Sunday, July 30, 2017

At the Fountain of Youth Again

I went to Comic Arts Fest KL a grumpy old man forced to wake up early on a Saturday morning and went home on Sunday night a kid again.

I was reborn, resurrected. This happens every year. This small two-day arts fest, focusing on comics, is so full of hope and filled with dreamers that I can't help but be swept away with the enthusiasm.

We had a panel on Saturday at 4pm, where I wanted to reveal the harsh realities of the comics industry. How the numbers spell a difficult - yet hopeful - circumstances for anyone wishing to tell a story in comic book form.

I had gathered a small amount of knowledge - and always fear those with a little bit of knowledge. If you know nothing, you generally shut up. If you know everything, you would be wise enough to keep silent. But the one with  a little bit of info and armed with statistics from dubious sources, and hastily-cobbled estimates, usually make the most noise.

A few minutes into the event, and I see people beaming excitedly with new books, new stories and I just couldn't stay negative. It's impossible. There are certainly lots of things to bitch about, but why should anyone do that? It wouldn't solve anything, and only add to the cacophonous orchestra of whinging I've always hated.

I mean, these people don't give a fuck. I used to not give a fuck. What happened? I got old.

I felt the spirit stir within me once more.

So we did the panel and I made the decision to focus on the more hopeful stats. I left out a few, because I am ancient  and forgetful. The fact that comics sales is probably increasing as compared to some other publications. I don't have the numbers to back that up, of course, but reactions from bookstores show much excitement on comics as a thing they can sell.

Anyway, fuck the numbers. Fuck it to hell. I can tell you about the age bulge in South East Asia (bell-shaped curve, bulge on the manpower sweet-spot, ours is a young population with like 60-70% below 40 or something). I can tell you the trends of print sales in two or three major markets around the world(comics the ONLY print medium in North America to experience a positive growth in the past five years, but probably not last year). I can probably extrapolate the growth - or decline - of the print business for the next 5 or 20 years in this region (magazines to continue decline, books holding steady, possible growth).

And all this is bullshit. Because nobody knows what the future holds. What's real, are the emotions.

When my friends from other areas of the creative industry dropped by CAFKL, they were all enamoured with the energy and the vibrancy of youth and creativity.

"And these people are actually good!" said one best-selling author who has sold tens of thousands of books. She overspent her budget on art and souvenirs, of course. She and her friend listened patiently while I rambled on enthusiastically about the ideal size of conventions - regurgitating what I heard earlier.

"I can't break their dreams, man," said one old hand in the comics industry. We shared knowing looks. Even though both of us know nothing and are incapable of influencing anyone.

And these kids, this young community of artists, are not stupid. Or ignorant. I had breakfast on Sunday and had the pleasure of talking to a few. They know the market is still too small to make everyone rich (there are some who do make serious money). Or even to accommodate everyone.

And yet there they were, armed with their prints and zines and button badges and fridge magnets, not giving a damn.

It would be so pedantic and condescending to assume that these people, charging at windmills, don't know what took me three years to find out. That it's so damn difficult to make comics mainstream again. To erase the stigma that comics is just a medium for kids when it holds so much potential. That we don't have proper systems or structures for a lot of things.

But is that so bad? Not having systems, structures, or rules mean that you can set your own and avoid the mistakes of other sectors of the creative industry. The fact that there's not much money in comics as compared to TV means that the big corporate people have yet to stroll in and stake their claim and rob everyone blind. No big bodies have any resources to focus on such a (by comparison) small industry.

I've rambled again. I dunno, man. I don't know shit. I've failed so many times in life, maybe it's time to step aside and let these young dreamers attempt another charge at the windmill. Who am I to judge? Where I and others have failed, maybe they will succeed.

Until such a time, I'll keep my company alive, hoping that the next comic book we publish will unlock more things and opportunities until one day these titles will hit critical and we all live happily and then die ever after, never returning as zombies.

I feel happy, sated after I have had my fill of youthful energy. I feel like a vampire. I hope I didn't suck anyone's energy. I don't think I did.

The CAFKL organisers were efficient, as always. I'm always impressed with their professionalism and their own attempt to ride this tornado of chaos. And I'm always thankful they organise this small comics event every year and allow us - the small guys - to hawk our wares and try to share art and the little stories we do.

Thanks to all those who stopped by our booth to say hi or grab a few comics. Thanks to all the fellow sellers. I got your stuff, but wish I could get more.

Now, I need to go and probably sleep till noon.