Metro Comic Con 2009: Pinoy Nerd Prom
Attending a Filipino comics convention for the first time is a curious experience. To begin with they're still relatively new to the comics scene and there still aren't that many of them. Not surprisingly they emulate the American model and draw interest primarily from the local hardcore fanbase. But comic books on the whole continue to be marginalized by the mainstream. This has had a profoundly negative effect on local talent. Unable to support themselves due to a dearth of publishers, most have had to work for the DC and Marvel assembly lines. Thanks to the internet, this form of global outsourcing is easier than ever. Whatever international success earned is being parlayed by some of them too re-ignite languishing interest in local comic books.
The first Metro Comic Con was held last weekend at the convention halls of the massive SM Megamall complex. Most shoppers went about their business probably unaware that it was taking place. It's a bit depressing that the biggest news to come out of the con was the launch of the Watchmen DVD and the Filipino theatrical release of G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. But it's not as if anyone who appeared in the movie was there to promote it. The barely manned and fairly large booth which was prominently located near the entrance kept playing a video loop throughout the con.
For all the market dominance by American publishers and the American subsidiaries of Japanese publishers, none of them had set up their own booths. No one from America bothered to show-up if they were invited at all, leaving the convention floor to the local dealers. Of course I didn't expected it from a first-time event. Whatever talent was in attendance was strictly homegrown. This turned out to be beneficial as it did help make the con feel more relaxed and intimate. I had zero interest in the people who work for War Machine and whatnot, but I did derive some satisfaction when indie creators like Gerry Alanguilan and Budjette Tan signed my copies of their books. Most of the unknown creators at Artists Alley tended to draw in a manga influenced style, which felt a little too derivative for my tastes. But I got the impression that business was for the most part good. Given the tenuous foothold Filipino comics have in comic book stores and bookstores, creators are dependent on good word of mouth and their fans showing up at conventions.
Once the convention going crowd increased after noon the exhibit halls became tightly packed for both days,spilling out into the adjacent areas inside the mall. Compared to their American counterparts, Filipino fandom isn't as bifurcated. This could be easily attributed to the small and ostracized geek population. But Filipino comics fans ease with anime can also be explained by the country's position as a nexus of Western and Asian influences. Fans from my generation grew up watching reruns of American cartoons as well as dubbed versions miscellaneous shojo and shonen anime, which included virtually every mecha series to come out of Japan until they were banned sometime during the martial law years. So the super-hero/manga divide isn't as contentious. What is new, and possibly alienating to older fans, are the otaku trappings like cosplaying or console MMORPGs which are being nurtured by the convention circuit. I've probably seen some of the most elaborate costumes from any fan-oriented event this weekend. Conventions have become an essential social outlet for many younger fans. The majority of attendees I saw were at least in their teens and evenly composed of both sexes.
While there was plenty of enthusiasm found on floor of the the Metro Comic Con, no one had any solutions to the problem of the comic book industry's current meager state. The event didn't seem to reach past the devoted fanbase towards a more mainstream audience. Without the help of publishers with a substantial bookstore presence, individual creators will either have to continue with their own efforts to set up legitimate publishing businesses or continue to depend on breaking into the American market.