1st Global Conference: The Graphic Novel Fundraising Efforts

Yes we’re asking for money. Now that that’s on the table let’s move on. We’re raising funds and we promise that it will be for something worthwhile and we are hoping that you, dear reader, will give us money, and beyond that, you will tell someone else about the whole thing and that person will give give us money and so forth.

What is “this whole thing” which I am asking money for? Ah, that’s where I can be verbose and gush like a fan. We, those raising funds, have written papers and will be presenting those papers at The 1st Global Conference: The Graphic Novel which will be held at Mansfield College, Oxford, UK from Sept. 7 to Sept. 9.

The we is composed of teachers from the University of the Philippines Diliman. Together (volted-in, so to speak) we make up a panel that will discuss various angles of Philippine Komiks. The session will be called A League of our Own: Cultural Appropriations in Contemporary Philippine Comics. Leading the panel is one of the pioneers of teaching and studying comic books in the Philippine academe, Prof. Emil Flores, PhD. (and a komiks creator himself). His paper is  “Up in the Sky, Feet on the Ground: Cultural Identity in Filipino Superhero Komiks.” Micaela Chua is a Summa cum Laude grad, Erasmus scholar, and is currently working on her MA thesis on comics. Her paper is “Enabling Mythologies: Specificity and Myth-making in TRESE” And there’s me, Carl Javier (you can also throw a Prof. in front of my name, though I am still not accustomed to it). I’ve written a few books on geekiness and I’ll be presenting a paper called “Filipino humor and the Filipinization of Foreign Tropes in Macoy’s ‘Taal Volcano Monster vs. Evil Space Paru-Paro’.”

The costs of this trip are astronomical, especially when you consider that we are making our livings teaching at a state university. The plane fare alone costs three and a half months’ worth of my salary. The conference fee costs a month’s worth. As of this writing we have not received any funding. We have requests filed with the university, but even if they were to be approved that funding would only be the equivalent of half a plane ticket. That’s why we need help.

One way is that we are throwing a benefit gig called Komiks rOX on August 3. It will be at Route 196 on Katipinan Ext. and people can start showing up and hanging out by 7pm. We plan it to be a massive party where people can hang out, talk comics, have fun, and listen to some awesome bands. On the line-up are Gang Bading, The Etiquettes, Plagpul, Matilda, and Giniling Festival. We’re having a costume contest; people can come dressed up as their favorite comic book character. If you win, you get a set of signed Trese books AND a set of Night Gallery prints, also signed. We’ll be auctioning prints and original artwork from various komikeros. And it will be an awesome and fun.

But in truth, we are asking for much more than money. We are asking that you let us represent you. Our panel is meant to represent Philippine komiks, Philippine scholarship, and  Filipinos engaging in global discourse. We are asking for the opportunity to bring our discourse to this conference and to introduce people to our komiks and to get the world talking about what we Filipinos are doing. That is “the whole thing,” the big idea.

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Why the Bat Must Be Broken and Gotham Must be Destroyed

(this was co-conceptualized with Bo Jimenez, and the plan is that this is the opening volley of a series of essays and pieces on The Dark Night Rises.)

