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A Glimpse into the Komiks World: Jon Zamar's Life as a Comics Creator

Many years ago, in the province of Batangas, a little kid was introduced to the world of comics. Everyday after school, in his grandmother's rice store in the “palengke”, Jon Zamar would often pass the time reading a pile of comic books left there, sometimes buying his own funny komiks.


He would then be introduced to the more foreign and popular comics when they transferred to Manila in his elementary days. His mother's friends believed that such books would be more appropriate for his age. He received a bunch of compiled strips of the Peanuts Gang, Garfield, and the likes. Adding to this would be western imports such as Marvel and DC Comics, influenced by his attendance in an all-boys school. "Kasi after class, [they] would go to hobby shops," Jon recalled, noting a hobby shop near their school.


Seemingly having comics within reach and in his interest, one might have guessed that this is something Jon would actively want to pursue.


Not quite yet though. He mentioned that there was a notion to make stories, but that he never really thought about it as a job. "Kasi di’ba, ang traditional notion of work mo is to be, like a doctor, or an engineer, or an architect,"


With this, he shares his back-and-forth journey before finally coming to the decision to dive into the world of comics completely.

During high school, his family moved from Makati to Quezon, but he retained schools. Adjusting for the long commute, he soon realized that his school's dismissal coincided with the city's rush hour. In order to avoid becoming stuck in heavy traffic for hours, Jon would roam the mall (now Glorietta) to pass the time until the traffic is lighter. It was one of these days that he came across Alamat Comics' exhibition. Though his memory of the event was hazy, Jon was positive about one thing: "There was a gallery of artworks, I remember clearly seeing Gerry Alanguilan's spread of Timawa, jumping over railways,"


He realized that in that exhibit, they were made by Filipinos. "I saw yung mga creators, they were signing books, selling stuff, tapos doon lang pumasok sa isip ko na, uy, I could do this for a living, this is what I want to do. 'Yun yung nag-change ng everything." Jon took up Fine Arts as a degree in University of Sto. Tomas.

However, his mind then shifted to that of more practical thinking. "I had a period na, I was ready na hindi na ako magco-comics. That I was either going into advertising or somewhere na more corporate na environment," This was short-lived, as Jon discovered a new local comic book - Culture Crash Comics, and they were soon looking for a staffer, a digital colorist. "I tried my hand kasi nag-aaral ako noon ng photoshop, so since Fine Arts, I tried to apply but I was too young," He didn't get accepted.


Fast forward to his senior year, he decided to go into Advertising once he graduated. Yet, it was still there. "Pero for one last hoorah," Jon said, "Para lang matanggal yung itch, I would like my thesis to be comics, to make a comic book,"


By what seems like fate, Jon finds out that Culture Crash was holding an independent comics creation contest for a new event. "I was doing my thesis, I had ready material," Jon entered a part of his thesis in the contest.


He won third place, and with this achievement, the other creators took note of him, and they were looking for another staffer, and eventually, Jon was offered the job. All the while this is happening, Jon was already working part-time in an ad agency. "I was graduating, I was sort of working, tapos there was this job offer of being a full-time staffer sa Culture Crash. So ayun, doon ako nagdecide na...magcocomics na ulit ako," Jon declared. "Ever since noon, I've been in comics."


KOMIKON


Culture Crash held "C3 Con", a convention on anime, comics, cosplay, and gaming. But the biggest element of the event was Filipino comics. "Culture Crash gave a lot of free booths para sa ibang local creators. “It was a great place makita, na, uy, ang dami palang gumagawa ng comics." Jon explained. That was in 2002 and 2003. Unfortunately, come 2004, Culture Crash closed down - bringing with it the comic-centric event.


Jon and an artists support group he was part of (Artists' Den) were attending a bunch of the said conventions, most of them being comic creators. They realized that while the comics scene was present, they had a lot more creators left with no avenue for their craft.


