Sunday, February 26, 2006

A Tradition of Great Filipino Comic Art

The comics pages that we hold in our hands are literally artworks that have been printed on paper. Prior to printing, these comics pages are known as original comic art, expertly drawn by the illustrator to visualize the writer’s story.

The standard original art is a bristol board with the usual size of 11x14 inches. In Philippine comics, a story (wakasan) is usually four to five pages in length (The serial-or itutuloy- is also usually divided into four or five-page parts)

The cover art is usually the most special page in the comics. The great Francisco V. Coching was a favorite cover illustrator because of his dynamic compositional skills.A Francisco V. Coching Original Cover Art for a 1948 issue of the Liwayway Magazine

The only known surviving original cover art of Pilipino Komiks. Tony Velasquez, Pilipino Komiks#4, 1947.

The opening page, with the story’s title, and wherein the writer’s and artist’s name were written, is known as the splash page. Traditionally, this page contained at least one big panel occupying at least half the size of the page, and two or more smaller panels, or something similar.
Alex Nino Splash Page for "Gamu-Gamo" story by Tony Velasquez, 1966. This is the earliest known existing original of Alex Nino.

Sometimes, the illustrator would utilize two of the opening pages for one spectacular illustration. These two-in-one page is called the double splash page. Alfredo Alcala, Hal Santiago, and Ruben Yandoc are fine examples of artists who had done this particular panoramic page. A super double splash page by Ruben "Rubeny" Yandoc for his memorable "Bible" iseries that appeared in Kenkoy Komiks in early 1960s.

A splash page, however, is not only limited to the opening page. Sometimes an artist would make a splash page from any one of the inner pages to emphasize a particular part of the story. For instance, the page above by the great artist Emil Rodriguez is supposed to be a panel page, but since he wanted to emphasize Samson’s destruction of himself and his enemies, he turned the page into a big one panel splash page.

The following pages after the splash page are called panel pages. They consist, of course, of panel drawings chronologically arranged to tell a story. Francisco V. Coching is one of the first Filipino comic artists to design inner pages with ingeniously designed panels, like this page from his early Marabini serial novel.

Comic Art as a Legitimate Art Form

In the United States and Europe, where comics is regarded as legitimate art form, collecting original comic art is a long and valued tradition. Many collectors even set up festivals and conventions to trade original comic art and comics.

In the Philippines, very few collect original comic art. In my experience as a collector and researcher, I found that these very few collectors are actually comics artists themselves who wanted to get a closer look at the rendering of their favorite fellow illustrator. I found that among artists, two great masters are often collected and imitated: Francisco V. Coching and Nestor P. Redondo. This is not surprising because they are considered the two finest illustrators in the history of Philippine comic art.

In the Philippines where comics is very popular among the lower classes of society, original comic art is considered a virtual no rich collector’s item. Filipino art connoisseurs shun the original comic art as not in their regular collecting menu.
Over the past few years, however, this began to change. The awareness of the Filipinos’ great contribution to comic art led to an increasing appreciation of the original comic art as a legitimate art form. Some art collectors who had collected American comics realized that many several of these comics were illustrated by Filipinos. Conan the Barbarian, Spider-Man, Vampirella, Batman, the Swamp Thing, Superman, have indeed been illustrated at one time or another, by Filipinos, and their names appear on the credit pages: Redondo, Nino, Alcala, Nebres, and many more. This appreciation led to a rediscovery of a vast body of work in Philippine comics hitherto unappreciated by art collectors.

This began a few years ago when I decided to test the market for original art by selling some pages on the internet. To my knowledge, no one had ever sold Filipino comic art before in the internet. Although DC and Marvel originals of Nino, Alcala, and Redondo were known to fetch high prices in auctions, their Filipino comic artworks were virtually unknown among foreign collectors.
I thought that selling a few of my originals in the internet would spark some curiosity, because these artists’ works in Filipino comics are no less masterful than their foreign artworks(in fact I sincerely believed that Nestor Redondo and Alfredo Alcala reached the pinnacle of their drawing prowess even years prior to their first work in DC comics). Perhaps this curiosity would later turn into appreciation of the greatness of Filipino contribution to comic art. The long overdue appreciation for our local comic artists would certainly follow. In a few years, we may be awarding the National Artist award to one of our comics artists.

