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.


Manilaboy said...


Whoa! This article just gave me TINNITUS (ringing in the ear :) ).

When I was 14 years old, I was studying first year university (at night), and I worked at DESIGN DYNAMICS INTERNATIONAL, a design studio, as an advertizing ARTIST (at day time). HANS KASTEN, the husband of socialite CHONA YSMAEL-KASTEN, bought the corner property on PIONEER & SHERIDAN Streets in Mandaluyong and that's where I worked. The advertizing agency was on the ground floor, and the second floor was Mr. Kasten's office.

One day, his secretary, ex-Sampaguita Pictures starlet, NORY DALISAY, told me that several cabinets upstairs were full of komiks. I went up and checked it out, and that's how I discovered the tagalog komiks and that's how I began to become interested in komiks.

Indeed, one of the theories you expounded, was true. I saw all these komiks and originals by Redondo, Coching, Carillo, Caguintuan, Alcala, and so on. As if, when ACE shut down, they all seemed to have forgotten that there were TONS more of originals and printed komiks kept there. This was the time when I read those old serials like: WATERLILY - by Redondo Brothers, SILVERIA ANG KABAYONG DALDALERA - by Mars Ravelo, I BELIEVE - by Mars Ravelo, TUKO SA MADRE KAKAW and so on. That office must have been where Tony Velasquez had worked for years.

But, sad to say... one day, all the komiks and the originals were hauled and placed into a waiting truck heading for the dumps. I was able to save some Redondo and Coching originals (which were stolen from me later by some "friends").

Not all of the originals may not have been left in there, but there were 5 huge cabinets that were almost kissing the ceiling. It would have been a huge chunk, I must say. A lot of those originals were just thrown out later, years after the closure of ACE.

My most favorite feature of that compound, were the ARATILES trees. They bore fruit as if there was no more tomorrow. Every lunch break, I would take some komiks from upstairs, and I would climb the aratiles with JOSEPH WAYNE (an American 16 year old who worked as our janitor). While reading the books, Joseph and I, like two hungry birds, would eat those fantastic aratiles fruit! Sometimes, we just talked about girls and the ups and downs of life. Looking back, Joseph was my best friend for a while, I just realized now.

Oh, those were the days.

- Joemari Lee

Dennis said...

Oh, you must have been very young then, Joe.
Your alatiris story made me nostalgic of my childhood as I remember seeing many of these growing in cemeteries. I like eating them because they tasted sweet but aparently the sepulturero never liked them since many fruits lie o the ground unpicked.
Acording to Hal Santiago, tons of komiks originals were placed in drums after the demise of Ace. These drums apparently were placed on the ground floor of the Pioneer building. Whatever happened to these drums is still a mystery to this day. I could have asked Tito Tony Tenorio about it but he was terribly ill during the time that I interviewed him.

Rey said...

Tatlong kahong komiks ko inanay lang. Tinago ko nga, nasira din. Sayang... When I found out about it after i graduated college (I boxed it when ifinished high school), i just felt so stupid and at loss.

Dennis said...

Rey: almost all the old artists I have talked had entire komiks collections destroyed by fire, flood, or termites. I've come across several collections which were heavily damaged due to these causes. it's deplorable. Indeed, this accounts for the rarity of komiks materials..

loy said...

ang daming komiks!!!


pwede po bang magtanong?

sasali po ba kayo sa pa-contest ni neil gaiman?

Dennis said...

Loy: No, I'm not joining the Neil Gaiman contest. I am not a professional writer so I think I would be at a disadavantage if I compete with the more seasoned writers.
My writing mostly consists of essays and journal entries :)

Carlo P. said...

Nanlambot ako sa kwento niyo tungkol sa mga nawalang artworks :(

Dennis said...

oo nga..sayang talaga :(

rowel naanep said...

you can still find a lot of old komiks in the provinces, usually old folks in the povinces kept their things, never throw anything away. if you guys are really serious retrieving these komiks you can put up something like a redemption center to collect all these rare komiks. good luck to all of you guys doing this kind of effort for the history of philippine komiks.