This realization would materialize in 2005 when they attended a student-organized event in UP Ame, at the Bahay ng Alumni. The experiences were lining up. "I had prior experience with joining events na sort of alike, and we had lots of friends who were comic creators. We thought as a group na, why don't we do a comic con event that focuses on local creators lang and comics?"

Jon continued, "...for the longest time, we were joining events pero side note lang tayo lagi, we have a rich history of comics and we have a surplus na of creators to join us, and it would be like to gather din yung mga readers that are looking for local content."


That was it. Bahay ng Alumni in UP was booked for one day in October by the UP Alumni in the group, Lindon. They told their friends. Komikon was born.


Of course, Jon expressed that the whole event was made possible with the support of friends as well as acquaintances. As Gerry Alanguilan stepped on board, a lot of other creators followed suit. "Sir Budjette (Tan) and Alamat were also a big support, and Culture Crash guys since I was friends and they used to be my co-workers. Even older veterans, it was like a reunion of sorts for a lot of comics people, those who are working for marvel and dc abroad, those who were working mga lumang industry and for those who were just trying to wet their feet na mag sastart palang sila ng comics."


With this, Komikon went on to occur every year for 16 years. When asked if he would have done anything differently from those times, Jon answered "I think I would have done the same things, siguro I would add [to] spend more energy in trying to contact more of our older creators."


Adding to this, he also wished that proper documentation was done. "I realized the importance of archiving talaga nung legacy ng comics, we have no repository na we could look up."


Coming to the pandemic, as a big gathering of creators and fans, Komikon was shifted to an online event. However, Jon revealed that even before the crisis, they were already preparing for a transition regarding their usual venue going to renovations.


Still, they had already begun preparations. Early 2020, they already booked and paid exhibitors for the summer Komikon. Once the lockdown began, there was nothing they could do but postpone the event. "Most of the panels were moved online and we had it available for anyone who wants to watch it. A lot of books were cancelled, kasi yun nga uncertainty ng situation.” Sadly, there was no physical event, as everyone’s safety was the priority.


Despite these challenges, Komikon was still able to carry out their events last year: Summer Komikon (April), Komikon Indiket (August), and Komikon Grande (November). The first two mentioned were also conducted this year online, with the same plans for Komikon Grande coming soon.


When asked about what future lies ahead for Komikon, Jon responded, "Everything is up in the air, unfortunate, pero wala pa kaming set na plans for anything. If this (pandemic) goes on it might be put into a hiatus."


With this, he shares the reality and gravity of the situation, "Komikon is a personal project for most of the organizers. We don't really earn anything from Komikon. And on my part, when I was doing stuff for Komikon, I was in a position of privilege of having a job. We don't really have a steady source of income. Our energies are geared towards looking for work. While the world may have stopped, the bills didn't, tuition fees didn't, groceries didn't, 'yun yung mga factors that we are weighing in with what we can do with Komikon."

On the subject of finances, Jon cleared that the bulk of the fees goes to the venue and tables. There were even times when guests weren't given honorariums. Some of the funds mostly goes to food for volunteers, and whatever's left would be security money for future events. With this, Jon pushes for the creators to do their best - "3k -4k is a big investment na din for a creator, that's why we're always pushing na din our creators, like if you are going to shell out na din like that to sell your comics, gandahan mo na, put everything sa gawa mo."

"Komikon never evolved from what it was from way before. We had offers and we could make this a big foot traffic events, we could put in cosplayers, bands, celebrities, but at the end of the day." Jon shared. "Ang pina-factor ng komikon, would our comic exhibitors still be able to sell? While we could earn money from more foot traffic, are we sure na foot traffic na going to our event, is the same market namin na that are looking for comics? Which is why for 15 years Komikon stayed as it was."


Of course, with 15 years organizing this event, we asked Jon if there was ever a time where he may have felt conflicted with the convention.


