end product of the conference is a refereed journal, an ebook that holds up the medium to the light of academic scrutiny. While the resulting may be a hefty, jargon-filled, mental lift for the layman, the range and depth of the papers do make it interesting to check out.
For example, Paul Gravett, an independent researcher from the UK, had a paper about “The 21st Century Graphic Novel in Comics-Resistant Cultures” like Egypt, Armenia, Russia and India. While Daito Bunka University’s Kotaro Nakagaki tackled “The Atomic Holocaust in the Perspectives of Shōjo” about the graphic novels “A Vanishing Girl” and other post-Nagasaki bombing works.
Make no mistake, these are serious scholars at work here and the Pinoy’s own session was themed “A League of our Own: Cultural Appropriations in Contemporary Philippine Comics.” It will hopefully not only put our komiks on the global map, but also situate our tradition of the medium as a serious field of study for future historians and pupils.
RAPPLER sat down with the scholars to get to know them better, these komiks heroes. Also featured are excerpts from the papers they authored.
Emil Flores, PhD
Dr. Emil M. Flores is tall, jovial and possessed of the singular nerdy charm of being able to talk your ears off about his areas of specialty: science fiction and comics.
A graduate of the US’s Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (or VirginiaTech) for his masteral degree — and of UP for his doctorate — Dr. Flores led the delegation and lent it gravitas. He was the first to come across the call for papers in late 2011, after another colleague sent him the link.
“(It was the) second time for me (present a paper at an international conference). The first one was in Singapore for a conference on film,” he said. “I presented superheroes, so okay pa rin. But I was not too nervous for this one; part of it is because this is our tradition, anyway.”
Dr. Flores’ paper is titled “Up in the Sky, Feet on the Ground: Cultural Identity in Filipino Superhero Komiks.” In it, he cited 3 contemporary komiks titles that he considered the most popular superhero team komiks in recent years.
Goes a line in his paper: “The 3 titles (`Bayan Knights’ by an artist’s collective, `The Filipino Heroes League’ by Paolo Fabregas and `Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat’ by Arnold Arre) represent 3 different ways Filipino creators appropriate the American superhero concept. In these komiks, issues of cultural identity through globalised popular culture will be examined and analysed.” (sic)
Chubby, bearded and bespectacled, Javier is considered one of the Pinoy authorities on all things geeky and nerdy. He’s earned this reputation by authoring a few tomes on the subject, including the aptly titled, “And the Geek Shall Inherit the Earth” and “The Kobayashi Maru of Love.”
He was having bouts of mini-anxiety attacks mostly because of the enormity of the project and what was possibly at stake that rested on 3 people. Plus, there was a grant to consider. “All the other times I’ve presented, even in international conferences, have been about writing,” he said. “This is the first time I’ve done an academic paper.”
A graduate of UP’s Creative Writing program with a Masteral degree in the same course, Javier narrates that, after Dr. Flores asked him and Ana Chua on board, they had regular meetings that led up to fleshing out each of their abstracts.
But the papers were actually the easy part of the battle. Getting to Oxford was a bigger hurdle.
You see, the conference fee amounted to around UK200 pounds (approximately Php20,000); but that’s not inclusive of the airfare, billeting and per diem. The GN1 has a small discount if you come from a 3rd World Country, so that shaved a few pounds off the bill. Still, there was around Php70,000 worth of airfare and housing that needed footing.
To make ends meet, they did two things:
First, they asked for what is called a research dissemination grant (RDG) from UP, that bagged them around Php45,000.
“But they’ll only give you 80%,” said Javier. “And then the 20% when you come back. It’s funny because, in the middle of our application, they asked us, 'Are you actually submitting a full paper?' Because if we weren't, they were not gonna give us the full funding.”
Second, they held a fund-raising event where comics artists and writers generously donated their works to be sold so the 3 delegates could earn some more cash for their trip. They netted a small amount, but still had around 60% of the over-all expenses to pay.
“(The rest) was from our pockets," sums up Javier.
Javier’s paper is titled “Filipino Humour and the Filipinisation of Foreign Tropes in Macoy’s `Taal Volcano Monster vs. Evil Space Paru-Paro.’” (sic)
If you’ve never read this obscure komiks, never fear, it’s only available as an indie imprint usually sold at the annual Komikon or at selected stores. One thing’s for sure: it’s pretty funny and representative of our slapstick humor.
And it’s full of giant monsters, some of them from outer space.
Goes an excerpt from Javier’s paper: “Godzilla, which is part of the Kaiju genre that features giant monsters rampaging through cities, is a cornerstone of contemporary international popular culture. While the Philippines has a lively film industry producing both studio-based and independent films which regularly appropriate various genres and forms, it has never entered attempted Kaiju films. Through `Taal Volcano Monster vs. Evil Space Paru-Paro’ we are given a humourous play on both the genre and the conventions of Filipino humour.” (sic)
Ana Micaela Chua
You may have seen quite a bit of Ana Chua if you frequent the cosplay events around the metro. She has already been dressed up as supernatural detective Alexandra Trese from Tan and Baldissimo’s popular local series, and Motoko Kusanagi, the cyborg police Major from “Ghost in the Shell.”
A Paulinian from Pasig, Chua has a translucent, Fil-Chinese complexion that gives her an ethereal aura. Her delicate features plus her big eyes — combined with a gentle voice — make her seem all the more fey. She has also studied International Relations at Warsaw, Poland and holds an MFA from UP under the Comparative Literature department.
To prepare for the demands of their plenary session, they practiced reading their papers to a cold audience, to students and co-faculty. She informs me that the plenary wasn’t really open to the public; meaning the people who were going to be reading the paper were also the audience members.
Chua took all their money problems for the conference in stride, especially since there was no going back. “Most of the money we got from the (UP) grant and the fund-raising event went into our accommodation. Fortunately, it was a bed and breakfast.” She laughs, “We had our own bathrooms!”
As a big fan of horror and supernatural fiction, Chua’s paper is titled “Enabling Mythologies in the Supernatural Detective Series TRESE.” (sic)
“My paper is about the Trese series as a whole,” she explained. “But focused on this one story about Pacquiao (`Fight of the Year’). It’s about myth-making in fantasy stories.”
Goes an excerpt from her paper: “The appearance of (Manny) Pacquiao opens the `TRESE’ universe not only to the international stage, but also to the idea that a hero’s defence of his or her home has limited scope, particularly in a country where national unity has always been problematic, and law notoriously ineffective. Even as a mythic hero, Trese is shown to be only one of many heroes, her approach to conflict resolution only one of many in dealing with the eternal battle between Good and Evil as it manifests on Philippine soil.” - Rappler.com
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