The fabled world of the Philippine Jungle-lord comic strip was created by Francisco Reyes, one of the pioneer Filipino comic illustrators.
Prior to his career as a comic artist, Reyes was a student at the UP School of Fine Arts, where his artworks greatly impressed his teacher Fernando Amorsolo. He won several awards in many art competitions.
Upon graduation in 1932, Reyes joined the Liwayway, where he served as a junior artist under Tony Velasquez. Later on, Reyes became the first art teacher of the young Francisco V. Coching.
On July 7, 1933, Reyes, in collaboration with writer Pedrito Reyes, created Kulafu, which was the first colored adventure strip, as well as the first two-page comic strip in the Philippines.
Heavily influenced by Edgar Rice Borrough's Tarzan, Kulafu's jungle-kingdom was set in the deep jungles of the southern Philippines, where he battled dragons, siukoy (mermen), and other mythical creatures.
Like Tarzan, Kulafu was reared by the great apes. He was not born there though. Early in the adventure, young Kulafu's parents hiked in the jungles. While stopping on a brook to drink water, the young boy was snatched by a gigantic bird, which dropped him in the bird's nest as food for her young. The young boy fell accidentally, and into the arms of the apes, who took the boy into their care since.
The boy grew up as a strong young man. Later in the adventure, he saved a civilized woman from being devoured by a cayman. Upon being asked his name, the young man replied "Kulafu, Kulafu". The woman thought that it was his name but it's supposedly a meaningless grunt he learned from the apes.
Kulafu became one of the most popular comic strips in the Philippines. It was translated into Bisaya, Bikolnon, Ilokano, and later, in Spanish in a South American magazine.
Kulafu became a household name. It had become so popular that a local wine company even purchased the right to make "Kulafu" as their brand name. Up to now, some 70 years after, Vino Kulafu is still selling well in the market.
In 1936, Pedrito Reyes was unfortunately disabled. The task of bringing the weekly story fell on Francisco, who managed to develop further the plot originally scripted by Pedrito. Francisco even made a sequel in 1940 called "Anak ni Kulafu".
During the Japanese Occupation, Reyes discontinued Kulafu, and instead worked as an artist for Shin-Seiki a Tagalog-Nippongo publication.
After the war, Reyes joined the Halakhak Komiks where he created another Kulafu-like character, Talahib.
Some of Reyes' later comic strips were Kilabot, Joe Safari, and Buhawi in 1947, Mahiwagang Sinulid in 1949, Ogganda in 1964,Dagog in 1967, Sphinx in 1969, all of which were written by Clodualdo del Mundo.
In 1991, a retrospective art exhibit was held at the Philamlife Theater, as a tribute to this great Filipino comic artist. Featured in the exhibit were his paintings, and of course, Kulafu original comic art.
The art featured above is one of the most special pieces in my collection of original Filipino comic art. It is from a 1935 issue of the Liwayway, in an episode called "Kulafu sa Ibang Daigdig". I have purchased this art some years ago from an art dealer who managed to purchase a great number of Reyes' artworks in the 1991 exhibit.
Francisco Reyes passed away in 1992.