A common reading of The Dark Knight has been as a right-wing text, a text justifying Bush-era paranoia and extremist control, and as a reinforcement of the status quo social order of the rich getting richer and the poor getting poorer. Even in trailers for The Dark Knight Rises we were given a hint that this new film would at least, in some way, address these concerns as well, and further would bring in the 99% and concepts from the Occupy movements. While Nolan’s Dark Knight saga draw upon ideas of the post-9/11 world and have referents in the real world, I do think that it’s important for us to consider it too as story and discourse on multiple levels, not a direct critique of society. As such, I would like to examine a specific question and where this has brought us thematically, since we can see the saga in its entirety now.
The question has been What does Batman fight for? And that’s what those earlier speculations to TDK addressed. The right, the status quo, the elite, the moneyed, etc. etc. etc. But here’s my answer, and here we go:
The Batman fights for Gotham City. Okay, that sounds like something simple, something basic. Thus we will elaborate. What’s important to note is that the question and answer here reveal that the question isn’t what is Batman fighting for, as that is clear. The question is, what is Gotham City? And in the course of Nolan’s saga we see that Gotham changes, and so do Batman and his fight.
When we find Bruce Wayne in Batman Begins he has just returned to Gotham City. Gotham has deteriorated and whatever it was that the Waynes had contributed to the city had been mired in the crap that the mobsters plunged it into. Bruce is fighting because of the loss of his parents, but this isn’t about family legacy (else he would reveal his name), it is about making the city a better place. And it is, as the discourse of TDK says, being the hero the city needs. Thus we have a symbol of hope who brings down the mob and expels the fear that has been instilled in the populace. Take note that one of his big bads for the first film is Scarecrow, who uses fear. Batman overcomes this fear and in effect, inspires the city to leave behind their fears and take control back from these bad elements.
With TDK we find that the mob is largely crippled and with the crusading Harvey Dent on the scene Gotham is a changing place. Batman feels that he is near hanging up the cape and cowl because someone else can continue the struggle. Gotham does not need him. Enter the Joker and chaos. More than anything the Joker forces people to question their morals, their selves, and how the other people in the city would take care of each other. Hence the big social experiment with the two ships that are asked to destroy each other to survive, or the Joker’s offers in return for killing the accountant/snitch. Batman fights the Joker to give those people on the ships time to prove their mettle. And then he sacrifices his reputation, himself as a symbol, so that the people can continue to believe in something, that something being Harvey Dent.
What happens in the aftermath of TDK is that the right-wing, extreme control side has taken full control. The order that was fought for, the order that comes in response to the maniacal chaos of the Joker, is one that is oppressive, one that has deprived people of rights. It is an order that cannot hold. And thus, with those kinds of internal pressures on the city (and this pressure illustrated in the person of Commissioner Gordon who carries the ravages of the soul on him) coupled with the external anarchic force of Bane, everything collapses. Everything must collapse, everything must be broken.
In TDKR, at the beginning, Batman has nothing to fight for. Gotham is not his Gotham anymore, Gotham itself is lost and built on lies and injustice and oppression. Batman is spiritually broken, as Alfred cannot stop pointing out. And with broken spirit he faces Bane, and is literally broken. With Batman, the city’s guardian, the city’s gargoyle, not there to defend it, the city too falls.
But for things to happen, Batman must be broken, if only so that he can piece together what he is. And Gotham, as a city, is broken and lost and it has given up so much in the name of order, given up so much for said order and safety, that it has forgotten what it gave those things up for in the first place.
Thus we can find that this last installment brings all things full circle. It shows the struggle of the spirit, not in a religious sense, but in the sense of heart and soul and what it is that drives the Batman. He finds that what he must do is be a symbol that upholds the faith of the city in itself, the faith of the people to be better than themselves, to make their city, their world better.
With order gone, with the police force trapped in the darkness, with the world literally crumbling around them, the people are forced to assess what it is they will fight for, and what they believe in. The Batman fights for Gotham, and in TDKR, Gotham fights for its soul. It fights to survive, to become a better place in spite of itself. It fights to overcome its oppression, overcome its complacency. In the end, the police force come out of the darkness and join the fight, running into gunfire and sacrificing themselves for the hope that they might get a chance to be free, to rebuild, and to be great. As such, the Batman, rising from darkness, is a symbol of light and of hope.
He fights for Gotham. What is Gotham? An ever-changing city. Because you cannot fight for a specific law or a specific person. You must fight for an ideal, fight according to a code, and these ideals and codes are always changing too. The enemies change and their methods are always different, but the struggle is “to do good.” That is extremely vague, and something that will always elude simple definitions. But that is the place that Batman inhabits. It can be anything, but for sure it is the kind of thing that a super-hero must fight for.

