Monday, August 7, 2017

THE HISTORY OF PHILIPPINE KOMIKS





          In the simplest definition, komiks is a form of reading entertainment popular in the Philippines. The word komiks is the vernacular equivalent of the English “comics” or “comic book.” It also refers to a form of illustrated stories portraying various characters and topics from experiences in everyday life to different kinds of adventures, exploits and heroism, to dramatic or humorous scenes. It can be a very short story or a quite lengthy novel. Since its beginning in 1922, komiks has been the Philippines’ cheapest form of entertainment, until its decline in the late 1990s.


JOSE RIZAL AS THE FATHER OF PHILIPPINE KOMIKS

          Reading materials containing humorous parody started in the Philippines during the mid-1800s, when propaganda against the Spanish friars in particular and the Spanish government in general were circulating among the Filipino masses. Even the Philippines’ national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal (1861-1896), drew satires and parodies directed against the abuses and scruples of the Spanish friars.

          During his stay in Germany (1886), Rizal made several comical drawing that he was sometimes called “Father of Philippine Comics.” While exiled in Dapitan (now part of Zamboanga Del Norte, Mindanao), Rizal was said to have drawn several illustrated scripts, such as the Mangkukulam (1892), Ang Bolo ni Balat (1892), Si Fray Ungas at si Datu Utog (1893). The Mangkukulam, an intriguing four-frame presentation about the effects of witchcraft, still exist. According to a column article, “Rizal, Father of Philippine Comics,” written by Ambeth Ocampo and re-published in his book Rizal Without the Overcoat, the drawing accompanied Rizal’s monograph on the Mangkukulam. The latter two was allegedly destroyed during World War II. In fact, Si Fray Ungas at si Datu Utog was said to be one of the Spanish Era illustrated erotica purportedly done by Rizal. The work, composed of eight drawing frames with dialogues; depicted a priest and a datu comparing their sexual process in deflowering native young girls. This was among the unfinished research subjects of the late National Artist and former Secretary of Education Alejandro R. Roces (1924-2011).


“The Monkey and the Turtle”
written and drawn by National Hero, Dr. Jose Rizal
          While Rizal’s drawings may not be considered good enough for today’s komiks standard, one collector reportedly paid 50,000 pesos for one of them. The popular grade school fable The Monkey and the Turtle (c. 1880), first narrated by Rizal when he was in college, the illustration of which he drew while he was in Paris (1886) on the notebook of Maria de la Paz Pardo de Tavera. It is considered as the first indigenous cartoon drawings in the Philippines. Many more drawings had appeared with claims that they were done by Rizal but no definitive studies have been made to authenticate or debunk them.

 

KOMIKS STRIPS BY FERNANDO AMORSOLO
 
Two issues of Upa[n]g-Kalabaw,
July 27 and December 28, 1907.
          Based on historical records and existing relics so far gathered, a publication titled Upa[n]g-Kalabaw with a Spanish subtitle, Semanario Satirico (Satirical Weekly), was in circulation from 1906 to 1908. The title which may literally mean “Carabao’s rent” obviously, "satirically," pertains to the worth of public opinion. During those times, the rental for a carabao may be equivalent to 20 centavos, which is its tag price. The tabloid-like magazine was released every Saturday, with office at Number 42 Concepcion Street, Quiapo (Kiapo), Manila. It contained caricatures, socio-political in theme, but had some semblance of comics dialogue in Spanish and Tagalog.
Caricatures of Manuel L. Quezon,
Emilio Aguinaldo and Sergio Osmeña
on the cover of Telembang

          The earliest regular komiks strip in the Philippines, on the other hand, was that of Si Kiko at Si Angge, written by Iñigo Ed. Regalado (1888-1976) and illustrated by Fernando Amorsolo (1892-1972). It was first published in an obscure news magazine titled Telembang subtitled Lingguha[n]g Mapagpatawa at Manunukso (Weekly Humorist and Jester), the circulation of which lasted lasted for 111 issues spanning for about three years (1922-1924). According to art historians Alfredo Roces and Alfred McCoy, the magazine contained hilarious stories, caricatures, and cartoons, most of the drawings and caricatures of which were drawn by Fernando Amorsolo and Jorge Pineda. The title “Telembang” is a Tagalog word for the loud sound of church bell.

          The Regalado and Amorsolo Komiks strip, Si Kiko at Si Angge, was a hilarious cartoon series about a husband (Kiko) and his nagger wife (Angge) and their differing views on Philippine society and politics. It also reflected the life of the Filipinos during the middle years of the American rule in the Philippines.

 
An issue of “Si Kiko at Si Angge,”
the Philippines’ first komiks strip inside the pages of Telembang.
          Regalado thus would be the first writer and, Amorsolo, diverging from his painting, the first illustrator of regular comics strips in the Philippines.

 











LIWAYWAY, THE “DAWN” OF KOMIKS

          On November 23, 1922, Ramon Roces began establishing a chain of vernacular magazines with the publication of a weekly Tagalog magazine titled Liwayway. The Liwayway was actually an offshoot of an earlier illustrated magazine called Photo News, containing news, essays, and prose and poetry. The name “Liwayway,” given by its novelist-editor Severino Reyes (1861-1942), aptly means “dawn” to symbolize a new beginning. It was in this illustrated magazine that Reyes’ “Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang” became the favorite of readers and established itself as one of the most followed series in Philippine publication history.
An issue of Liwayway (January 29, 1944)
during the Japanese Occupation.
          The Tagalog Liwayway was followed by the two sister magazines in the Visayan region, Bisaya (August 15, 1930) and Hiligaynon (August 3, 1934). A Bikolandia counterpart Bikolnon and the Liwayway Extra joined the circulation in 1936. A year after, the Bannawag came off the press and became the favorite reading material of Ilocandia. There was even a time when the circulation of Bannawag rivaled that of Liwayway.