I am very happy that now, a few serious art collectors are entering the field of collecting original comic art. Now and then, I receive emails from these few collectors asking me if I could sell them an original page each by our great comics artists. Often, I would abide by their request if I see that I could part away with some without my feelings being hurt.

Although during the past years I have been able to collect some 1,500 pages of original comic art, I am by no means a hoard. I wanted to share it with other collectors. I wanted to give way to new collectors.

In fact, I was starting my prices in auction at one dollar per page without reserve because I wanted even the new or average collector to purchase original Filipino comic art at a price he can afford. There are many who made a bargain, winning some pages for as little as four or five dollars each. I am happy whenever I sell an original to an appreciative new collector.

Although there were a few Filipinos who purchased original Filipino comic art in my auctions, the majority of buyers were foreigners, comic art collectors from the United States and Europe. Not surprisingly, a particular favorite in auctions were the works of Alex Nino, Nestor Redondo and Alfredo Alcala, because they were the top three Filipino illustrators in DC and Marvel comics. Could it be that foreigners are more appreciative of our local artists’ works rather than our fellow Filipinos? Or maybe we have a little more to learn to appreciate comic art.

The Pioneer Collectors of Philippine Comic Art

Even prior to the present generation of comic art collectors, there were already a few who valued and collected Filipino comic art. They were Orvy Jundis(comics historian), Manuel Auad (comics writer and publisher), and Steve Gan(comics artist).
Orvy Jundis is known to have specialized in collecting Alex Nino art, while Manuel Auad is known to have specialized in collecting Redondo and Alfredo Alcala. A glimpse of Auad’s magnificent collection can be seen featured in the Comic Book Artist Magazine #4.
Steve Gan’s collection is a veritable archive of Philippine comic art. There are Alex Ninos, Redondos, Cochings, Rodriguezes, Nebres, Alcalas, and many more.

It is only sad that, with the great bulk of original comic art that had been produced in the Philippines because of our rich comics tradition, only very few have survived (or been found, yet). For instance, it is now extremely hard to find an original cover art by Coching, with the exception of the few that had been kept by his family. The same goes for a Redondo or an Alcala.

Yet, with the few that we have been able to save, we must be thankful nevertheless, because they are enough proof of the high point our comics artists achieved in the field of comic art.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Komiks:National Book of the Filipinos

During the heyday of the komiks industry in the Philippines, the komiks was the Filipinos' national book. It had imbedded its heels, so to speak, in the Filipino consciousness.

Obiquitously present among the poor and middle class homes, the komiks could be found being read almost anywhere: in the ricefield as the farmer enjoys a short relief from his backbreaking work; in the hagdanan(staircase), in the comfort room, or almost everywhere else.

Dubbed as bakya by the elitists, the lowly komiks was patronized in great quantities by the masang Pilipino who could not afford theaters, zarzuelas or vaudevilles.

Aside from serving as an entertainment magazine to aid those who want a quick nap on boring afternoons, the komiks had served a variety of purposes: pangggatong, pambalot ng tinapa, pamaypay, an emergency umbrella on a sudden downpour, or a portable lavatory equipment.

The komiks was disposable item. Filipinos usually did not care for komiks after reading it, letting other members of the household or even the kapitbahay to read it afterwards.
What happens to it later was never a thing to ask about-unless one hasn’t finished yet his reading “hoy, nasaan na ba yung komiks na binabasa ko dito. Umihi lang ako e nawala na?”

Part of the more than 1,000 pieces of old Tagalog Komiks found in the author's collection.

Everyone took the komiks for granted. After all, the komiks was cheap at 25 to 30 centavos a copy, the price of one bottle of Coca Cola, which had a usual weekly advertisement in the back cover of the komiks.One could even throw it away afterwards without feeling guilty.

After this passing of hands, the komiks, printed in pulp, is usually reduced into a torn and creased state, after which it must fulfill its final duty: panggatong (fuel for the fire stoves common among Filipino households during those times), pambalot ng tinapa (salted fish wrapper), an emergency umbrella on a sudden downpour (why not?), or worse, as a portable and convenient lavatory equipment (of course, during the 1950s, only the middle class could afford to build a private toilet. Of course, the poor people’s batalan is usually just a place to shower. The komiks and other similar publications became the pambalot ng t….).

