Thursday, February 23, 2012

THE LOST WORKS OF MARS RAVELO

(And Some Excerpts of His Unpublished Interviews)

          My first personal encounter with Mars Ravelo happened in the early 1980s, when I started contributing crossword puzzles and articles to different Atlas Publishing magazines. I was a working student, freelancing, mostly in making crossword puzzles and writing trivia articles for Sports weekly, Special People and MOD Filipina. I only knew Mars Ravelo from the komiks stories that I used to follow and admire as a kid. When I saw him talking to the editors at the MOD office I didn’t have the guts to introduce myself to him.
The first issue of Sixteen, the magazine founded by Mars Ravelo.
The first issue of Sixteen MOD Filipina,
December 6, 1974


Note: Mars Ravelo was one of the “Founding Fathers” of MOD. 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). 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.
 

          In 1985, I was finally introduced by then MOD Filipina magazine editor-in-chief Ernestina “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. Between the years 1985 to 1987, I had several meetings with Mr. Ravelo. We talked a lot. Uncle Mars was one of two persons (the other is Mr. Antonio Tenorio) who taught me how to conceptualize and write komiks scripts. His style of komiks script writing was very elaborate and descriptive. Illustrators like this because it makes their jobs easier. I’m proud to say that I’m lucky to have been mentored by Mars Ravelo and learned his style of komiks writing.



TWO INTERVIEWS WITH THE MAESTRO OF KOMIKS
A tribute article in the “Starliners” section
of MOD Filipina September 23, 1988 issue,
written by editor-in-chief Ernie Evora Sioco.
Published 11 days after the death
of Mars 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 komiks 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. We were even planning to do a komiks project together. He asked me to create 4 or 5 superheroes and they will join his team of superheroes and create a group much like Marvel’s Avengers and DC’s Justice League. We already had a name for the group: Royal League (“R” for Ravelo and “L” for Lawagan), and Tagalized, Ligang Maharlika (again, “L” for Lawagan” and “M” for Mars). To this, Mrs. Sioco gave her thumbs up. Uncle Mars, however, died on September 1988 before the project even got to first base. 
Mars Ravelo’s creations: From
top left clockwise, Darna at ang
Babaeng Lawin, Dyesebel,
Captain Barbell Kontra Captain Bakal,
Latikman, Booma, Goro & Bondying.
(From Tagalog Klasiks #424,
April 14, 1967.
          For the Ravelo interviews, they were not published in MOD Filipina even after his death because Mrs. Sioco was thinking of starting a Pilipino-language magazine. But when Gintong Mariposa was established in 1992, I misplaced the envelope where the cassette tapes and typewritten notes of the interview (the result of my family’s transferring from one house to another). It was only about three years after, around mid-1995, that I was able to recover it. Sadly, during those times, I was “blacklisted” by Atlas Publishing “for writing in other magazines” like Celebrity World, Mr. & Ms., etc. The General Manager, Mr. Deo Alvarez, said it was MOD’s policy that its contributor should not write for rival publication. Heck, I wasn’t even allowed to enter the Atlas Compound to get my paycheck. Luckily, I had some inside help from Mrs. Sioco and Mr. Tenorio, who tacitly called on the Atlas Compound gate guards to let me in. Incidentally, it was also during those times that I had secured a “go signal” from Tita Lucy to push the project that Uncle Mars and I were planning. It was to Atlas Publishing’s lost that the project didn’t materialize because of petty misunderstanding. Mr. Tenorio was very much regretful about it.
 
Mars Ravelo’s comics/cartoon characters:
(from left) Rita, Ipe at Engot, Totit, Gorio at Tekla, and Varga.
          For the backdrop of the interview, I did some research and 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.

PONCHONG AND BEMBOY
Mars Ravelo’s Bemboy published
in a 1939 Mabuhay Extra issue.
(courtesy of Jose Dennis Villegas’ blog)
          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 in 2011 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. Since then I also scoured 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, Penitente Mumolingot or better known as Tenteng (Captain Barbell’s first alter-ego), Tony (of “Tiny Tony”), etc., were names of his childhood acquaintances.
Ponchong & Bemboy, the first two
published characters created by
Mars Ravelo (around 1938-1939).
          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,” “Si Gorio at Si Tekla” and “Rita at Okay” were reminiscent of McManus’ style.

