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Thursday, October 13, 2005

On the Matter of Comic Books

Comics. Now that is one thing that has been associated to my interest and myself in person for the longest of times. I am never to boast of being the best artist, nor even a superb one, though I do maintain myself as competent in the art, but the concept of visual storytelling has been one of the things I have done, took part in and forever will be intrigue by since my earliest days of being introduced to the medium. Admittedly my special focuses on the matter have shifted but all in all I am a firm believer in the expansion of the trade, and most notably a conversation with my bestfriend on the matter renewed my aim in it.

But I admit to one other thing. The medium of comics, and inclusive of that are those 'graphic novels', is not only under attack but also under stiff competition with other mediums such as animation and film. But whilst competition can be made positive by means of collaboration, it is the attacks and problems faced by the comic business that matters the most to me in this context. The market for comic book in Malaysia is not as it would be in countries like America, England or Japan. First and foremost, the medium was not derived of our culture unlike America and others, and though I don't consider it anything bad by adopting something not from our culture, the fact of the matter is the medium is underdeveloped and under a bad rap.

The first question to state here is the fact that while there aren't the lack of artists, there seem to be the lack of ideas. More and more I see clones of ideas used by others from Japan of the U.S, characters basedon those from the industry there or stories that are similiar and differing only in minute details like locale and character names or appearence. The problem here is in two places as far as I feel it. One is inspiration. Either the artist are too shy or fearful or lack the confidence to do something that is not tried and test (in this case, I mean their own unique ideas born of their hearts and mind) and thus would do something that mass media has over-popularize, or quite simply the restraint given by factors like budget, company interest, government or most often, local culture and society.

I can't show the way for these people but I do suggest that firstly, we close ourselves to the outside world, listen to our hearts and do what we feel we want to do. Do not just be brave... but rather totally shut out the reasons for our fears. And as for the restraint factor, I can offer this: People, as in plural, are fickle and mob-like. A person can be adapatable and inventive but people as a whole are stupid, conformative and narrow minded, thus following the majority. For that matter we can only persevere and hope that as time goes on, views change. I for one hate it when parents especially say comics as a negative media ad influence. I remember my own parents dissapproving my interest in comics, even though looky right now, I wrote a thesis based on comics that helped seal my way to graduation! But sadly, much as I hate the thing, I can't really object to SOME (not all) of the reasons why that is so. Looking at the comics we either make or translate, you can see why. A large number of our own comic books ad their stories either suffer from plagiarism, non creative storytelling, repetitive and cliche'd themes, lack of depth and quite simply said, lame a$$ stories or jokes. I mean come on, why'd they do it i the first place? These artists and people are like so uninspired and do it not because of their choice, but more like they have no other choice. And worse off are those comics we translate for local reading from outside sources. The language is simply and downright apalling. Do those translators even speak Malay or English? I have to ask that because at times I feel like a Bangladeshi could do better. I do hope, and perhaps it is underway, the level and quality of translated works improve.

So looking at that you can see why comics are negatively viewed by older generations. But there are unjustified views of course, like the fact that these medium promote violence, drugs or sex. Yes, I admit to not only the existence of comics based in those themes but also of reading them, but firstly we have t understand, comics as a whole is simply a media. And like any other media, TV, movies, animation, computer games etc, some are suited for kids, some for slightly older groups and some for adults only. The blame is not on why people make such things on the media but why you as guardians allow those from the improper age group access to those materials. Yeah, that's right, my point can simply be said as this: I don't see it wrong to own.. say... porn, but I do think it's wrong if you allow or did not guard it well enough to enable little kids access to it. So back to the point, it's simply this, you can't judge comic as a whole by only one type of its themes, nor can you blame it for having those themes, because violence or sex, it's all part of the world and I don't think denying it is proper. It all comes down to getting the proper medium to the right target audience, that's all. Besides it's interesting to note that I think comics based on superheroes, folks doing good for all mankind type of themes, probably are more famous and outnumber those for the more... adult and mature themes.

In the context of views, there are certain things I do wonder or question, or both. I am all for nationalism and by all means that was the fact that made Germany rise from the ashes of World War I so it's a great thing, but why is it, here in Malaysia, we are so into it and sensitive about it? Generally speaking the loads of expressive media here are, while not really forced all the time, but nevertheless almost subconsciously influenced, be it by government or society, towards either nationalistic themes, religious themes or social (inclusive of the whole local racial uniqueness and diversity) matters? Why must we always make stories or works in general, that are either of those themes? Why is wrong to want to do total fantasy or sci-fi works? Why is improper to tell stories of say... Ancient Rome or Medieval Japan? Is it simply because those are things that are not us as Malaysians? What about the fact that Hollywood made movies based on Japanese culture? Or Japan making stories based in American locales? Is it simply unacceptable because those are not Malaysians and for that matter we must always champion ourselves only? I chose not to adopt that idealogy because above all else, I am human and so are those people. Don't get me wrong, I am proud to be Malaysian, and thankful that the Axis powers did not dominate the world, or live under the Bush Administration, but for putting my race, my nationality or even religion far above all the other people, and forgive me for saying, that sounds a little selfish, cocky, snobbish and Nazi-like. So understand that when anyone wishes to ask why I do stories or works that tie in to Ancient Rome instead of the Malayan Independence (yes, MALAYAN, because in history we were MALAYA back in 1957 when we achieved our independence, which by the way was only for the western, peninsula of Malaysia only; Sabah and Sarawak joined us in 1963... see? I know local history too!)

To conclude it all I can only emphasize this. Presently the market for comic books and graphic novels are not really lucrative here in Malaysia. But then this is because of public view and demand. So if there's no market for it, then make the market.


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