Album n(an)g mga Kabalbalan ni Kenkoy
sold at 30 centavo on its first run.
          On January 11, 1929, the character Kenkoy, conceptualized by Romualdo Ramos, was brought to life by the brush and ink drawing of Antonio “Tony” Velasquez (1910-1997), who was barely 19 years old at the time. The Album nang mga Kabalbalan ni Kenkoy (Album of the Antics of Kenkoy) was first serialized in the supplementary pages of Liwayway. The character Francisco “Kenkoy” Harabas, Rosing, Ponyang Halobaybay and Nanong Pandak became such popular hits that other komiks characters were eventually created.
Aliwan #74 (January 20, 1974):
On the front cover is the illustration of
Ruperto S. Cristobal’s novel “Ang Kuwintas ng Reyna.”
On the back cover is “Ang Buhay nga Naman,”
where people can send-in comedy skits to be drawn by Lib Abrena.
 
Some early publications in the Philippines
containing komiks sections.


Balaghari #1 (March 6, 1948),
the komiks founded by Gregorio C. Coching.
 
 

         After the success of Liwayway, other publications also joined the circulation. Only a few, however, left traces of evidence of their existence, such as Kalampag (1929), Mabuhay (Ang Aliwan ng Bayan, 1933), Silahis (1934), Salinlahi (1937), Mabuhay Extra (1938), and Tik-A-Tik (1938).  World War II probably destroyed much of the collection of public reading materials in the hands of people. After the war, new “entertainment” reading materials emerged: Aliwan, Ang Pagbangon, Ilang-Ilang, and Sinagtala in 1945, Daigdig in 1946, and Magasin ng Pagsilang in 1947. Many more publications may have circulated during those post-war times but left no traces of their existence and as such may have lost their place in publication history.




Gregorio C. Coching’s “Hara-Siri”
on the cover of Tagalog Klasiks #30
(August 26, 1950)

          Gregorio C. Coching (1889-1961), a considered legend in the field of story-writing during the post-war era, wrote Batibot na Anak ni Dumagit and Buhay ni Penduko, which was illustrated by Francisco Reyes. A modest illustrator himself, Coching did the graphics for his Ang Kidlat ng Silangan in a semi-comics form.
          Illustration was a hobby in Coching’s Liwayway days that he fully exploited later when he drew his own komiks series Hara-Siri, a tale of a self-proclaimed sultana of Marawak seeking revenge on a Muslim sultanate during the Madjapahit Era (serialized inTagalog Klasiks, May 6 – August 22, 1950). He founded, Balaghari (1948), what may be considered as the third true komiks in Philippine publication history, after Halakhak Komiks and Pilipino Komiks.

 




THE TERM “KOMIKS”

          The word “komiks,” as a vernacular term, was invented a few years after comics strips were already appearing in different publications in the Philippines. The earliest possible mention of “komiks” as a term to describe an illustrated reading material is in the publication, Mabuhay (Ang Aliwan ng Bayan) in 1933. Before the term “komiks,” such reading materials were commonly called “babasahing aliwan” (reading entertainment) by its publishers and patrons.

          By its phonetics and rhetorics, “komiks” (always with an “s”) is the offshoot of the English word “comics” taken from the same type of reading materials popular in the United States, brought here in the Philippines by American soldiers. It is the vernacular adaptation made to fit the orthography of native dialects like Tagalog.

          The word komikero, on the other hand, was also developed to mean a person who is good at narrating humorous tales. Later it was tagged as the Tagalog equivalent of a “comedian.” For comics workers such as writers, inkers, illustrators, and artists as a whole, the correct term, according to the Surian ng Wikang Pambansa, should be komikista.

          The illustrated lampoons, parodies and satires during the Spanish, post-Spanish and American-Occupation eras were injected with comical attribution that they became a source of entertainment. Regalado and Amorsolo’s “Si Kiko at Si Angge,” more than a reflection of political and social viewpoints, also contained comical and amusing situations. Such situations became a label of some sort as well as a guiding standard for an emerging public reading materials.

 

THE APPEARANCE OF KENKOY


A New Year (1937) issue of Tony Velasquez’s
“Album ng Kabalbalan ni Kenkoy.”
          The Romualdo Ramos and Tony Velasquez’s “Kenkoy” series that began in January 11, 1929, and several materials that followed were mostly “comical” in nature, and thus another vernacular word – kengkoy (“funny person” as differentiated from a comedian) and kakengkuyan (funny antics) – became a word of mouth. The coinage of the words kengkoy and kakengkuyan precedes that of komiks by a few years.

          Velasquez’s Kenkoy proved to be quite formidable that the character was the only one not banned during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. Velasquez was even employed by the Japanese to use Kenkoy to disseminate information about the health programs of the Japanese. Velasquez was also hired to create a comics strip about the life of the Filipinos under Japanese rule. Later on, in the 1950s, Si Kenkoy at Si Rosing was even used in commercial ads (in komiks series) like that of Fletcher’s Castoria.

“Si Kenkoy at si Rosing” on a
Fletcher’s Castoria laxative print ad.
          Kenkoy is the longest running story in the komiks industry and has since been the epitome and symbol of what komiks is to ordinary Filipino people. The name has been a by-word in pop culture synonymous with komiks itself. Velasquez, for his part in illustrating the series, is considered the “Father of Philippine Komiks.”

          In fact, the character lives on long after its creators passed away. It had its own komiks, the Kenkoy (Pocket size) Komiks, which began in January 19, 1959. It had several revivals afterwards. In the 1970s, when the TV series “Six-Million Dollar Man” and “The Bionic Woman” were big hits on TV’s evening primetime, Kenkoy had a taste of cyborg adventure with his son in “Si Kenkoy at ang Kaniyang Bionic Kid,” illustrated by Celso Trinidad in the pages of the magazine Modern Romances & True Confessions. In the early 1990s, Kenkoy reemerged inside the pages of Pilipino Komiks in the series aptly titled “Di Ritarn op Kenkoy” (colloquial Tagalog for “The Return of Kenkoy”).

