Said Velasquez: "I did not give him a chance to change his mind. I immediately jumped at his offer. Even before his call, I was already toying with the idea of publishing komiks-magazines. So I thought Don Ramon was heaven's reply to my dream"
However, Don Ramon, was a little apprehensive about its business success, since only a year ago, the first regularly-published Philippine komiks-magazine, the Halakhak Komiks, closed business after only ten issues, its publisher financially ruined.
"I am not sure if this will last, but I want you to give it a try" Don Ramon said to Velasquez, "Just see what you can do about it "
"It will last, Don Ramon. I guarantee you that it will last" replied Velasquez.
The magnate was impressed with the confidence and enthusiasm exuded by his favorite cartoonist, and from then on, he knew he had chosen the right man to handle his pet project.
Don Ramon gave Velasquez 10,000 pesos as initial budget for 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 new company which he called Ace Publications.
"Ace Publications started out with one office table and one typewriter" Velasquez recounted in his memoirs, "We occupied a miserable corner in the ground floor of the Liwayway building in Calero st., Sta. Cruz. It was a one-man enterprise atfirst. I was editor, proofreader, retoucher, illustrator, advertising manager, messenger, and solicitor rolled into one. I don't recall having a janitor then, so I used to clean the office too. I remember working with my pants rolled up to my knees because our little office got flooded when it rained"
Indeed, this was the humble beginning of the future big komiks industry in the Philippines.
Being Ace Publications founder and first employee, Tony Velasquez got I.D. #1. It's the only Ace I.D. that carried his two signatures. The first signature as an employee and the second as General manager. Cool!
"It was just after the war" Velasquez continued in his memoirs, "my cartoonists friends were not so busy then so I recruited them to join me in Ace"
Velasquez appropriately entitled Ace's first komik-magazine Pilipino Komiks, the font for the word komiks, which symbolized only Tagalog komiks, he himself designed. The Pilipino Komiks was destined to be the first of the big komiks magazines that will dominate the mass media entertainment in the Philippines.
The first issue of Pilipino Komiks. A rare copy of this comic-magazine is now being preserved by the author.
The first issue hit the streets on June 14, 1947 with initial print of 10,000 copies. Published forthnightly, at twenty-five centavos a copy, the Pilipino Komiks was easily affordable even by the man on the street and the first issue sold like a hot cake.
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 cartoon Dick Tracy) authored by Tony's brother Damy Velasquez 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, and Zabala Santos' Lukas Malakas. Velasquez had his own contribution in Nanong Pandak's two-page strip.
As a partial homage to the Liwayway where he started as a story illustrator, Velasquez included a short hilarious prose by E.D. Ramos, called “Si Tibong at si Tibang”.
On the eighth issue of Pilipino Komiks, Francisco V. Coching joined the staff of illustrators with his cartoon strip Paloma, his first comic strip in Ace Publications. Pilipino Komiks #15. Yearender issue 1947-48. Cover art by Tony Velasquez. Author's collection.
THE SUCCESS OF THE KOMIKS
“The Pilipino Komiks prospered and the initial capital of 10,000 was increased up to 100,000 plus a little cash dividend enjoyed by the stockholders. Fortunately, I was one of the original stockholders!” remarked Velasquez.
Ten issues later, the print order for Pilipino Komiks reached 25,000 copies. This, plus the regular whole page advertisement of Pepsi-Cola and several other small advertisers, managed to pull the publication into a height not equaled by the Halakhak Komiks. For sometime Pilipino Komiks monopolized the comic book market, it had no competition.
Eventually as Ace Publications expanded and more staff were hired, they got “somewhat cramped up in our little corner at the Liwayway Building. So we acquired temporary accommodations in the sprawling compound of the Capitol Publishing House, Inc. where we paid a rent of P1,900.00 a month”
“As we hired additional personnel, one by one, I lost my job as proofreader, advertising agent, retoucher, and janitor, although fortunately, I still retained my job as General Manager”, smiled Velasquez.
Pilipino Komiks was, and still is, the Philippines best-selling comics magazine. From its pages came the most memorable comics stories and serialized novels the Filipinos had grown familiar with like El Indio, Darna, DI-13, Bondying, Dyesebel, Kalabog en Bosyo, to mention a few.
By 1957, a mere ten years after the initial issue, the Pilipino Komiks had a print order from its distributors of 120,000 copies. Not bad for a once lowly comics that had an initial print of only 10,000.
Two years after its first issue and still the Pilipino Komiks was earning well and increasing its circulation. Indeed, Don Ramon’s apprehension that it would not last long was proven wrong. Certainly, Velasquez had proven to him that this was going to last long.