Written in the Tagalog lingua franca, the vernacular language spoken at Filipino homes and gatherings, the komiks had become a kind of “national book”, easily understood by the Filipinos.

Hindi nakakasakit ng ulo basahin”, “madadala mo kahit saan”, “nakakapagpaantok”, "magaganda mga kuwento", "magaganda mga drowing" “murang bilhin”: these were some of the answers of Filipinos to the survey conducted in 1986, as to why they read komiks.


It was indeed fun to read stories with dialogues one uses in everyday conversations. Slang words common among the younger people proliferated in komiks conversations, such as “datung” for money, “askad” for ugly, “bebot” for girlfriend, “datan” for an old man or woman, “repa” for friend, “dyahi” for shy, or “tsokaran” for buddies.

It was thus possible to read dialogues like, “Askad naman repa. Mukhang datan na yung inireto mo sa kin. Dyahi sa mga tsokaran”. The majority of the Filipinos are familiar with this language. It made the komiks so much down-to-earth, life-like, and realistic, so that Filipinos felt they were seeing themselves in this microcosmic society portrayed in the komiks.


Cuss words such as “walanghiya”, “hayup”, “ulol”, “impakto”, “bastos”, and “kiri” were qualitatively allowed, meaning they must appear only in humorous stories and intended as words for teasing. The more serious stories required justification to use these words.
The harsher words like the “F” and “S” words (Putang-ina, anak ng puta, etc.)were restricted and not allowed to be printed. These words belonged to the more fly-by-night publications such as the Bomba Komiks type which were sold clandestinely on the newsstands.


Inasmuch as the Filipinos loved the komiks, they did not collect it and or have it stored in a shelf for future reading or reference.
Of course there were a relative few who cared about komiks and stored them in wooden bauls or deep drawers in their aparadors. These komiks may survive for years, but a tropical country like the Philippines may not really be a good place to hoard komiks in the long run.

In a few years, humidity, tropical climate, floods, termites, and fires would destroy many of these komiks. The komiks may have escaped human apathy, but not the natural elements. Thus, a good number of these komiks have not survived into the present time and are now considered scarce.

Countless poor Filipinos who could not afford to send their children to schools taught their children reading and values formation through the pages of the komiks. Children found that they easily and happily learn reading through these paneled picture stories. They adored the fumbling escapades of Kalabog, or the latest antic of Kenkoy, or the Phantomanok’s newest adventure. Adult readers likewise eagerly await the continuing saga Coching’s of El Indio, or the latest trick of Redondo’s Palos, or the further adventures of Clodualdo Del Mundo’s Pitong Sagisag.

Indeed, so popular komiks had become that many of its serial novels were frequently made into motion pictures, a sure-fire indication that it will be a box-office hit.


Unbelievable as it may seem, piracy was already prevalent as early as the 1950s. Special victims of piracy were komiks companies with no printing presses of their own, and without an efficient distribution network.

To protect them from this plague, many komiks companies at the time (Quiogue, Virma Press, All-Star, etc.) were forced to destroy to shreds all the precious originals and photo-offsets copies, after printing.

Artists then usually conform to this method as they were paid on a per page basis without any future royalties coming from the sales, and without the condition that the originals will be returned to them.
Certainly, with the growing awareness and vigilance of present day artists, this problem is now being more focused, thanks to the efforts of Gerry Alanguilan, a top komiks artist in the country today.

Ace Publications had its own printing press, and in fact the largest one in the Philippines, which prevented the originals from leaving the company grounds. After printing, the originals were returned to Ace and placed in a storage room behind Tony Velasquez’ office in the second floor of the Ace building in Pioneer street, Mandaluyong.

Whatever happened to these originals is still a mystery to this day. An artist close to Velasquez told me that sometime in 1962, when the company closed down, the originals were destroyed. However, there were some that insist the Roces family still had some of it.

In another story, when the Roceses sold the Pioneer building, they did not bother to recover the originals. In any case, this accounts for the rarity of these originals. Velasquez for his part however, kept his own originals and those illustrated for him by other artists.


Velasquez had initiated one of the biggest industries in the Philippines at that time, employing thousands of Filipinos: from writers to editors, illustrators to agents, to komiks distributors and sidewalk vendors.

By the end of the 1950s each of Ace's komiks had a print order of some 100,000 issues coming out weekly in the newsstands, and efficiently distributed by the Roceses chain of distributors all over the archipelago.