 

THE SPROUTING OF BULAKLAK

          On April 14, 1943, the first issue of Bulaklak (Hiyas ng Tahanan) was released by the Social & Commercial Press owned by Beatriz M. de Guballa. Similar to Liwayway, it featured prose stories and serials, poetry, entertainment news, komiks supplement and other regulars such as crossword puzzles, caricatures, health and other tips. The komiks section of Bulaklak featured illustrated serials such as “Huling Patak ng Dugo” (story by Luciano B. Carlos, scripts written by J. N. Evangelista and illustrated by Ben S. Maniclang), “Mambabarang” (written by J. N. Evangelista and Emil Quizon Cruz, and illustrated by Tony de Zuñiga), “Bella Vendetta” (written by Joven Linda Santi, Mario del Mar and Carlos Crispin, and drawn by Tony de Zuñiga), “Maryang Sinukuan” (written by Narciso S. Asistio and drawn by Jose Pascual. It was also made into radio series aired on DZBB AM radio), and “Sa Lilim ng Watawat” (written by Artemio Marquez and illustrated by Ben S. Maniclang. It was adapted both in radio and movie. The radio version was written by Emilio Mar Antonio, while the movie version was filmed by Sampaguita Pictures.).

Four decades of Bulaklak.
          It was also in Bulaklak that Mars Ravelo (1916-1988) wrote and drew some of his earliest komiks stories such as “Ric Benson” and “Varga” in 1947, and “Bagong Daigdig” in 1948. Ravelo’s popular sitcom “Rita” was also first seen in Bulaklak. When Ravelo pulled out the series, Bulaklak tried to continue it under the title Ritarits written by Emil Quizon Cruz, but failed to attract the same readership.

          Much later, in 1970, Ravelo would acquire the rights to publish Bulaklak through his RAR Publishing House, and retitled it Bulaklak at Paruparo.

 

HALAKHAK AFTER WORLD WAR II

The first komiks in the Philippines,
Halakhak Komiks (November 15, 1946)
          The readership of the komiks increased after World War II. The first regularly published comic book or komiks was the short-lived Halakhak Komiks, first released on November 15, 1946.

          Barely recovering from the devastation of the war, the Philippines desperately needs a boost on its psyche. There was probably no time for leisure. Many of the local publication closed shops during the war. Many writers and cartoonists were out of work, including one by the name of Isaac Tolentino, a satirical cartoonist who used to work with the Tribune, Vanguard, Taliba (T-V-T) publications, and the Philippine Free Press. While looking for work, he chanced upon Attorney Jaime Lucas, owner of Universal Bookstore. Together they conceptualized publishing a comic magazine that will make people laugh. Hence, the title Halakhak (Laughter).


          Tolentino gathered his colleagues, Lib Abrena, Elmer Abustan, Larry Alcala (1926-2002)., Gene Cabrera, Fred Carillo (1926-2005), Francisco V. Coching (1919-1998), Pedro Coniconde, Liborio Gatbonton, J. M. Perez, Francisco Reyes, brothers Tony and Damy Velasquez, Hugo Yonzon, and Jose Zabala-Santos (1911-1985). Atty. Lucas, for his part, gathered enough funds from his own money and bank loans to start the ball rolling. They commissioned Carmelo and Bauermann Company to print the 10,000 copies of the first issue of Halakhak subtitled Kasaysayan, Katatawanan, Hiwaga (History, Comedy, Mystery).

          Tolentino became the editor of the first true regular komiks in the Philippines. He stayed on up to the eighth issue before transfering to the Manila Post. Tony Velasquez took over up to the 12th issue (only 10 were ever published). It was in Halakhak that we first witnessed the adventures of the comically unique superhero “Siopawman” by Larry Alcala

          Due to the shortage of paper, the first issue was printed smaller than the usual komiks size, around 6-inch width and 9-inch depth. It was priced at 40-centavo. Today, an existing intact copy of Halakhak issue #1 would fetch a price probably half-a-million times that tag.

          Initially, the first three issues were successful. Lack of business management knowhow on how to run a nationwide publication, and problems in marketing and distribution economics, however, caught up with Halakhak, and soon the laughter fades. Uncollected debts and subsequent indebtedness forced Atty. Lucas to stop the publication.

 

THE RISE OF THE PILIPINO

The second komiks in the Philippines,
Pilipino Komiks (June 14, 1947)
          Barely a month after Halakhak released its last issue (April 15, 1947), Don Ramon Roces organized Ace Publication specifically to publish komiks. Although Roces was apprehensive at first, because of what happened to Halakhak, he was impressed by the confidence of Tony Velasquez, whom he appointed to manage the komiks publication. On May 27, 1947, Roces gave Velasquez 10,000 pesos as initial budget to start the company. A small office in one of the vacant rooms in the old Liwayway building in Sta. Cruz was provided, and there Velasquez started his work and Ace Publication was born.

          The first komiks to come out of Ace’s printing press was Pilipino Komiks, which was quite appropriately titled by Velasquez. It was the second regularly published reading materials that contained fully-illustrated stories and to be called a “komiks.” The title letter print (or what we called today as “font”) of the word “komiks” was Velasquez’s own creation, probably revised from the later issue of Halakhak. Succeeding komiks would use this letter print for their cover title.

