What Carlo Vergara's Departure From Comics Means for the Rest of Us
Just yesterday, highly acclaimed graphic illustrator and playwright Carlo Vergara, known for having penned iconic masterpieces such as Ang Kagila-gilalas na Pakikipagsapalaran ni Zsazsa Zaturnnah and Kung Paano Ako Naging Leading Lady, posted a letter announcing that he would no longer be writing comic books, sending a massive shock through the local art world.
In a post made public, Vergara writes, "Sure, I've had great success with Zaturnnah, but the truth is, I'm practicing my art at a huge loss." He elaborates on this further below:
"Yesterday, I met with the organizers of Komikon, and during that meeting we talked about the challenges that local comic book makers are currently facing. Suffice to say, there's a lot.
Later that day, I was in a coffee shop and ran into a couple of dear friends I haven't seen in a long time. During our conversation, one friend talked about a medical procedure he had gone through, a procedure that cost him quite a bit of money.
After we parted, I began to wonder what would happen if I suddenly had an emergency and I needed a significant amount of money. Money that I didn't have. And when you reach a certain age without a retirement fund, without a backup when something goes wrong, things become very scary.
This is the reason why I thought of quitting comics."
Local comic book artists, even with a staggering breadth of work like Vergara, still face an uphill challenge in making their books accessible to a wider audience. Often, the reaction is: "Oh, I didn't know you had a new book!"
According to Vergara, the difficulty is compounded not just by the amount of effort it takes to put together a graphic novel, from conceptualizing the story to promoting it, but also by the costs of both money and time working against him:
"What about sales, you might ask? A book author gets less than 10% of a book's retail price. So if you buy your favorite author's book at a price of P200, which is the price of Part One, you're giving him less than P20 for the story. The bulk of that P200 goes into converting that story into a physical book and placing that book in a bookstore.
In Metro Manila, the current minimum wage is P481 per day. If a minimum wage earner works for four months, then he would earn about P42,000 or P10,250 a month. For a P200 book to reach the same amount, it should sell about 2,100 copies.
If the author wants to earn just P20,000 a month working full time, then more than 8,000 books have to be sold. And selling 8,000 copies of any book is very, very difficult, moreso for the graphic novel which carries a higher price tag compared to aprose novel. I've heard too many comments from people wanting to buy but can't afford it.
And this is why I'm thinking of quitting comics, even if it has opened many doors for me. We might point to the adaptations (which I'm grateful for) and merchandising (which honestly hasn't worked for me), but these are not assurances, and the author has to devote extra time for these.
The only thing I feel that can really help the graphic novelist is if readers are willing to buy the digital version."
Reading Vergara's letter opens us to the sobering realities of the comic book industry here in the Philippines. But there's an alternative, a window through which we can still hope to make things better for everyone.
Vergara proposes that going digital will allow the artist to set a price that will be better than what he makes from a physical book. In turn, online marketing will ensure that more people will be able to reach the artist's work.
"If enough people who like my stories are willing and able to buy my digital comics, then I can continue with less worry about my future," he adds. "The physical book can still be released later on with bonus material, and there's less risk for the publisher and the bookstore."
"I guess that's the miracle I need," concludes the letter.