The Other Instrument

I began playing the bass in high school. I was fifteen. It was for a girl. This will probably show up in a future YA novel I think I’ve got in me. I didn’t know many people at school yet and I got put into a group for a presentation. The other people in the group knew how to play guitar or percussions or whatever. And the girl, she could sing. (And man have I been a sucker for girls who sing since.) I didn’t know how to play, and up to that point the only instruments I had been acquainted with were bells and the recorder. The recorder was required, and because I could not sing, I had been put in the bell choir many years before. 

So I went down to the corner and started asking people to teach me to play the bass. I was lucky that one of my first friends in the country was and still continues to be an amazing bass player. Formerly PJ and going by Poldo now, he lent me his guitar and we spent a lot of time on his stoop as he taught me the basics. He showed me some basslines he wanted me to learn, particularly memorable Green Day’s “Longview” (and man wasn’t that such an amazing song when it came out?). 

I wound up sticking with the bass because it was what all the other bands around needed, and what most other people didn’t want to play. Everyone wanted to sing, be the lead guitar, be the drummer. Those were the cool instruments. No one ever noticed the bass, and even more, no one ever notices the bass player. Okay maybe if it’s someone like Paul McCartney or Sting, or someone as wild and talented as Flee. Me, I can name bunches and bunches of favorite bassists, because, of course, I studied lots of them. But most people can’t. Bass players, they are there, they provide the backbone, the groove. They aren’t the stars.

And that was totally fine with me. As a bass player of limited skill, I was well and good with people not really taking notice of my playing. Let the guy shredding solos get all the attention. I was happy to be supplying a nice steady bassline, syncing with the drums and laying the groundwork for the groove. 

I did this, more or less happily, for about thirteen years with a variety of bands. 

Then I stopped playing music. I had my heart broken. By a musician. The experience is rather well documented in my second book. I just couldn’t find it in me to get back into the studio, to make music. And I had bandmates who were, let’s say, less supportive of what I was going through that I would have hoped. I extricated myself from the whole music-making experience.

Then a few months ago, while dealing with a pretty bad manic-depressive bout (which led to among other things the writing and finishing of my latest book in about a month) I was with friends Adam David and Michael David. They were performing and I decided to tag along. I picked up Adam’s old acoustic and jammed with them. I don’t know how we sounded, as I was pretty drunk and far gone. But it felt good, playing again. 

A week or so later we were doing pretty much the same thing. Except this time I was wielding an axe borrowed from good friend Karl de Mesa. This night I wound up similarly smashed. I woke up hung over with a box of KFC two-piece chicken in the pillow beside me. I could remember very little of the night and what music we played, but a couple weeks later my friend Lotte showed me a video of Adam, Paolo, and me rocking out to “Paradise City” and I have to say, for a drunk dude who would not even remember playing the song, it wasn’t half bad. 

Which brings us to my current attempts at playing guitar. I have left the bass behind and am transitioning to the guitar, which has, for many many years, been a rather intimidating instrument. Sure I’ve played the guitar, made stabs at it. Entertained thoughts of playing guitar instead of bass. But I would always wind up back on the bass. It was what I was comfortable with, what I knew. 

Now, in a couple of weeks, I will be taking the stage for the first time wielding an electric guitar and playing as part of a band. It is an exciting prospect, frightening and exhilarating and challenging and many other emotions that well up as I strum those strings. 

In the practice studio, there are things that keep happening that form a kind of cognitive gap between my thinking and playing. I will be playing the guitar, will be playing the right notes and doing what I should be doing in the song. So my hands and a good part of my brain are on point. But I am listening to the music coming together and I hear the bassline and I focus on that. I think that I am the one playing the bass and I start grooving to it. Then I’ll realize that that isn’t me and I’ll try and find the guitar and find what I am sounding like. 

Other times I will be strumming and thinking, hey that guitar’s not sounding bad, where is that coming from. And then I will realize it’s me. Okay I know that sounds like I’m bragging, but really, I fail to realize that I am the one playing the guitar. It’s like my mind refuses to make a connection, and it’s only when I flub my fingers and I stop playing that I realize, hey, that crunchy distorted sound, that was you, man. 