          The first issue of Pilipino Komiks hit the streets on June 14, 1947, with initial print of 10,000 copies. Published fortnightly, at 25 centavos a copy, Pilipino Komiks was easily affordable even to the man on the street and the first issues were sold out. Included in the first issue was one of the longest-running serial komiks novels in the Philippines, “DI-13” (a take-off of the famous American detective cartoon character Dick Tracy) authored by Tony Velasquez’s brother Damy and illustrated by Jesse Santos. Also included were Vicente Manansala’s washed paneled story of “Prinsesa Urduja,” Amadeo Manalad’s “Makisig,” Cris Caguintuan’s “Lagim,” Fred Carillo’s “Daluyong”, Larry Alcala’s “Kalabog en Bosyo,” Hugo C. Yonzon Jr’s “Ang Buhay ni Aldabes” and Jose Zabala Santos’ “Lukas Malakas.” Velasquez had his own contribution in the two-page “Nanong Pandak” (an offshoot of Kenkoy) strip.

          On the eighth issue of Pilipino Komiks, Gregorio C. Coching’s son, Francisco V. Coching, who decades later would be acknowledged as the “Dean of Filipino Komiks Illustrators,” joined the staff of illustrators with “Paloma,” his first comic strip in Ace Publications. By the eleventh issue, the print order for Pilipino Komiks reached 25,000 copies. For some time Pilipino Komiks dominated the comic book market in the Philippines and had no competition. It is in the pages of Pilipino Komiks that many of the unforgettable characters and classic series were founded.

 

THE TWINKLE OF BITUIN

The fourth komiks in the Philippines,
Bituin komiks (May 7, 1949)
          Due to the success of Ace Publication’s Pilipino Komiks, other publishers started venturing into komiks publishing as well. Ilang-Ilang Publication joined the market with the first issue of Bituin Komiks on May 7, 1949, but after 11 issues, F. J. Quiogue Publication took over. It is the fourth komiks to join the bandwagon with its first cover page featuring the character Sianong Sano illustrated by its creator J. Zabala Santos.

          The maiden issue of Bituin Komiks featured mostly short comical strips like “Kataka-taka (‘Yon an Sabi)” by Iskong Buriko, “Sianong Sano” and “Almanake ni Pepesor” by J. Zabala Santos, “Kalawang Bakal” by Hugo C. Yonzon, “Ang Tao Nga Naman” by Ted S. Tenorio, “Pitong Kutitong (Di Dyanitor)” by Altogo, “Apalatsikola” by Menandro Martin, “Kandiro” by Caluag, “Isang Sakong Hangin” by Gat, “Boroy” by Slim Torres, and “Presenting Ponso” by Eddie Cunanan. Another renowned Filipino painter, Mauro “Malang” Santos (1928-2017), aside from being one of its editors also contributed cartoon strips, “Tiks” and “Awitawa” in Bituin.


First issue of Mauro “Malang” Santos’ Awitawa.
          On the other hand, the first novels it featured include “Makabagong Pilipinas,” a novel by Susana C. de Guzman, scriptwritten by Pedro Enriquez Magpayo and illustrated by Francisco Reyes, “Dalawang Kasal” by Pedro Enriquez Magpayo and F. Ruvivar, “Kabayong Ginto” by Jesus S. Esguera and Ric L. Collado, and “Pitong Balakid” by Eriberto Flores and Elmer Abustan.

          Under Ilang-Ilang Publication which had its editorial office at 38-40 Sta. Mesa, Manila, Bituin Komiks, together with Ilang-Ilang Komiks (a reading material which started out as a magazine and later transform into an illustrated komiks) was managed by Conrado M. Alvarez. Its editors include Jesus E. Torres, Gemiliano Pineda, and Mauro “Malang” Santos. This lasted up to the 11th issue. On the the 12th issue (September 22, 1949), Bituin Komiks was published by F. J. Quiogue Publication, then located at 2150-2160 Azcarraga, Manila. The general manager was Felix J. Quiogue, and its editorial team included Francisco Reyes as editor-in-chief and Virgilio S. Mariano, Mauro “Malang” Santos and Menandro Martin as associate editors.

 

KOMIKS ONE AFTER ANOTHER

The fifth komiks in the Philippines,
Tagalog Klasiks (July 16, 1949)
 
          Ace Publications, on the other hand, expanded; more staffs were hired; and acquired temporary accommodations in the sprawling compound of the Capitol Publishing House, Inc. The success of Pilipino Komiks was followed by the publication of Tagalog Klasiks on July 16, 1949. The maiden issue, priced at 25 centavos a copy, included among others “Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang: Maryang Makiling” by Severino Reyes and Maning de Leon, and “Isang Libo’t Isang Gabi” (a Tagalized reprint of One Thousand and One Nights).

          Arcade Publication released its first issue of Aksiyon Komiks on February 21, 1950, while Silangan Publication released the maiden issue of Silangan Komiks on March 15, 1950.

Aksiyon Komiks #20
(March 1, 1951)



 
          Two more komiks, on the other hand, were released by Ace Publication: Hiwaga Komiks (October 5, 1950), and Espesyal Komiks (October 20, 1952). Other komiks also started in the early 1950s, among them, Pantastik Komiks (October 25, 1950), Manila Klasiks (June 23, 1951), Extra Komiks (August 20, 1951), Aliwan Comix (September 1, 1951), Mabuhay Komiks (September 11, 1951), Super Klasiks (December 15, 1951),  Marte Komiks (March 5, 1952), Kidlat (Aliwan ng Bayan, June 2, 1952), Luz-Vi-Minda Klasiks (June 25, 1952), Oriental Libangan Komiks (July 5, 1952), and Atomik Komiks (October 25, 1952). Many, many more komiks by various publications followed.




