THE LOST WORKS OF MARS RAVELO
In 1985, I was introduced by then MOD Filipina magazine editor-in-chief Ernie Evora Sioco to Marcial “Mars” Ravelo (1916-1988), the “Dean of Filipino Komiks Writer” and “Father of Filipino Komiks Superheroes.” I was asked by Mrs. Sioco to interview Mr. Ravelo. I did two interviews with “Uncle Mars” as he was fondly called by the people around him. Both of the interviews revolved around many things from comparing politics of old to politics of the 1980s, to komiks and the different comic characters he created, most especially the superheroes. The interviews were done in Pilipino; one inside the office of Mr. Antonio Tenorio, then Atlas Publication’s head of Komiks Department, in the old Atlas Compound in Roces Avenue, and the second in a Savory Restaurant together with his wife Lucy and Mrs. Sioco. He was around 70 years old, but aside from what he called “a few moments of lapses” he was still quite sharp on his wits.
The interviews were not published in MOD then because Mrs. Sioco was thinking of starting a Pilipino-language magazine. But when Gintong Mariposa magazine was established several years later, I misplaced the envelope where the cassette tape and typewritten notes of the interview (the result of my family’s transferring from one house to another). It was only about three years ago that I was able to recover it.
In the interview, I did some background profiling of Ravelo, and noted that he was the creator of many of the unforgettable characters in Philippine pop culture: Rita, Trudis Liit, Roberta, Si Gorio at Si Tekla, Maruja, Facifica Falayfay, Bondying, Dyesebel, among others. His komiks dramas like Basahang Ginto and Tubog sa Ginto were literally acclaimed as cinematic gold. His superhero characters like Darna, Captain Barbell and Lastikman were also immortalized in films and television series.
Today, after comparing my notes with what I was able to gather about Uncle Mars in the Internet, it dawned on me that what he revealed to me in the interviews were valuable information unknown to most people.
Do you know for example that Ravelo’s first published works came out around mid-1938 when he was still a struggling 22-year-old cartoonist? But if you browse through the Internet and a couple of very “shallow” komiks history books, you would read that Rita (Kasinghot), published in Bulaklak magazine in 1947, is tagged as the first published komiks creation of Ravelo. That’s nine years off the mark!
In my interviews, Ravelo revealed that “sa abot ng natatandaan ko” (as far as I can remember), his first published works were “Ponchong” and “Bemboy.” And had not Liwayway magazine turned him down on his Varga (Darna’s predecessor character), history would have put Darna’s origin inside Liwayway’s pages instead of Bulaklak, and she would have been the Philippines’ first komiks superhero (Yes, at least one-a-half years ahead of Wonder Woman's first comics appearance!).
For two years since rediscovering the text of the interviews, I spent part of my spare time trying to find remnants of Ravelo’s lost works. I scoured libraries and my collector-friends’ bauls for naught. It was only recently that I got lucky. I found “Bemboy” courtesy of komiks collector and archiver Jose Dennis Villegas’ blog.
According to Mr. Villegas, he acquired the very rare find, a 1939 Mabuhay Extra magazine containing Ravelo’s komiks strip “Bemboy,” from an antique dealer. Now I’m also scouring even junk shops for Ravelo’s lost works, expecting to be lucky one of these days and perhaps find his other lost work, “Ponchong.”
Both Bemboy and Ponchong, like many of the Ravelo-created characters including Narda (Varga/Darna alter-ego), Bondying, Tony (of “Tiny Tony”), etc., were names of his childhood playmates.
Ravelo also told me that the two persons that influenced him early in his career were Irish cartoonist George McManus (1884-1954) and Jewish-American animator Max Fleischer (1883-1972). McManus’ cartoon strips “Rosie’s Beau,” “Bringing Up Father,” and “The Newly Weds, influenced him so much both in his style of writing and drawing. The character Ponchong he said was a Filipino version of Jiggs, the character in “Bringing Up Father” that brought McManus to fame and fortune. The komiks strips "Totit," "Ipe," “Buhay Pilipino” and “Si Gorio at Si Tekla” were reminiscent of McManus’ style.
For the character Bemboy (I earlier thought it was “Bimboy” until I saw the comic strip discovered by Villegas), he recalled having a playmate who argued with his mother a lot because he put so much attention to his dog that he always neglect to do his home chores. It so happened that Fleischer created a character named “Bimbo,” the dog with a human girlfriend, which is “Betty Boop” (the character that immortalized Fleischer). Ravelo sort of experimented during his early works, intermixing the real story with fiction, and also interspersing the drawing styles of McManus and Fleischer with his own.
Varga is another casing point of Ravelo’s early style of drawing. True to his accounts, Varga’s illustration is a cross between McManus and Fleischer. And based on his story, the timeline of Varga should be put around 1939 and not 1947.
To quote Ravelo: “Alam mo naisip kong gawin yung Varga para itapat kay Superman. Lalake yung sa mga Amerikano, babae yung sa atin. Di ba ayos?” (You know I thought of creating Varga as a counterpart of Superman. Male on the part of the Americans, female on our part. Isn’t that okay?). It can also be noted that Varga was a character archived twice. By some twist of circumstance, the name Varga became the ownership of Bulaklak magazine (during those times, intellectual property right is not yet in effect) and when Ravelo left the publication in 1949 after a falling out with its editor, Varga stayed behind. Ravelo took Varga’s personality, revised her costume, and brought her to Pilipino Komiks, and renamed the character Darna.
For more than six decades the character Varga was lost, never again to be seen until ABS-CBN Channel 2 made it into a TV series which started on August 2, 2008. The character portrayed by Mariel Rodriguez, however, was very different from the original creation of Ravelo. The superheroine’s costume was change, as well as her origin and beginning. The name of her alter ego was also change – from Narda to Olga.
There were so many which can be considered as lost works of Ravelo. While they are listed among his resumes, many of his works no longer have existing copies. Before Iskul Bukol’s Miss Tapia, there was already “Miss Tilapia.” Before Jinkee Pacquiao was even born, Ravelo already have a character named “Jinkee.” Truly, sad to say, much of the priceless legacies left by this legendary komiks great maybe lost forever.
Now, anyone of you heard about “Boksingera?” Can you find me an existing copy of the “Baby Bubut” komiks series? Ah yes, how about “Zorina,” “Kitikiti,” or “Nakangiting Halimaw?”
Note: Mars Ravelo was one of the “Founding Fathers” of MOD Magazine. He was the one who brainchild the Pilipino Komiks Incorporated’s Sixteen Magazine (June 22, 1968, with Orlando R. Nadres as its first editor). Later, under Atlas Publishing, Ravelo’s Sixteen eventually expanded to the large-sized Sixteen MOD Filipina (December 6, 1974), then to MOD Filipina (October 10, 1975), and finally to the MOD title (July 3, 1992) we know today. It is also interesting to note that MOD’s earliest ancestors were written in Tagalog and later in Taglish before English became its permanent medium.
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