I am enjoying the transition though. I am discovering a new capacity which I had assumed I could not do. I love playing the guitar, and I am enjoying it and having much more fun with it than I did with the bass. I’ll sometimes not be sure if I am doing alright, and I’ll ask the dudes I’m jamming with, Adam, Vincenz Serrano, and Joseph Saguid, if what I am doing is working, and they will nod and let me go on wailing on the guitar. 

Here’s to hoping that the next couple of weeks of practice allow me to develop the skills needed to justify my presence onstage. All I want to do is rock. And I hope that my brain wraps my head around it and I can just get up on there and make some noise. 

The Pants Problem

In the mid-Noughties I had a pair of corduroy pants that I wore to almost every event or gig.  I didn’t have many clothes then. Buying clothes had yet to become a regular thing, as for almost a decade the only clothes I had had come from Balikbayan boxes or the tiangge or the recently in vogue ukay-ukay. It was at the ukay-ukay, in fact, probably three years before the event, that I acquired the corduroys. Thing was that I got the corduroys sometime after freshman year, when I was still thin and exercising, but by the time of the gig in question, I had fattened up and was sporting a major beer belly. It was then that the clothing malfunction happened.

I was in the bathroom and I stepped away from the urinal and up to the sink to wash my hands. I was in a rush as our band would have to be onstage soon. I tugged the pants together trying to push the button into its hole. The first time it didn’t take and after a mighty push and exhale I stopped and had to catch my breath. I mopped sweat off my brow and then tried to button the pants again.

This time it took. Then it didn’t.

The struggle between the button and my belly had come to a conclusion. The button tried to push the belly in, mightily, but for all its might it was overrun. The belly overflowed, a mass that came up over the top of the pants and then surged forward against the button.

There was a pop and then a crack. The pop came from the belly’s expelling of the button, turning it into a projectile that zinged through the air. The crack was from the button making impact with the sink above the mirror. It left a nick on the mirror.

And it left me with quite a problem, as in minutes I would have to take the stage. Then a thought: safety pin. That would surely save the day and it might have. Had the nearby 7-11 had any.

What they did have was something near enough to the safety pin in terms of function, metal clasp and all. Except that it had a butterfly on it. I think it was meant more as a scrunchie for hair or something rather than safety pin. But it was what they had. So I fastened the clasp and took the stage with the butterfly ornament atop my bulging belly. Small movements would loosen the butterfly contraption and I would cover my belly and my opening and drooping pants with my bass. In between songs I would refasten the butterfly. Until finally we left the stage and I kept drinking to mask my embarrassment and I have no idea what happened to that butterfly after that night.

Another time I sat in a plane and heard a rip. I thought it was nothing, though I did feel that there was a cool pleasant breeze around my legs.

When we disembarked and wete brought to a cottage where we were all supposed to wait for the boat that would take us all to the resort island we were headed to, I sat on a bench. I crossed my right leg up onto my left knee and let my left and drop onto my left thigh. It was there I felt the hole in my jeans, a hole so big that the pattern of my boxers was on display as if I were flying a plaid flag.

I had always worn my pants baggy, because baggy pants were the thing when I was in high school. Then as I gained weight I grew into the baggy pants. Grew into them so much so they became smug and slim fit in relation to my belly, love handles, and thighs.

Then last week I tried to put on a pair of slacks from my closet. They looked like elephant pants, the pant legs were so loose. My sister saw me in them and said, “Kuya, what are you wearing? Are you trying to look like a gangsta or something?”

“I’m not trying to look like a gangsta. These are my pants.”

“Change! Wear different pants! You look terrible!”

And so I changed. The results were the same. I could have tried out for a revival video of M.C. Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This.” All my khakis and slacks had gotten too big.

Now this is a happy problem. I have to acquire new pants because I am losing weight and dropping the paunch. It is a good way to know that my recent initiatives to get healthy are paying off. While the smaller belly makes for fewer humorous situations, it still signifies something good. So I am off to address this happy pants problem.