All first issues: (from left to right, top to bottom)
Hiwaga Komiks (October 11, 1950), Pantastik Komiks (October 25, 1950),
Mabuhay Komiks (September 11, 1951), Super Klasiks (December 15, 1951),
Kidlat, Aliwan ng Bayan (June 2, 1952), Luz-vi-minda Klasiks (June 25, 1952),
Oriental Libangan Komiks (July 5, 1952), Espesyal Komiks (October 20, 1952)
          During the 1960s, Graphic Arts Publication introduced Aliwan Komiks (October 29, 1962), Pioneer Komiks (December 3, 1962), Holiday Komiks (March 23, 1963) and Pinoy Komiks (May 23, 1963). Other notable komiks publisher included G. Miranda and Sons Publishing Corporation, Bulaklak Publication, PSG Publishing House, RAR Publishing House and Islas Filipinas Publication.
The first four komiks published by Graphic Arts:
Aliwan, Pioneer, Holiday and Pinoy Komiks.
          By mid-1960s there were at least 25 to 30 komiks in circulation at any given day with a readership patronage of no less than two million.

 

THE GOLDEN AGE OF KOMIKS
 
Gregorio C. Coching’s “Donya Geronima”
on the cover of Espesyal Komiks #9
(February 9, 1953)
          Beginning with success of Pilipino Komiks onward to the 1950s, original illustrated stories kept coming in from would-soon-to-be legends in the field like Francisco V. Coching, Tony Velasquez, Severino Reyes, Mars Ravelo, Jose Zabala Santos, Fred Carillo, Nestor Redondo (1928-1995), Pablo Gomez (1931-2010), Clodualdo del Mundo (1911-1977), Jim Fernandez, Ben Maniclang, Elpidio Torres, and Jesse Santos (1928-2013).

          It was in the 1950s that the Coching father and son made their marks in the industry. Gregorio, the older Coching, was well into his 60s, but his mind and pen had not slackened with the encroaching age. In Donya Geronima, a popular serial in Espesyal Komiks illustrated by Afredo P. Alcala (1925-2000), he transported a supposedly Greek mythological character – Hectopeles – to a Katipunan Revolt setting and provided love interest through Naida, the diwata (fairy) of Ilog Pasig (Pasig River), and Donya Geronima, the leprous and spiteful sculptress who formed Hectopeles from stone.

Francisco V. Coching’s “Lapu-Lapu”
on the cover of Pilipino Komiks #180
(April 24, 1954)
          The young Coching, for his part, became a master of bringing to life ancient heroes, legendary characters and folklore tales in both stories and illustration. Francisco Coching’s Hagibis, a series similar to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes (1914), lasted for 15 years in the pages of Liwayway magazine. His Lapu-Lapu, which first appeared in Pilipino Komiks on April 24, 1954, was a grandiose portrayal of the Philippines’ first hero, Lapu-Lapu (c. 1500); his love, exploits and battle against the Spanish fleet led by Fernando de Magallanes (c. 1480-1521).

          Larry Alcala’s Kalabog en Bosyo featuring the zany antics and misadventures of two ambitioning sleuths, since gracing the maiden issue of Pilipino Komiks, became one of the most well-loved komiks characters of the generation. Alcala’s Tipin, a story of a dungaree-clad teenager, and Kontrabida en Lagapak, Di Komikal Bandits, which is about a bungling master thief and his equally bungling assistant, also came out in the 1950s.

          It was also in this remarkable era that Mars Ravelo wrote Roberta, which narrated the misfortunes of a young orphan, and Darna, the most beloved Filipino superhero of all time. Ravelo, the most prolific komiks writer of all time, also gave us Bondying (a childish man who, at first refused to grow up, then fell in love, and in the process gained maturity), Dyesebel (a mermaid thrust into human society because of love and at the end became human), Facifica Falayfay (a bakla whom love eventually transformed into a real man), Jack and Jill (revolved around the adventures of a tomboyish girl and an effeminate boy), to site a few. In the 1950s alone, Ravelo had written more than a hundred komiks novels: “Jungle Boy,” “Berdugo ng mga Anghel,” “Basahang Ginto,” “Cumbanchera,” “Konde Artemius,” “Villa Viejo,” “Raul Roldan,” “Silveria,” “Rebecca,” “Mariposa,” “Ang Biyenan Kong Amerikana,” “3 Sisters,” “Mambo Dyambo,” “Kiko,” “Inspirasyon,” “Boksingera,” “Hootsy-Kootsy,” “Kontra Partido,” “Eternally,” “Diyosa,” “Baby Bubut,” etc. Ravelo's works were so many that nobody really knows the exact number.

Mars Ravelo’s “Raul Roldan” (Hiwaga Komiks #22)
and Pablo S. Gomez’s “Torkwata” (Hiwaga Komiks #149).
Both komiks series were drawn by Nestor Redondo.
          Pablo S. Gomez (1931-2010) brought to the readers Kurdapya (Tagalog Klasiks, 1954-1955), a tragic-comical story about a girl with a face only a mother could love. It was a local version of the ugly-duckling-turned-into-a-swan theme. This was successfully followed by Gilda (Pilipino Komiks, 1955-1956), a story of the many sufferings of a woman driven by bitterness and poverty to strike back against the world. Next came Torkwata (Hiwaga Komiks, 1956-1957). All three classics were illustrated by Nestor Redondo, and were successfully made into movies.
 

THE EMERGENCE OF PINOY SUPERHEROES

Cris Caguintuan’s “Lagim” on the cover of
Pilipino Komiks #60 (September 17, 1949)
          The first fictional Filipino superhero on record is Ipo-Ipo, which first appeared in the magazine called Magasin ng Pagsilang (Magazine of Birth) on April 5, 1947. It was created by Lib Abrena and Oscar del Rosario. It was published nine weeks ahead of Cris Caguintuan’s Lagim (Pilipino Komiks #1, June 14, 1947) and three-and-a-half-month ahead of Mars Ravelo’s Varga (Bulaklak #17, July 23, 1947). Though Siopawman, a cartoonized comical superhero created by Larry Alcala (1926-2002), was published almost half-a-year earlier (Halakhak Komiks #1, November 15, 1946), it was really not considered a genuine superhero in the true and “serious” sense of the word. It was, nonetheless, the pioneer in the genre of Filipino superheroes, the first one to be tagged a “superhero” in komiks, albeit, a funny one.

