Pugad Baboy creator: Online is the way to go
MANILA, Philippines - Even before he resigned from the Philippine Daily Inquirer as contributing cartoonist on Friday evening, June 7, Pol Medina Jr had been reflecting on the possibilities of new media.
How would the overweight characters of his popular and long-running “Pugad Baboy” comic strip fare if they invaded cyberspace?
Or – as Rappler asked him in an interview that Friday – how would Polgas, Mang Dagul, Brosia, Sergeant Sabaybunot, and Patrolman Durugas be introduced to a wired audience? How will it connect to a generation that’s way unfamiliar, even oblivious, to the milieu that gave birth to this satire in the 1980s?
Just a few years back, PMJr (fans refer to him by how he signs his comic strip) didn’t think this was possible, although the Inquirer’s online edition eventually uploaded PDFs of his strips. There was this romantic notion of caricatures and comic strips best appreciated in print.
“Ang hard copy kasi, sinasabi nila, puwede kang umupo sa tabi, magkape ka, kahit matagal ka magkape, okay lang. Di kagaya ng nakikita mo sa TV, fleeting ’yan eh…pagka di mo nabasa ’yung nag-i-scroll na ganun, maglu-loop na naman ’yun, babalik na naman ’yun. Kumukuha ka ng impormasyon, nai-stress out ka pa,” he said.
(They say, with a hard copy, you can sit in a corner, sip coffee, and it’s okay if you stay that way for hours. Unlike what you see on TV, it’s fleeting – if you fail to read what’s in the lower thirds of the screen, you wait for it to crawl again. You just want to get information, and the process stresses you out.)
Not too long after, the leisurely pace by which print could be read and the certainty of electronically accessing old material converged.
He noted: “Eh lumabas ’yung mga e-books, mga iPhone nga, na puwede kang umupo, magkape nang matagal. At your own pace, puwede mo rin i-flip ’yung pages, nagpi-flip mag-isa.”
(Then e-books came out, and iPhones. Now you can sit down, have coffee leisurely and, at your pace, you can also flip the pages, they [in a way] flip by themselves.)
And then – because humor is in his makeup – he pointed out: “’Yung iba lang, sinasabi, hindi mo puwedeng ’pang-patay ng gagamba ’yung iPhone (Although others say, [unlike a newspaper] you can’t use an iPhone to kill a spider),” as he gestured to smash an imaginary arachnid on the wall with his mobile phone.
New character said it
Call it foreshadowing. His openness to new media was an indirect result of another “new” that led to his suspension from the Inquirer last week. Before PMJr’s resignation, “Pugad Baboy” had been suspended for a June 4 commentary on lesbianism at the exclusive Catholic girls’ school St. Scholastica’s College, expressed through newly created character MeiMei.
MeiMei represents all the personas that, PMJr realized, he has not depicted in his characters all these 25 years.
“Wala pa akong character na lesbian, wala pa akong character na atheist or parang freethinker. Pinagsasama sama ko na siya sa isang character. Hindi pa siya nagpi-fit in sa Pugad Baboy, siya lang ’yung payat eh,” he said.
(I didn’t have a lesbian character yet, an atheist or a freethinker of sorts. I combined them into one character. She has yet to fit in Pugad Baboy. She’s the only one who’s thin.)
He issued an apology for the comic strip, and didn’t hedge at it. The strip accused the administration of the school of condoning lesbian relationships – “Ginamit ko kasi ’yung word na ‘condone’ (It was my fault that I used the word ‘condone’)” – when the right way to put it was, they just couldn’t police the students, he said.
Fans who expressed support outnumbered those who condemned the supposed poor taste in his humor. No less than the Concerned Artists of the Philippines (CAP) decried his suspension and eventual resignation as a “threat to freedom of expression” that “contradicts the PDI’s legacy of asserting the right to freedom of speech and expression.”
It didn’t embolden him to be arrogant about his mistake, he said. At least, “Hindi ako nag-Vice Ganda na lulusot ako, mag-Titito Sotto ako na, ‘Eh kasalanan nila!’ (I didn’t do a Vice Ganda who tried to justify [an insensitive joke], nor was I like [senator] Tito Sotto, who blamed others for his offense.)”
(Vice Ganda, a gay comedian recently got the flak for his joke about broadcast executive Jessica Soho, from a rival station, saying any movie scene with her should involve a gang rape, given her weight. Senator Sotto, on the other hand, apologized if he had hurt the Kennedy family but refused to acknowledge that he plagiarized a former US senator’s speech.)
In fact, there was no need to belabor the issue in PMJr’s resignation letter. Two brief sentences ended his 25-year-old relationship with the country’s largest-circulated broadsheet: “Sorry I dishonored you. I resign.”
It was addressed to editor in chief Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc, whom he said had been “so kind to me,” as were the “entire art department” of the paper.