Two of George McManus’ works: “Snookums” and “Bringing Up Father.”
Look at the similarity of McManus’ and Ravelo’s style of drawing cartoons
about everyday family situations.
According to Ravelo, the character Ponchong was the Filipino personification of Jiggs.
          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). Come to think of it, Bemboy is quite similar to McManus' Snookums. 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’s birth origin should be put around 1939 and not 1947.

THE (UN)LOST STARTING POINT OF DARNA
          Ravelo admitted that when he was in his early youth, he was quite gregarious and talkative. He loves telling his stories to both his Filipino and American friends and acquaintances. When he first saw Superman from a newspaper comics strip brought by American soldiers, he so loved it that he boasted he would create a female counterpart in Philippine komiks.
          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?).
          Many in the komiks world know that before Darna, there was Varga. But did you know that Varga was actually the second name. When Ravelo was telling his “Superman female counterpart” story, the name he was calling her was “Suprema,” which is the female equivalent of a “Supremo” (highest rank leader), a nom de guerre of Andres Bonifacio. Ravelo intended Suprema to be an all-powerful and indestructible woman just like Superman. When asked, “why not just call her Superwoman?” Ravelo answered, “Ayaw ko kasi siyang parang ginaya lang. Naisip ko, para maging naiiba siya.” (I don’t like her to appear like a copycat. I thought, to make her different.). Ravelo didn’t want to bootleg the character he so admired. “Naisip ko ring gumamit ng pang-uring tatatak sa isip ng tao. Naisip ko ang salitang ‘kamangha-mangha.’ Kaya ang itinawag ko sa kaniya ay Suprema – ang kamangha-manghang dilag.” (I also thought of using an adjective that will be retained in the minds of people. I thought of the word ‘wonder.’ So I called her Suprema – the wonder woman.)
          Ravelo had a change of mind, however, and opted not to use the name Suprema. Ravelo changed the name to Varga. From his nickname “Mars” (also the name of the Greek god of war and the fourth planet from the sun) and its Tagalog equivalent “Marte,” he purportedly used as Varga’s homeworld. So, the Philippines’ first superheroine was born – “Varga, ang Kamangha-manghang Dilag mula sa Planetang Marte” (Varga, the Wonder Woman from the Planet Mars).
          It can also be noted that Varga was a character archived twice. It was first published inside the pages of Bulaklak magazine Vol. 4 Number 17 on July 23, 1947. Varga became very popular with the readers, but 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 two decades the character Varga was lost, until Ravelo established his own RAR Publishing House in 1970 and later acquired the rights to publish Bulaklak. He retitled it Bulaklak at Paruparo, and inside its pages, Varga returned and completed her story. It was followed by “Varga at ang Impakta,” which was illustrated by Jess Olivares. The resurrected Varga, however, didn’t have much flare like its successor-characterization Darna.
 
           It took three decades again before the name Varga resurfaced, when 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. (READ ALSO: THE UNTOLD TRUE BEGINNING OF DARNA)
          The ABS-CBN series portrayed an alien princess named Vara from the planet Vargon who found herself drawn to planet Earth. Gifted with beauty, voluptuous body and superpower, Vara met and merged with a young Filipina girl named Olga (played by Angel Sy), and became Varga. Together they tried to fight evil and save the world. Varga’s archenemy in the series is Xandra (played by Sheryl Cruz), a woman who can literally sucked the youth out of every human.
          The series ended on October 4, 2008, after 11 episodes.

MANY MORE LOST WORKS
Three of many komiks novels written by Mars Ravelo:
“Goro, Ang Kapreng Mahiyain” on the first issue of Pioneer Komiks (December 3, 1962),
“Kitikiti” on the Pilipino Komiks #430 (March 4, 1965),
and “Nakangiting Halimaw” on the cover of
Tagalog Klasiks #401 (May 17, 1966).
 