          Had Liwayway, Salinlahi or Mabuhay didn’t turn down Ravelo’s Varga in 1939, the Philippine’s first fictional superhero would have been a woman, and it would have been published ahead of Wonder Woman.

          The emergence and consequential popularity of Pinoy superheroes extended the  “Golden Age of Philippine Komiks” further to include the 1960s up to late-1970s, but this is left to the arguments of both literary historians and komiks aficionados. Ravelo and Gomez continued to dominate the komiks pages with their stories, and Alcala, Redondo and Coching, with their illustrations. It was in these decades that we saw the beginning of many of the modern Filipino superheroes. Darna was now accompanied by Isputnik (1962), Captain Barbell (1962), Flash Bomba (1967), Lastikman (1968), Tsandu (1968), and many more. There’s even a peculiar superhero named Captain Suicide (created by Rex Guerrero and drawn by Rico Rival), donning a pajama-like costume (1965). It was also in this era that the character Captain Philippines (a Captain America look-alike attributed to Alfredo P. Alcala) was first seen, albeit, in the movie Captain Philippines at Boy Pinoy (1965). So does Babaeng Kidlat (Lady Lightning, 1964), Mighty Rock (1969), and the 1970s now-immortal Carlo J. Caparas’ creation, Ang Panday, illustrated by Steve Gan, and made into a series of movies, which originally starred movie king Fernando Poe Jr.

          Ironically the 1960s and 1970s saw the international comics communities literally “marvel” at the amazing talents that the local komiks industry had. The United States uncovered the huge treasure trove of artists in the Philippines that is yet unknown to the western world. Soon enough, the “Golden Age of Philippine Komiks” was ironically followed by the exodus of Filipino komiks writers and illustrators to Marvel, DC and other American comics publishers. There they drew the superheroes of the west.

 
KOMIKS POPULARITY  

          The popularity of komiks steady grew from the 1950s up to the 1980s as it became the Philippines’ cheapest form of entertainment. The first issues of Mga Kabalbalan ni Kenkoy was sold at 3 centavos each from 1929 to mid-1930s. From late 1940s to the 1950s, komiks like Pilipino Komiks, Tagalog Klasiks, Bituin Komiks, Hiwaga Komiks, Aksiyon Komiks, Pantastik Komiks, Mabuhay Komiks, Super Klasiks, Luz-Vi-Minda Klasiks, Oriental Komiks, Espesyal Komiks, Filipinas Komiks, Sampaguita Komiks, Pilipino Klasiks, Educational Klasiks, Ligaya Komiks, etc., were tagged at 25 centavos per issue.

          The price also steadily increased and by the 1980s komiks were sold from 1.25 to 3 pesos per issue. The price more than doubled in the 1990s. Its popularity, however, remained very high, and was still considered the cheapest form of entertainment and the most accessible reading fare to the Filipinos.

          The existence of komiks was also a big help for the local film industry as it provides an infinite source of original stories. As such the “Golden Age of Philippine Komiks” coincided in a decade or so with the “Golden Age of Philippine Movies.” The komiks also served as a thermometer for the public’s interest and acceptance, as well as a preview to the would-be film version. Komiks was so popular during those times that several surveys showed that an average of 73 households out 100 has at least three issues of komiks at any given time.

 
THE BOMBA KOMIKS EXPLOSION

Tiktik Vol. 14 No. 14 (September 2, 1961)
          In the middle part of komiks’ Golden Era also appeared adult-oriented komiks, which contained from soft to hardore porn. The late 1950s to early 1960s saw the appearance of pocketsize magazines, sometimes called “Sex Mini-Mag,” containing pictures of nude women, sexual acts, and explicit erotica with controversial themes ranging from adultery to incest. Although Tiktik, a magazine that began in 1948, already showed some form of soft pornography in its so-called “true to life” crimes of passion contents, it was far milder than what is shown and be read in the Sex Mini-Mags.

          In March 1964, Akda Komiks came ito being. Published by Futura Inc., it is considered as the first komiks containing illustrated adult contents. Although it did not show any frontal nudity, Akda Komiks contained stories about illicit affairs and suggestive sexual acts. Soon afterwards, pornographic komiks started appearing on the sidewalks of Avenida, and later on newstands throughout the country. They were called “Bomba” komiks.

The first issues of OA komiks Magasin
and Pogi (Magazine for Men)
          The term “bomba” (bomb) was given a colloquial meaning of “nude” or “hot” (sexually), a little milder than the term “porno.” After Akda Komiks, others, with more explicit materials followed: Basal (1964), Paralumang Ligaw (1964), Nimpa (1965), and Lahat Pag-ibig (1966). The year 1969 saw the birth of the so-called “pilyo (naughty) but clean fun” publications like OA Komiks and Pogi (Magazine for men). It also saw the explosion of several other reading materials containing either softcore sex stories or explicitly illustrated pornographic materials in the market, perhaps, due to the sexual number-term “69.” Titles including Barako (Magasing Lalaking-Lalaki), BF (For Adults Only), Bold, Censored, Dyagan, Exclusive, Kyut, Playboy Komiks, Sex-See, Topless, Toro, etc., had its first issues on this year. It openly proliferated and sold like hotcakes until the declaration of Martial Law when it was suppressed.

Bomba komiks, all first issues (1969): (from left to right)
Barako (Magasing Lalaking-Lalaki), BF Comic Magazine (For Adults Only),
Exclusive, Playboy Komiks, Topless Comic Magazine.
          The “Bomba” komiks returned after Martial Law was lifted. After the EDSA Revolt, publications became bolder with the lack of censorship. More komiks containing pornographic materials, called “smut” can now be bought even on sidewalks along EDSA. Magazines containing hardcore erotica and illustrated komiks also proliferated during this period.