He’s done worse
PMJr admitted, however, that he was not expecting the severity – and instantness – of the backlash from the “Pugad Baboy” St. Scho strip.
“Ang initial reaction ko, sabi ko, 'Bakit kayo galit? Eh gusto ’nyo mag-conduct tayo ng survey sa mga estudyante kung ilan ’yung may girlfriend, ilan ’yung wala. Gusto mo, tingnan natin ’yung activities sa school kung pinapayagan nila na mag-aral kayo ng dance steps, kunwari cha-cha, tapos pinagpapares-pares kayo ng mga madre,” he said.
(My initial reaction was, ‘Why are you mad?’ Why don’t we conduct a survey and know how many of your students have girlfriends, how many don’t? Why don’t we check on school activities, where the nuns pair them up [as boys and girls] while learning dance, like cha-cha?)
National Artist Bienvenido Lumbera was quoted in the CAP statement defending PMJr: "Medina's strip was directed in general at what he calls the hypocrisy of Catholic institutions that condemn homosexuality and discriminates against lesbians and gays. St. Scholastica's College was cited only to give an example but is not the exclusive subject of the criticism."
While PMJr understood that the institution was enraged after he “poked at it” when “it wasn’t doing anything to me,” he knew there was no way he could have made that edition of the comic strip less offensive to the offended.
“May certain punch ’yung gagamitin mo ’yung totoong pangalan…. Nagiging mas malakas ’yung sundot pagka gumamit ka ng totoong pangalan (There’s a certain punch when you use actual names…. It becomes more effective when you use real names),” he said.
“Kung papalitan ko ’yung text ko, ’yung dialogue, ia-allude ko pa rin ’yun sa kanila. Sasabihin ko, 'exclusive, all-girls school sa Vito Cruz sa tapat ng La Salle.' So, baka ganon din lumabas, kasi gano’n talaga ako…. Kasi, pag gumawa ako ng comics, minsan di ko ma-censor yung sarili ko…’nilalabas ko talaga nang gano’n.”
(If I were to revise the text, the dialogue, I would still have alluded to them. I’d say, ‘exclusive, all-girls school at Vito Cruz, across the street from La Salle.’ So the effect would be the same, because I’m really like that…. When I do comics, I sometimes cannot censor myself…I show things as they are.)
Besides, he had done worse before the St. Scho controversy. In 1991, the third year of his comic strip in the Inquirer, he had one of “Pugad Baboy” characters telling a male character, “Ang pangit mo. Hindi ka gagahasain ng bakla (You’re so ugly, not even a gay would try to rape you).”
On the day that strip came out, there was a front-page story in the same newspaper about two children who were raped and killed. The timing was bad, he acknowledged, and he was not surprised that Gabriela, the progressive women’s group, wrote the editors to complain about the insensitivity of the comic strip.
At the time, the Inquirer defended him, he said. The paper was supposed to have explained to the women’s group that, it probably was in bad taste, but the remark was addressed to a male character anyway.
“Pero sa ngayon kasi, rape is rape, kahit lalaki o bata. Nung time na yun, parang nadepensahan nila ako (But now, rape is rape, whether the victim is a male or a child. At the time, they could still defend me),” PMJr said.
‘Medium of the future’
And there was no social media then to give him and his publishers instant feedback, Rappler pointed out to him. “Yes, before, if you got offended, you had to really write, send a letter to the editor,” he said in Filipino.
So he wasn’t surprised that, in the case of the strip that offended St. Scholastica’s College, “nag-trending ’yung hate mail. Alam ko, sa Twitter, mag-i-spread ’yan exponentially (The hate mail trended. I knew, when you bring it to Twitter, [the word] will spread exponentially).”
It was on Twitter and Facebook too that his supporters sent and spread word of encouragement and expressed solidarity behind him. “Ang haba na ng thread [sa Facebook], hindi ko na masagot (The thread on [my] Facebook [page] has gotten really long, I can’t reply [to the messages] one by one anymore).”
So if the audience has gone online, that’s where he’s thinking of moving “Pugad Baboy” too. He is aware that fans have been urging him to embrace the online medium. “The world has gone digital. Paper is being replaced by glass. Obviously the future of information is in cyberspace,” he said in a mix of English and Filipino.
“Ang newspaper, minsan kapag hindi umorder ang bansang kinaroroonan ng demographic mo eh hindi nila mababasa…. Mas malaki pa rin ’yung pag sa Internet mo nabasa,” he continued.
(When your newspaper doesn’t reach the countries where your [target] demographic is, then they won’t get to read you. Indeed, the Internet will help you reach a wider readership.)
Looking back, he said, the unfortunate episode at the Inquirer became an “opportunity” for him to “cross over to the more modern medium” and, undoubtedly, to introduce Pugad Baboy and its brand of satire to a whole new audience.
Watch excerpts of the interview here: