11/21/2011

Komikon 2011 Part 1



When I visited last year's Komikon, I noted the problems the growing convention had to confront. So how does the 7th Annual Philippine Komiks Convention stack up to what came before? The following are a few broad observations about the event based on the short amount of time I attended it:

The Venue

- Komikon changed venues for a third straight year as it tried to anticipate the logistics of running what is the biggest event of its kind in the country. This year it was held at the Unilab Bayanihan Center. With its high ceiling, wood paneling, and powerful air conditioning, this ballroom-sized hall was the largest and ritziest location to host Komikon to date. It's also the first to have decent bathrooms, which is a big plus. Clearly, Unilab takes good care with the upkeep of this place.

- As a facility owned by a pharmaceutical company, Bayanihan is located in a more industrial-looking part of the city. It's not too distant from the main commercial centers in Pasig, but it's far enough to limit casual foot traffic from dropping in. So it does feel a bit isolated and not the most accessible place without a car. Another problem with the location is that apart from a small supermarket across the road, there weren't many places to shop and eat. The convention had to organize several food vendors to cater for the event. So dietary options were sparse. There were no ATMs within the building, which limited attendees spending cash to what they had on hand, unless they wanted to hop in a car and drive around to the nearest mall.

Attendance

- Despite the more ample space, the hall was beginning to fill-up by noon. So its safe to say that the constantly shifting venues did not discourage most attendees. The overall vibe was positive and even enthusiastic. Komikon is a one day event. But how long will it be until future attendance increases to the point were it can be justifiably transformed into a weekend-long event? I believe that the entrance fee rose from last year's event held at Starmall, although my memory might be faulty.

Programming

- Like many American comic conventions, the showroom of Komikon had a certain flea market feel to it. Everyone was crammed into one big room. But it's a situation that can be alleviated by splitting-up the attendee crowd through the use of varied programming. In my experience, this is something Filipino conventions have yet to master. Komikon is no exception. Like last year, a stage was set up at the far end of the hall, which was used for a variety of purposes. And likewise, there was no seating to encourage attendees to listen attentively, or a partition to help block out the crowd. When the soft-spoken Tony DeZuniga took to the stage for a Q&A session, the only people who could make out his answers above the din were the people standing within ten feet of him. A screening of Comic Book Literacy was not only barely audible, but a mishap with the DVD player cut it off at around the halfway point. As film premieres go, that was a major faux pas.


- These kinds of screw-ups demonstrate that Komikon is only beginning to grasp the effectiveness of varied programming. There's a lot of room for improvement before it can match its more established stateside counterparts. Multimedia presentations are nice, but if they're done half-assed, they'll completely suck. Hopefully in the future, Komikon will expand its Q&A panels and media programming to the point were they can justify placing them in separate rooms. This is one way to help alleviate the crowding in the showroom.

- I wasn't around for it, but at least the Komikon Awards were back.

The Showroom Floor

- Komikon instituted its first official "Artists Alley", which they dubbed "Komik Kalye". I honestly don't get why an event like Komikon even needs an Artists Alley, and the Komikon variant was a complete inversion of the concept. It was populated by young Filipino artists who made it big working for mainstream American publishers, and they were charging relatively exorbitant fees (Starting from ₱300) for sketches. Without an ATM nearby? No thank you.

- Two of Komikon's special guests, Tony DeZuniga and Gerry Alanguilan, are veterans of the American comics industry. Gerry is more or less a convention regular anyway, so whatever. But Tony flew in from the US, which was really cool of him. I hope he's enjoying the rest of his trip. At one point he started to talk about how local airport security hassled him about the metallic cane he uses to get around. But I'll be damned if I heard any of it (see "Programming" above).

- People who have attended events like MOCCA or SPX will find here a somewhat different take on what constitutes "indie" comics. Truth is, virtually everything local is indie when what dominates the market are foreign products from America and Japan. Walk around the showroom floor of Komikon, and between the Filipino superheroes, high fantasy, gag strips, and manga pastiches, an attendee has to squint hard to find something that resembles "alternative comix" as critics usually understand the term. The unspoken purpose of Komikon is to affirm that Filipinos can make comics at all, and the wide divergence of genres is used as a prop for this argument in order to help convince local fans to buy Pinoy.

- Maybe the presence of an Otaku Gear booth on the floor warped my perspective, but I felt that the manga contingent showed up more in force this year. I was certainly doing more double-takes because of the cosplayers I'd occasionally spot wandering the tables. Do all the creators working on their manga-inspired books even need Komikon as an event at this point? It was hard to ignore all the Pinoy manga because they had some of the most colorful covers populated by the cutest, moe characters.

- Webcomics continue to be an afterthought, but I noticed more creators hawking an actual webcomic, as opposed to a DeviantArt page, this year. But as with last year, most webcomics I saw tended to be comic strips that began in print before spawning a web incarnation.

- Retail chain Comic Odyssey took advantage of the Bayanihan and had the largest and most crowded exhibitor booth. They were making a brisk trade selling manga and mainstream graphic novels at steep discounts. The prices for old manga volumes were so cheap, they were actually a better value purchase than the minis being sold in the showroom.

In Conclusion

Komikon was crowded, noisy, and fairly chaotic. It's made a couple of steps to expand its offerings, but isn't a slick product by any stretch of the imagination. The convention continues to feel its way forward and feed off the energy and devotion of fans looking for a focal point for their passion.

Update: Go to PART 2 for more about Komikon.