 
STILL THE FAVORITE PASTIME

          In 1989, a total of 63 komiks were in circulation throughout the Philippines. A study made on February 1989 on the people’s choice of entertainment (media behavior) pastime, showed that komiks was “the most popular” pastime of Filipinos. Among the highest readership was observed in Region V (65%), Region XI (64%), Region VI (62%), and Region II (62%). The National Capital Region (NCR), where most of the komiks publications were based, registered a 59 percent readership. The regions where komiks is least popular were Region I and Region VII, both having 41 percent followings as against other forms of visual entertainment. Up to this point komiks remained the favorite pastime of Filipinos.

          On this decade, the most popular komiks were Graphic Arts’ Aliwan Komiks, Lovelife Komiks and Pinoy Klasiks, Ace Publication’s Happy Komiks and Love Story Komiks, Atlas Publication’s Pilipino Komiks, Tagalog Klasiks, Darna Komiks, Hiwaga Komiks and Espesyal Komiks, all reputed to have a circulation of over 150,000 prints per issue.

Graphic Arts’ Aliwan 5-Star Komiks Magasin, Ace’s Love Story Illustrated weekly Magazine
and Atlas’ Lingguhang Darna Komiks, three of the popular komiks of the 1980s.
          Quite a number of komiks stories ended up in films and later on as telenovelas. The popularity of komiks assured film producers that movies based on hit komiks stories would also be successful commercial ventures.

          In the 1970s and 1980s, top film companies such as Regal Films and Viva Films produced a lot of movies that were based on komiks stories penned by Mars Ravelo, Pablo S. Gomez, Elena Patron, Gilda Olvidado, Ramon Marcelino, Ofelia Concepcion, Nerissa Cabral, Carlo J. Caparas, Lualhati Bautista and Pat Reyes.

 

THE EXODUS AND THE DECLINE


Tony De Zuñiga at the
Calgary Comics & Entertainment Expo
(June 19, 2011)
          Tony De Zuñiga (1932-2012) went to the United States in 1962 to study graphic design. Two years later, he returned to New York and was hired as an inker of the pencil drawing of the cuban-American comics artist Ric Estrada (1928-2009) for Girl’s Love Strories #153 (DC Comics). He became a regular at DC Comics and co-created, with American writer John Albano (1922-2005), the long-running western character Jonah Hex (first appeared on All-Star Western #10, February-March 1972), and with Sheldon Mayer (1917-1991), the superheroine Black Orchid (first appeared on Adventure Comics #428, July 1973).

          In 1971, DC Comics publisher Carmine Infantino (1925-2013) and editor Joe Orlando (1927-1998) went to the Philippines to scout for more talents among Filipino komiks artists. Soon the Philippines’ best komiks artists started working for DC, MarvelWarren, and other American comics publishings.
         
         The mass exodus of talented komiks writers and artists to the United States created problems in the local industry. By the 1990s, although there was quite a fall in the popularity of komiks, the industry was still financially viable. There was, however, a mark decline, especially in the artworks.

 
Nestor Redondo with former Marvel staff Ed Noonchester.
Notice Redondo’s works surrounding them.
Ernie Chan with a pretty Supergirl model.
           Higher pay in American (as well as European) comics and the Japanese manga lured the local talents to work abroad. While the American publications were paying 35 dollars per illustrated komiks page, their local counterpart were paying the same amount in pesos. This “brain drain” was blamed on the local publishers’ reluctance to inject new financial capital to compete with foreign comics publishers and venture in the international market.

          It was good in one point of view, since the Filipino talents were showcased throughout the world in the pages of Marvel and D.C. Names like Nestor Redondo, Jim Fernandez, Alfredo Alcala, Mar Amongo (1936-2005), Alex Niño, Ernie Chan (1940-2012), Rico Rival, Abel Laxamana, Gerry Talaoc bannered American comics. Waves after waves of Filipino komiks artists went to the West in seek of better opportunities, fame and greener pasture.

Randy Valiente with
a sexy Black Canary model.

          The pool of komiks artists in the Philippines continued to drain. The next generations Gilbert Monsanto, Whilce Portacio, Gerry Alanguilan, Lan Medina, Randy Valiente, Harvey Tolibao, etc. had there talents showcased in foreign comic books. Filipino talents are now everywhere creating names for themselves. They are considered among the best in the world.

          The outflux was, however, a terrible blow to the local komiks industry. While the imported comics were making a heyday in the international market and branching out into animation and movies, the quality of works done locally became less and less interesting.

          With the advent of better communication and broadcast facilities, radio and television became the competitors of komiks as the Filipino masa’s choice of leisure and entertainment.

          Foreign telenovelas and anime series also contributed to the decline in popularity of the komiks. Housewives would rather patronized Marimar and kids and adults alike would rather watch Voltes V and Ghostfighter than read a low-quality komiks.

          Local television networks making locally produced teleseryes, rather than uplift the komiks industry, contributed much to its decline. Although some of the stories were based on komiks series, they kept on making remakes after remakes without investing in original stories that would otherwise resurrect the value of komiks. It was also much easier to Tagalized foreign telenovelas or otherwise incorporate plagiarized scenes to local stories than write an original one. Thus local komiks writers were relegated to fishmeal works.

          In the United States, recovery from the decline of comics started in 1980s. By 1993, they were back in business. The target of the emerging comics industry is no longer the sale and subscription of comic magazines but the advertising tie-ups and commercial endorsements. It has also successfully branch out into animation and films. In this regard, comics publishers like Marvel and D.C. need to maintain their captured readership to ensure continuous patronage of their storylines, especially in the superheroes genre. With the rising cost of paper and publication services, it has been theorized that the publications are subsidizing the price of comics to maintain the selling prices of comics per issue acceptable and within reach of its readers and patrons.