Velasquez offered agents big discounts off the cover price if they placed advance orders and pay in cash. This way, he had kept printing excess to a minimum, thereby reducing the company’s expenses, and creating a loyal agent base.

The agents were happy with this arrangement; not only would they have more profits, they were also assured they would have enough copies for distribution.

By abolishing credit, Velasquez wisely avoided the major problem of other komiks companies: credit collection. These other komiks companies who lent their komiks to some unscrupulous agents found a hard time collecting payments later. Most of these companies went bankrupt after a few years.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

A Gallery of J.M. Perez Cartoons

J.M. Perez is one of the pioneer and all-time prolific cartoonists of the Philippines. Although he had less work after the war, his cartoon works in the pre-war Liwayway offered a fascinating look at Philippine culture of the roaring 30's. In 1984, he was one of the awardees of the Komopeb's (Komiks Operation Brotherhood) Lifetime Achievement Award. The other awardees were Tony Velasquez, Francisco V. Coching, Mars Ravelo, Francisco Reyes, Jose Zabala-Santos, and Larry Alcala.
I would regularly feature selections of the works of these pioneer Filipino cartoonists in my blog as part of my humble tribute to their immense contributions to our rich comics heritage.

Here are some selections of the numerous cartoons of Perez that have appeared in the Liwayway.

Huwapelo (1933). A comic strip about a wily but kind-hearted Tsinoy Sari-sari store owner, Akong. During the 1930s, Akong enjoyed almost the same popularity as Velasquez' Kenkoy.

In 1935, Perez retitled Huwapelo into Abilitat sa Akong

Tolong at Busia, Liwayway 1935.

Another popular comic strip of J.M. Perez that appeared regularly in the Liwayway was Si Pamboy at Si Osang, a hilarious strip about henpecked husband Pamboy and his domineering wife Osang.

J.M. Perez, a 1977 self-portrait from my collection of original art.

Monday, February 06, 2006

A Note on my Previous Post "On Reviving the Komiks Industry"

I should have written this as a reply to the comments on my previous post re "On Reviving the Komiks Industry", but I'd rather make it into a new post because of its length.
When I said we should go back to the times when beautiful comics were being produced, I did not mean that all present artists should emulate the style of the old komiks masters. No. My message (although I apologize for not being so clear about it before) is to go back into producing komiks of great quality. That is the reason why I should emphasize the important words mentioned by Tony Velasquez, "ghastly colorings and sloppy drawings" regarding most of the komiks being produced by Atlas and GASI during the 1990s and present.
It should mean that whatever style the artist will follow, be it Manga or Classical or Ninoesque (Alex Nino style), the artist should give his heart and soul to his drawings. Make it the best possible drawing that he could draw.
Here's an anecdote I'd like to tell you: Alex Nino for sure is considered today one of the world's greatest comics artist. Everyone in the komiks circle back then knows that the beginning of Nino's comics career in the Philippines was very discouraging. Most editors never liked his style which was often labeled "weird" or "psychotic" . Even the great Mars Ravelo rejected Nino because back then the prevailing trend in comics stories was drama/action/adventure. Yet because Nino drew figures with elongated heads and blunt arms and feet, his drawings were abhorred by editors.
There were only two editors who accepted Nino's style: Tony Velasquez and Pablo S. Gomez. Why did Velasquez not reject Nino ' s art while the other editors were rejecting it?
Simply becauseVelasquez sincerely thought that Nino's drawings were excellent works of art. Maybe weird but truly the works of a genius. What was the result? It was Velasquez who gave Nino the latter's first assignment in GASI. The short stories Mikrobyo, Gamu-Gamo, and Three Siters were all written by Tony Velasquez and magically illustrated by Nino (they were feautured once in the Komikero website)
Velasquez was very much impressed by these masterpieces of komiks art that he told Nino that someday he would be one of the world's best, which indeed came true. I should know this. I have the Nino originals in my collection as well as the handwritten notes of Velasquez and his original scripts. These originals are some of the earliest known works of Nino as a comics artist, even earlier than his stint as regular artist in the PSG.
Now why did I mention this story? It is to show that Velasquez was open to all other styles of art, provided the artist manifested excellence in following his chosen style. I bet Velasquez could welcome Manga if he see that the artist had done well drawing it. Every artist and writer in GASI knows this. I have talked with several of them, Hal Santiago, Sonny Trinidad, Steve Gan, Virgilio Redondo, Tony tenorio, Vic Poblete, and many others.
Vlasquez will accept your style no matter what it is. But you should excel in it or be rejected outright. Sonny Trinidad, future Marvel artist, experienced it. Velasquez askedhim to draw Araneta Coliseum filled with teeming humanity. "It was the most difficult drawing I have ever done in my entire career" recounts Trinidad when I interviewed him in his Sta. Rosa home. "Boss (velasquez) asked me to draw the inside of Araneta Coliseum just as it is, without alteration, and filled with people. Boss had the habit of rejecting art whe he saw that it has errors, however small, he was that meticulous..One day he accompanied me to Araneta Coliseum and we took pictures of the dome, so that my drawings will be realistic. I finished the drawings in about a week's time and he was very impressed. Yet I was sick after doing those magnificent pages". Those original pages were published in Pinoy Komiks with the title "baby Blue Seal".
I, myself, am not advocating a single style of art, although I am more of an admirer of the Redondo and Coching style rather than Manga or the Jim Lee and company style. Yet I have nothing against Manga or Jim Lee. An artist should follow what he thinks is best suited to his interests and appreciation. If he likes Manga then do so, but he should make it into the best Manga that he could ever draw. He should never follow a particular art style because somebody urged him to, or just because of nostalgia of the past komiks.
Always dedicate yourself to your art because it will be the one thing you could say that truly reflects your personality. To quote Mars Ravelo "I always wanted to be #1. When I was a janitor I wanted to be the #1 janitor, and when I became a komiks artist and writer, I wanted to be the # 1 komiks artist and writer!"
I hope that I have made myself clear on this matter. Reviving the industry did not mean
going back to the style of the old Filipino komiks masters, but rather,emphasizing on producing
the best komiks based on the standards of the old komiks masters.