          There were so many which can be considered as lost works of Ravelo. While they are listed among his resumes, many of his works are now considered rarities or, worst, no longer have existing copies. Do you know for instance that aside from “Varga” and “Rita” there was another character – “Ric Benson” – that Ravelo wrote and drew for Bulaklak in 1947? Ric Benson was published 16 issues ahead of Varga.
          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?” How about “Ang Biyenang Hindi Tumatawa?” Can you find me an existing copy of the “Baby Bubut” komiks series? Ah yes, how about “Zorina,” “Kitikiti,” or “Nakangiting Halimaw?”
 
Two komiks novels written by Mars Ravelo.
On the left, an inside page) from Redondo Komix #23, March 10, 1964 (courtesy of Stephen Redondo):
“Devlin, Swashbuckler of the Seas” (illustrated by Nestor Redondo)
On the right, an inside page from Espesyal Komiks #269, January 28, 1963:
“Fil-American Girl” (illustrated by Nestor Leonidez).
          Still many more are not even listed on Wikipedia or on Mars Ravelo’s official website. Among them “David Arkanghel” (drawn by Carlos A. Divinagracia), “Devlin: Swashbuckler of the Seas” (drawn by Nestor Redondo), “Fil-American Girl” (drawn by Nestor Leonidez), “Ginto, Pilak, Tanso” (drawn by Bes Nievera), “Goro, Ang Kapreng Mahiyain” (drawn by Rex Guerrero), “Handsome” (drawn by Nestor Redondo), “Higantina, Da Big Byuti” (drawn by Nestor Infante), “Impakta” (drawn by Joe Marie Mongcal), “Jesus Iscariote” (drawn by Romy S. Gaupo), “Jikiriz” (drawn Dell Barras), “Konde Artemius” (drawn by Romy S. Gaupo), “Mga Kuwento ni Lola Huga” (drawn by Romy Santos), “Pomposa, Ang Kabayong Tsismosa” (Elpidio Torres), etc.



Three of many komiks novels written by Mars Ravelo under the penname Virgo Villa:“Asuwang” on the cover of Extra Komiks #253 (May 1, 1961),
“Botong” on the cover of Universal Komiks #80 (April 7, 1967),
and “Tsangga Rangga” on the cover of Espesyal Komiks #338 (May 6, 1967).
 
          Let us not forget that because Ravelo was such a prolific writer, he needs to write under pennames so as not to overwhelm both the publication and the reading public. There are several works he did under the penname Virgo Villa: “Asuwang,” “Bamaw,” “Botong,” “Gorgonya,” “Kanggo,” “Oggra, ang Kapreng Tanga,” "The Adventures of Rex Braganza,” “Tsangga Rangga,” to name a few. As of this updated posting (May, 2017), they are also not yet listed in Wikipedia.

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14 comments:

  1. Indeed a valuable information unknown to most people! Thanks for sharing!

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, too, for reading and appreciating it.

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  2. I do have a collection of his works in Hiwaga and Espesyal Komiks. I have also compiled some of his stories separately such as 3 sisters, Ang Biyenan kong Amerikana, Zorina, and Dyesebel among others.

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    Replies
    1. Those are valuable collectibles. Keep it intact.

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  3. Mahusay Ka Ernee! Dagdagan mo pa!

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  4. Wow! It's like travelling back thru time... thanks a lot Ka Ernee! :-)

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    1. Thank you, too. Read also my new discovery on Darna. I have proven that it is Wonder Woman that is a copycat, the idea of a female superhero stolen from Ravelo in 1939-1940.

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  5. You mentioned "the timeline of Varga should be put around 1939." I presume you mean conceptualization. When exactly was Varga conceptualized in 1939? I mean what month? January? April? September? Thanks.

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    1. Varga was conceptualized just after the first publication of Superman. I don't know the exact date. Uncle Mars didn't mention it.

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  6. san sya nag aral?

    ReplyDelete
  7. I've stopped blogging for a couple of years, but I now intend to continue.
    You can also follow my other blog: http://erneelawagan-alammobato.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
  8. Read: http://erneelawagan.blogspot.com/2017/05/the-untold-true-beginning-of-darna.html

    ReplyDelete