Monday, May 28, 2007

My brother dropped a bomb on me earlier tonight. He's been in a meeting with the higher ups of the paper I'm submitting comic strips hoping to get me a raise after working for them for five years and apparently he was told that the strips I've been working have started to go downhill towards irrelevance. My mood also started to go downhill as we discussed the problem. How can it be irrelevant? I've calmed down after going outside and giving this some thought though I still have some problems with what they said. This isn't like some magazine where the readers are established and the editors know who they're aiming for, this is a newspaper with a wide scope of readership. As such, I tried to cover all the bases: the family guys, those in their 20s tackling jobs, salary, and girlfriends; women in college tackling the pressures of schoolwork and budding independence; and one in high school. I'd understand it more if they said I should make it funnier, although I'd probably react the same way but without misgivings because I tend to stretch myself too thin trying to come up with funny stuff for all four camps instead of focusing on one character. But irrelevant?

I try to avoid dating the strips by tackling trends and other what-have-yous that most probably wouldn't survive the decade. Besides I pride myself with concentrating on having the series revolve around the characters instead of them revolving around pop culture references. This is what I'm used to ever since I started doing comic strips professionally since the 90s. I don't go for the cheap shots where the characters laugh at their fellow characters' punch lines before the readers do, I don't like breaking the fourth wall which reeks of desperation and inconsistencies, I don't like them looking or pointing at the readers as if they're conscious about being in the funny pages. No. I treat them as if they were acting in a sitcom with the readers acting like viewers (or voyeurs) watching and listening to everything they say. I like them to be consistent, to remain as they are, never aging as I do. I raise this because it was the second time that a publication asked (or demanded nicely) that the high school characters age with the readers in a bid to become relevant. That bothers me. The first time this was asked of me was seven years ago when the first magazine that gave me my job was suffering from that same problem. The editor took me aside and asked that I make the characters of CLASS graduate into college because he feels the readers and fans of the strip were getting older and they weren't going for that kid of crap anymore. I put my foot down and said, no. They were created exactly because high school was a period of fun and frivolity for me (albeit it was also one of the most traumatic) and as such it was to commemorate both the good and bad of that period in time. I offered a new set of characters based on my current peers and classmates in college, which fortunately seemed to mirror the crass humor and deep friendships found in high school. It ran for six months before they revamped the look and layout of the publication in order to stay relevant to boost their sales. This new set of series wasn't performing as good as its predecessor understandably because I was forced to come up with it at a time when it was just a germ of an idea forming in my head. I was asked to submit a new set of series to be scrutinized as if I hadn't been with them for the better part of their existence.

So you would understand my frustration when the idea of making them grow up was brought up again. The option was out of the question! Why do you think I came up with three older characters spanning three important times in one's life? I have all these stories in my head spanning their origins to the present it's impossible to tell them all on a weekly schedule. That way they stay the same way they look but the readers get to see a deeper look on what makes them tick as time goes on. There's the relevance they're looking for if they want. It's quite ironic that these characters have to grow up in order for readers to be able to relate to them while flesh and blood entertainers lose all verges of relevance when they grow old (not necessarily mature). Incredulous as I was with the whole thing I told my brother this thing they were asking was bordering on ridiculous. Does he think they ask other comic strip artists to put their stories up to speed in order to be relevant? How about Peanuts? Dilbert? Foxtrot? Baby Blues? Big Nate? Speed Bump? Diesel Sweeties? Or Kiko Machine, Beerkada, Carpool, Kamote Komplex, and others too many to mention on the local side. Do the editors ask them to tackle present issues on politics and/or pop culture? Some of them do but they're like more on the bonus side as the creators themselves see fit to tackle but nonetheless they don't have too because they themselves set the bar for their work. My brother made the mistake of telling me that I can't compare my work with those American strips they're targeting a different market. Like my work isn't published in the same country as them. But they don't need to sell out because if they did then that would be the end of it. Do you honestly think it's fine turning a comic strip into an endorsement machine where big corporations pay big money for the artist to place their products or mention their products in their strip? I don't think so.

Click the image to read the Sunday strip

You know I would have understood what they were getting to if they gave me stats on specific ages of the readers of their paper but they can't because it's a NEWSPAPER! As it is I'll still move on my own pace. Real time moves faster and faster as time goes on, though people are weaned everyday on flashy MTV-type of graphics there will always be a clamor for substance in their daily dose of entertainment. Like I said before I would have understood it better if they asked me to be funnier, it wouldn't hurt as much as saying I wasn't being relevant.

* The Bloom County Sunday strip was lifted from this site.

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