Speaking from his own opinion, Jon answered, "I'm sure we have moments that we would want na you'd like to stop na lang. It's with...you get accused of being like a money making venture, making money off the creators, of favoritism, of promoting other creators more than the others. It's difficult kasi, knowing what you are doing, at the end of the day we are also comic creators. We made Komikon so we could also sell our books.That's what we were looking for and that's what we are offering, we are not offering anything else."

Jon further explained that a notion that they were like a government-funded event was roused, which was completely untrue.


Unfortunately, such accusations and rumors were an occasional issue before and after events. Still, it's not enough to put a stop to the event. "I think yung love pa din for comics," Jon answered when asked how they overcame this obstacle. "At the end of the day, everybody keeps forgetting this, ang tingin na lang nila samin ay organizers but first and foremost we're comics creators din and we want an avenue to sell our books."


GOING BACK ON HIS PERSONAL JOURNEY AS A CREATOR


Currently, Jon is working all around comics. He is a comics producer, he finds people to do work for comics, he looks for artists, colorists, even going as far to stand in for those if there's no one available. "I would do it myself. Right now, I'm doing comics for an Indian publisher. My main obstacle is - you find less time to do your own comic book. You're doing comics work for other people, in your spare time you do your own comic book. In your spare time you do work for Komikon. It's comics 24/7."


When asked what obstacle he encounters as a creator, his answer lies within his work.


"A lot of people kinda neglects yung part na, if you buy from a self publisher, he does everything," He confirmed that with ordering from self publishers, that publisher answers the mails, he writes the orders, he packs the book, and he books the courier. "It's a full time job. You find less time to do creative work."


With his own works, Jon continues to self-publish. His own collection consists of 4 issues of Codename: Bathala (superhero), 12 issues of Digmaang Salinlahi (action/adventure fantasy), and his most recent - Huwad (horror comedy). He also does various works for other creators. "I try to help out as much as I can. I do pre presswork, lettering, draw,"


When asked what his proudest work, Jon answered Digmaang Salinlahi. "This is what started me with comics, this is an iteration nung thesis ko which was first comics na ginawa ko. I've been doing this for 15 years."


As for a message to aspiring comic creators, this is what Jon shared:


"The best advice would be to DIVE HEAD IN," Jon went on to say that he knows a lot of great writers and illustrators who plan and talk about it for a long time, waiting for the "perfect time."


"Nothing comes out perfectly. If you want to do something, if you want to do comics, the best thing is you START doing it, not talk about it, not post about it, START DOING IT." He further explained that the result doesn't have to be perfect, that's what revisions are for. "Anong ire-revise mo if what you have are just plans?"

He also pointed out the importance of having a goal and considering factors - if you want to sell it, you'll need to work out the question: How will you present it to people? While one may think about the art styles, genres, or themes, Jon confirms this isn't the case. The question is, how would you present it to a non-comic book person?


"If you are doing comics right now and you're part of the community, your book and yourself are a representative of the community." It's a subculture within them. Your book could be the first ever comic book to be picked up by a new reader, and that would not only reflect you, but that could be their first impression for the whole comics world.


Jon admits that this is an added pressure to new creators, yet he urges them to try, especially in the current state of the world - everyone can access comic books online. "I suggest na you put your best foot forward," Jon reiterates.

KOMIKS KWENTUHAN


Currently, Jon Zamar is also actively interviewing comic creators all over the industry. Through his Youtube Channel, he shares these discussions in a series called "Komiks Kwentuhan." Stemming from his perspective that if one knows more about the author, the work becomes more relatable.


An outcome of the quarantine, the series serves as a sort of archive for younger and older creators alike, should they wish to know more about the other, kind of like a bridge between generations gap. Jon also enjoys doing this as he believes talking to people can be a huge learning opportunity for preventing mistakes and regrets.





Learn more about Jon Zamar's self-published comics at his Facebook page, Zam Designs


You can watch the Komiks Kwentuhan series at Jon Zamar's channel




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