Friday, February 03, 2006

On Reviving the Filipino Komiks Industry

As Tony Velasquez lived his retirement years in the 1990s, he witnessed the continuous decline of the komiks industry in the Philippines. It was in such a sad state that he knew he could no longer do anything about it. The task belongs to the new breed of artists, writers, editors, and publishers.

Even in the 1980s, Velasquez foresaw that the coming of new technologies would adversely affect the komiks readership in the Philippines. By the 1990s the rise of consumerism brought about the affordability of television, computer, internet, cellphones and other new technologies that would outdate the komiks. Indeed, it was something inevitable. Velasquez correctly foresaw that if the Filipino komiks industry was to survive, a return to the classical style of making komiks was not only necessary but expedient.
He said “People no longer read komiks because they found its art to be visually unappealling, and the stories only rehashed from the ones that had been written before. People are intelligent, and you cannot force them to buy anything that they know is not even worth their money. This is more than true right now. People have a lot of choices where they want their money to go”.
He detested the quality of komiks that were being published.
“These komiks look like they were half-heartedly produced. You could hardly appreciate them. During our time, which was considered the Golden years of the komiks era in the Philippines, the komiks lorded over the people’s interest and appreciation. Our komiks back then could compete pound for pound with the others being published abroad, even those in the United States. We are very proud of what we have produced then. For instance, in one ACE or GASI komiks magazine, I usually have the collaborative efforts of Coching, Ravelo, Redondo, Del Mundo, Alfredo Alcala, Pablo Gomez, Fred Carrillo, and many other talented artists and writers. The komiks magazines virtually sold out once they came out in the newsstands because the people thought they were buying something that is worth more than their money. Our komiks magazines then were truly beautiful works of art, and we are very proud of them”. These words could not have been more well put indeed.
Now”, he continued, “the komiks look anemic with their ghastly coloring, sloppy drawings, and rehashed stories. You cannot begin to compare them with what was being produced during the olden days”.
What then was his view in order for the komiks industry to survive?
Nothing replaces excellence in komiks production. I still believe that people will buy komiks if they see that it is good, that it is equal to their hard-earned money’s worth. Maybe we could no longer bring back the time when there were hundreds of thousands to be printed just for a single issue, but who knows? But I tell you, the industry will still be there, if only diminished. If we only hold on to the relatively few who still buy komiks because they loved the stories and art in them, then I think it would be the starting point".