by Emil M. Flores
The komiks, long part Philippine popular culture, has gone through a number of phases. What was once known as the “literature of the masses” since the 1950s practically disappeared in the new millennium. Now, through the efforts of dedicated creators, the komiks has found new life in the digital age.
The Komik Strip and Komiks Magasin
The first comic strip by a Filipino is “The Monkey and the Tortoise” by Jose Rizal published in Truebner’s Record in London in 1889. It was part of a piece on Asian folktales.
In 1929, in the pages of Liwayway Magasin, Tony Velasquez introduced “Kenkoy.”
Other characters followed, such as “Kulafu” by Francisco Reyes and Pedrito Reyes July 7, 1933. Both “kenkoy” and “kulafu” have since entered the Filipino lexicon. Newspaper komik strips continue to be popular toady with “Pugad Baboy” and “Kiko Machine” as prime examples.
After World War II, Filipino publishers saw the potential of comic books. American GIs had brought the books along for entertainment during the uncertain and chaotic times of the war. The Filipinos also used the medium as a balm. In 1946, the first komiks magasin, Halakhak was born. Halakhak only lasted a few issues but it was followed by a number of comics anthologies such as Pilipino Komiks, Tagalog Klasiks, Espesyal Komiks, and Hiwaga Komiks. The publisher of Liwayway, Don Ramon Roces and his family would practically run the entire komiks industry in the country.
Throughout the 1950s and the next three decades, the komiks would become “the literature of the masses” as thousands of komiks were sold in sidewalks and sari sari stores throughout the country. A number of great creators would produce sterling work that would influence Philippine popular culture for years to come.
Francisco Coching, a contemporary of National Artist Botong Francisco, virtually created the “Filipino style” of komiks art. With his dynamic figure drawings and attention to detail, Coching’s work, according to Dr. Patrick Flores would act as art books for aspiring Filipino artists who could not afford to go to art school. Coching’s works would be made into numerous films and Coching himself would be nominated for National Artist. Coching’s “El Indio” published in Pilipino Komiks #147, 1953 was included in the book 1001 Comics You Must Read Before You Die edited by Paul Gravett published in 2011 in the United Kingdom. Coching’s 1973 illustration of Lapu Lapu was used in a postage stamp in 2004. The image was also used as a t-shirt design.
Mars Ravelo is well-known for creating the iconic character Darna in Pilipino Komiks May, 27, 1950. The character would star in movies in the 1950s up to the 1990s. There have been two television shows in the 21st century so far. Aside from Darna and other superheroes such as Captain Barbell and Lastikman, Ravelo would also create Maruja and Dyesabel, – fantasy romance, Roberta- social drama and Bondying- humor.
Pablo Gomez wrote komiks for Pilipino Komiks and Tagalog Klasiks and then established his own publishing House PSG in 1963. He wrote such memorable works such as “Inday Bote”, “Machete”, “Kapag Puno na and Salop”, and “Bunsong Kerubin.” Most of his works were translated into film and television.
Komiks Artists in America
While it was the writers who were well-known in Philippine komiks, the artists were the ones who became renowned internationally. In 1971, Tony Dezuniga met with DC Comics editor Joe Orlando which led to the “Filipino invasion” of the United States Comics scene.
Numerous Filipino artists would work for American fantasy and horror tiles published by DC, Marvel and Warren. Tony Dezuniga himself co-created Jonah Hex. Nestor Redondo, the original artist on Darna, drew for acclaimed titles such as Swamp Thing. Alfredo Alcala, aside from drawing and inking numerous titles from swamp Thing to He-Man would have the distinction of having his original komiks creation Voltar published internationally. This last image was from the reprint in the The Rook #2, 1980.
English Language Superhero Komiks and Pinoy Graphic Novels
While the international exposure of the komiks artists did not significantly affect the komiks in the Philippines, the success of Whilce Potacio in the 1990s ignited a new form of komiks. Created by writers and artists more influenced by American mainstream comics, the new works were mostly superhero books written in English. The monopoly developed a lack of innovation in the industry leading creators to self-publish their works.
The superhero book Flashpoint was the first self-published work and feature early work from Carlo Vergara. Titles such as Exodus and Memento Mori followed. Because of the lack of mainstream publishers, the books did not finish their storylines. Some would just have two issues published.
Arnold Arre’s Mythology Class would not only finish its four issue run, it would also usher in the graphic novel into Philippine komiks. It would crate a template of being a self-published work in separate issues that would be collected and published by mainstream book publishers such as Adarna Books. Others like Zsa Zsa Zaturnnah (written in Filipino and English) by Carlo Vergara and Trese by Budget Tan Kajo Baldisimo would also go through this process. Gerry Alanguilan’s Elmer was also self-published in separate issues. In collected form, Elmer won the Best Asian Album in France and nominated for the American Eisner Award for Best Graphic Album in 2011. It has since been published internationally.
Pinoy Manga and Indie Komiks
In the year 2000, Culture Crash was released and ushered in the “Pinoy Manga” trend in Philippine komiks. The anthology was in full-color and was heavily influenced by Japanese manga and anime aesthetics. Articles written in English about Japanese films and music were also part of the book. The stories themselves though were mostly written in Filipino. The popularity of Culture Crash led to the country’s first comics convention C3 Con in 2002. English-language “Pinoy Manga” magazines such as Mango Jam would follow the trend which still proves to be popular today.
With the collapse of the komiks magasin industry in the mid-2000s, the indies took over. Due to the opportunities created by desktop publishing, the online community, and komiks centered events such Komikon, the grass-roots indies are what komiks historian Randy Valiente calls the “new face” of komiks.
Ang Maskot by Macoy, a photocopied black and white pamphlet has become a cult favorite and an independent short film version was produced. Trese also began as photocopied indies picked up by mainstream book publisher Visprint.
In May 2013, Flipreads converted independent komiks into digital format and released them for free for a limited time. These e-komiks included Ang Maskot, Mythspace by Paolo Chikiamco and various artists, and CADRE by Emil Flores and Ron Escultura.
From a strip drawn in Europe to digital comics, the komiks continue to evolve and provide an outlet for expression and a source of entertainment and inspiration for people in the Philippines and beyond.
Emil Flores teaches at the UP Diliman Department of English and Comparative Literature.