Filipino artists

Kalabaw Studios, formerly Penlab, barred from joining Komiket amid issues of unfair labor practice

Rappler.com

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Kalabaw Studios, formerly Penlab, barred from joining Komiket amid issues of unfair labor practice
(UPDATED) Penlab's founder Bernie Mercado says he is stepping down as komiks editor and that he will no longer be involved in publishing other creator's works

MANILA, Philippines – Kalabaw Studios, formerly known as Penlab, an online publisher and distributor of local Pinoy komiks, will no longer be allowed to participate in Komiket events after several artists aired their grievances against one of the platform’s founders. 

Komiket made the announcement on its social media platforms on Monday, May 13. 

“The tables they have reserved are being redistributed to individual artists under their own names who were wronged in their association with Kalabaw Studios,” they added. 

Komiket also emphasized that they do not condone any form of abuse and are “committed to making [their] spaces as safe as [they] can.” 

The changes came after several Filipino artists took to social media to call out Penlab’s founder Bernie Mercado for alleged abuse and unfair labor practices under their time with the platform. 

A female komiks creator, who requested that link to her social media post not be publicized, was the first to shed light on their experience with Mercado on May 8. She didn’t name anyone in the post, but another komiks creator, Logihy, confirmed in a May 11 tweet that Mercado admitted that the post was pertaining to him. 

“I worked for him as his comic artist when I was a college undergrad back in 2018…what I went through with him was psychological abuse,” the female artist said, “The trauma pushed me to quit comics for three years, anxiously thinking that if I even set foot in the community, he will immediately bring me down.”

She continued: “I’ve been silent for six years…because I gave this person a chance and the benefit of a doubt that maybe, just maybe he’ll be a better person. Perhaps I am just an outlier among all the people he collaborated with. It’s better to be the sole victim than be one of many. Right?”

However, the artist said: “After we cut off [ties] six years ago, he only got worse. He has stirred more issues with different people within the community in a variety of ways imaginable. I am not only talking about two women. I am talking about more than ten people (as I write this) who’ve shared with me their experience with him.”  

The artist continued that many of these individuals have trusted Mercado as they shared his dream for developing the local komiks industry. “But time and time again, he decided that trust was not worth keeping,” they said. 

Logihy, meanwhile, said that she has resigned as an editor and staff of Penlab/Kalaw Studios following the issue. 

She added that she also reached out to her former Penlab colleagues whom Mercado abused and expressed her desire to make things right with them. 

In a Facebook post, artist Sampay also recalled their experience working with Mercado. 

“Working with him means you can’t do commissions and projects outside Penlab/Kalabaw [Studios] due to an exclusivity clause in our contract, so I missed a lot of opportunities and offers for that,” they said, adding that working dynamics was also toxic. 

As the issue gained more traction online, Mercado released a statement on Saturday, May 11, apologizing for “all the pain, trauma, and discord [he has] caused.” 

“For the best of the community, effective immediately, I am stepping down from my position as a komiks editor and will no longer be involved in publishing other creators’ works. In line with this I will also no longer be participating in convention and community activities and my company will be shutting down,” Mercado announced. 

He then went into detail about his creative differences with several artists and experience in launching and handling Penlab. “I recognize I’ve broken everyone’s trust. Because of all these, I will be stepping away from the komiks community,” he added. 

As of Monday, Kalabaw Studios’ social media accounts and Penlab.Ink’s website are no longer accessible. 

Text, Page, Blackboard
Screenshot by Rappler
Page, Text, Computer
Screenshot by Rappler

Penlab was best known for being a platform where Filipino komikeros can share their creations for readers to enjoy. Meanwhile, Komiket is a Filipino non-profit organization that started putting art markets together in 2015. – Rappler.com

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