          The casing point is that in the U.S., Japan, and even in Europe, comic books have stood its ground against inflationary factors, and even registered growth at some point, again, especially in the superheroes genre. It’s a different story with regards to Philippine komiks. Local publications in the Philippines like Ace, Affiliated, Atlas and Graphic Arts seem to have abandoned this popular art form.

 
THE LAST HURRAH


Two komiks catering to one-issue short stories:
Puro Wakas and Happy Illustrated Stories (Wakasan).
          One by one, local komiks publication started folding down rather than leveling up to compete in the international market. Serialized stories were slowly replaced with the so-called Puro Wakas (all one-issue short stories). Some publishers even ventured into Tagalizing Marvel and D.C. comics issues, but this backfired because it was unacceptable to local komiks fans, especially when the quality of paper used was very poor.
            With no more interesting stories to patronize every week, Filipino readership also waned. Not even the revivification of Darna in Atlas’ Super Action, albeit in adulterated storylines, was able to bring back the public enthusiasm on komiks. This was not at all the character Darna’s fault, but the lackluster way the publisher marketed the materials in the emerging new era and new brood of audience.
Atlas’ Super Action #16 (December 1999)
featuring Darna on the cover.

          Starting in 2001, the komiks of Atlas Publishing had a change of face. For unknown illogical reason, the “komiks” in the title was removed and replaced with “Illustrated Stories.” Pilipino komiks became Pilipino Illustrated Stories; Tagalog Klasiks became Tagalog Illustrated Stroies; Espesyal komiks became Espesyal Illustrated Stories, etc. It lasted up 2006. The last one to fold was Pilipino Illustrated Stories, which in the latter part was only published on “Specialized issues” containing illustrated information about current events and trends.
Three of Atlas Publishing’s last prints:
Pilipino Illustrated Stories #3240, Tagalog Illustrated Stories #2762,
and Espesyal Illustrated Stories #2602.
          Atlas Publishing also ventured into producing an English colored comics, as well as compiling the classic works of the komiks’ “Golden Age” and published them into book form. Terry Bagalso's Charm appeared in mid-2003. In 2009, they released Francisco V. Coching’s “Lapu-Lapu” (formerly serialized in Pilipino Komiks). Both ventures, however, lacked marketing and the ventures failed. After this, Deo Alvarez, then General Manager of Atlas Publishing, was even quoted as saying, “The komiks industry is dead!” When in fact Atlas Publishing, the largest komiks producer in the Philippines, could have save the industry had it done production and marketing strategies parallel to what the comics producers in the U.S. and Japan had done. Instead it limits itself to low-cost production and tie-up adaptations of foreign comics. It has lost its pool of great writers and artist because it virtually surrendered its objectives. It became a publishing company with no vision and no marketing strategy. The result – total failure! Atlas Publishing closed shop in 2013.

 
GOING ONLINE

          The attempt to go online, where komiks had not gone before, also met drawbacks. National Bookstore, which took over ownership of Atlas Publishing, planned and envisioned to put Atlas komiks online. In one of Atlas Publishing Artists and Writers Reunions, Benjamin Ramos, NBS top brass, talked about the online projects. It, however, didn’t materialize. A few publishers tried this route but similarly encountered the same disappointment.

          Those who envision to put komiks online may have overlooked the research and studies regarding this venture. A 2010 random survey of 2,500 komiks enthusiasts in malls, schools, coffee shops, MRT & LRT stations, etc., revealed that 59.84% of the respondents still want the physical komiks. They still preferred one they could hold in their hands while reading. It’s quite a hassle for them to download and print the online komiks. Only 13.96% favors digital komiks and 26.2% are okay for both. It is also an established fact that reading materials like the komiks are considered collectible. As such, “physical” printed copies are valued more than the digitally saved images. This is the same reason cited in the research study “Why Kindle failed in China?”

          Marvel, DC and other major comics publishers didn’t concentrate on online publishing. The studies showed that it was not their priority. The “physical” and printed comics was, and still is, their main frontline. For two decades now, Marvel comics is being sold at a price considered impossible due to combined editorial and printing cost even if the number of copies runs into hundreds of thousands. In another thesis, “Komiks: Patronage, Interest and Opportunities,” it was supposed that Marvel was subsidizing their comics issues to maintain patronage. One sentence summed up the logic behind it – “Patronage maintains interest; and interest maintains opportunities.” In fact, the subsidies put into printed comics are readily offset by the high revenues obtain through these “opportunities” – animations, films, tie-ups, endorsements, etc.

 

GETTING COMPLICATED AND GOING TWO WAYS

          In the Philippines, while there may still be substantial patronage for komiks, the problem lies in how to rekindle and maintain it. How? What kind of story will sell?

          In another research study, which includes the outlines of American comics and Japanese manga, the word “complicated” keeps popping up. There is a need for complicated stories. Ordinary stories and simple twists will not do. If I may reiterate a comment I keep posting on Facebook: “Sawa na ang tao sa mga replays, reruns and repackagings. Kailangan merong bago at kung gagamit ka man ng lumang istorya, kailangan mas maging kumplikado ang tema, mas malaman.” (People are tired of replays, reruns and repackagings. There’s a need for new materials and if old materials are to be used, there’s a need for complicated theme, more substance.) Indeed, in order to attract today’s Internet Age audience, stories need to be “complicated” to gain interest. Yung tipong hindi mabo-bore ang readers. Yung tipong susubaybayan nila ang bawat issue, just like the “days of old.” (The type that will not bore readers. The type that they will continue to follow each issue, just like the days of old)
          It would take a two-way approach to put komiks back on the Filipino people’s agenda – that is, publishing komiks both in printed form and online at the same time. It would need the help of media itself for it to prosper. Of course, the writers and artists must also, initially, contribute to this komiks “resurrection” by not asking high compensation for the works that they will be doing. And the most difficult part is how to convince a would-be publishers to invest money on this "new" komiks adventure.


 MORE TO FOLLOW!