The success of Pilipino Komiks was brought about by what the previous Halakhak did not have: Big capital, a printing press, and effective distribution network (the nationwide agents of the Liwayway took the job as the Pilipino Komiks distributors).
About two years after, in 1949, inspired by the success of Pilipino Komiks, Velasquez created Tagalog Klasiks, the second komiks-magazine produced by Ace Publications.
Unlike Pilipino Komiks, which spunned original story materials of Philippine komiks writers, the first issue of Tagalog Klasiks contain Tagalog reprints of American comics classics such as the Arabian Nights, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and some other works mostly from stories illustrated by the American king of comics, Jack Kirby.
In its later issues, however, Tagalog Klasiks switched to original materials by such young writers as Clodualdo del Mundo, Pablo S. Gomez, Virgilio Redondo and Mars Ravelo. One of its more memorable runs was the komiks adaptation of Severino Reyes’ Lola Basyang stories, as rewritten by his own son Pedrito Reyes and illustrated by Jesus Ramos, and later on, Ruben Yandoc. Another popular series was Clodualdo del Mundo’s “Buhay ng mga Poon”. Tagalog Klasiks also became the venue for Mars Ravelo’s classic novel, ROBERTA, which went on to become one of the biggest box-office movies in 1951.
The second issue of the Tagalog Klasiks. The most popular series in the Tagalog Klasiks was Don Severino Reyes' "Mga Kwento ni Lola Basyang", as scripted into komiks by his son Pedrito Reyes. Cover art by Maning de Leon.Author's Collection.
In 1950 another Ace Publications komiks was born, entitled Hiwaga Komiks. This komiks featured works by budding artists like Nestor Redondo and Alfredo Alcala. It contained mystery stories, as its title implied, as well as fantasy and horror stories. In this komiks, Virgilio Redondo and his younger brother Nestor would team up for the fantasy novel “Ang Signo” a tale comparable in story to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
Another Mars Ravelo hit during the early issues of Hiwaga Komiks was Berdugo ng Mga Anghel, which was marvelously illustrated by Elpidio Torres.
The first issue of the Hiwaga Komiks. The cover features Coching's illustration for Mars Ravelo's Berdugo ng Mga Anghel". Its regular illustrator, however, was the equally talented Elpidio Torres. Author's collection.
In 1952, Velasquez, goaded by the great success of his earlier titles, created the fourth komiks of Ace Publications, which he entitled Espesyal Komiks. This komiks concentrated on action and detective stories. Particularly noteworthy among in its earlier issues was “Reyna Bandida” again by the Redondo brothers, and Binibining Pirata by the perennial team of Clodualdo del Mundo and Fred Carrillo. The cover of the first issue of Espesyal Komiks featured a novel by Virgilio Redondo and illustration by his younger brother Nestor Redondo:"Reyna Bandida"
In 1959, the fifth komiks-magazine of Ace Publications was born, the Kenkoy Komiks. This was published in pocket size, the first of its kind in the Philippines. In its later issues, however, Kenkoy Komiks was enlarged to regular-sized komiks magazine because elederly readers complained they could not read the komiks smaller fonts. Some even joked they could not use it anymore as pambalot ng tinapa (salted fish wrapper), or pambalot ng t--, since most Filipino homes during those times do not have private lavatories. Anyway those were just petty complaints. Tony Velasquez acceded to their request to transform it into a bigger size komiks.
An early issue of the pocket-size Kenkoy Komiks, Don Ramon's tribute to Velasquez' comic hero who made Liwayway a favorite magazine of the Filipinos. Kenkoy Komiks was later transformed into regular sized komiks-magazine.
The five-walled kingdom of Ace Publications was thus formed with the completion of the five komikbooks that Velasquez created for Don Ramon's publishing empire.
Hiwaga Komiks #29, 1951, with a magnificent cover art by Nestor Redondo. Author's collection.
For a time, there was a sixth komiks-magazine by Ace Publications, called Educational Klasiks Komiks, also published in pocket-size. This educational komiks was intended as a supplementary reading komiks magazine for private and public schools (again, the first of its kind to be published in the Philippines). This komiks contained only stories that have relationship to history, health, mathematics, science, and so on. This komiks did not last long, however, as it failed to gain the support of the government to make it a cumpolsory reading material in schools.
In 1962, Ace Publications was plunged into a crisis. Office and production staff of the company held strike in front of the Capitol Building. These workers demanded that they be given the same high salaries earned by komiks illustrators and writers. Since writers and illustrators were being paid in a per input manner (writers per story, and illustrators per page), the demand of the office and production staff was highly unacceptable. Don Ramon urged the workers to go back to work, but the latter held their ground.
In the following days, komiks production was virtually stopped, and Don Ramon was forced to close Ace Publications.
Thus was passed into the archives of history the greatest Filipino komiks-publications of all time.