Sunday, August 19, 2007

Mars Ravelo: The Original Komiks King

I have been following with keen interest the news about the so-called campaign to revive the komiks industry in the Philippines led by Carlo J. Caparas, whom the media named as the Komiks King.

I didn't know that Carlo J. Caparas is now regarded as the King of Komiks. This makes me look back on the Golden years of Tagalog komiks, when Mars Ravelo was hailed as the Komiks King.

Now, I don't have anything against Carlo J. He is one of our great komiks writers, maybe even second only to Mars Ravelo (and only if you neglect the great writings of Clodualdo del Mundo, Jim Fernandez and Pablo S. Gomez) . Caparas' output is still so far behind that of Ravelo. His stories barely influenced the industry as had Mars'.

Yet, now, Carlo J. is at the forefront of the campaign that may revive the komiks industry. His efforts are commendable for spearheading this important movement. He lent his prestige and personal money in this, and it is very important. Well, if he succeeds in this, he may well deserve the title, and will not be regarded as just a "pretender to the throne".

Because way back in the heyday of the komiks in the Philippines in the 1950s and 1960s, Mars Ravelo was the original undisputed Komiks King.

During that time the komiks greats had their own monickers, not unlike movie stars today who get the title of Superstar (Nora Aunor} "Megastar"(Sharon Cuneta}, "Diamond Star"(Maricel Soriano), "Star for All Seaons" (Vilma Santos).

In komiks the title holders were:

Tony Velasquez: "Father of Tagalog Komiks"; Francisco V. Coching "Dean of Filipino Illustrators", and Larry Alcala was the "Dean of Filipino Cartoonists".

The King of Komiks title was usually applied to only one man: Mars Ravelo

Mars Ravelo, the original Komiks King

People today barely have any knowledge about Ravelo. He died in 1988 and most of his works can no longer be read due to the rarity of old komiks materials.

The closest thing that the people had been able to relate to his works was watch GMA 7's fantaseryes like Captain barbell and Darna, which are way too different from Mars Ravelo's original versions. Many of the scenes in both series were so ridiculous, it alarmed me that people create an impression that Ravelo was a nonsense writer contented with creating superficial heroic characters who fought absurd and ridiculous nemesis.

In truth, Mars Ravelo was a great writer, arguably the most talented popular writer the Philippines ever had. Some may argue with me, especially those "scholarly" writers who thought komiks was just crap. Indeed Ravelo himself experienced it, in a symposium designed to teach komiks writers the art of komiks writing . Ravelo recounts:

"There was a meeting [in 1979], at the Philippine International Convention Center. The meeting was composed of "legitimate" writers and komiks writers. I had been invited by [fellow komiks writer] Ramon Marcelino. Before the meeting opened, we were formally briefed by Marcelino who told us not to question any of the speakers, who were all "legitimate writers". And these writers started to lambast us the komiks writers. I remember one of the speakers very well because he was the one who got my goat, a certain Bienvenido Lumbrera. When I couldn't take what he was saying anymore, I raised up my hand to ask him questions. And my questions brought home the fact that his knowledge of komiks writing was at best superficial. Marcelino's face was red. And so was Lumbrera's. I ended up by telling the audience that we, the komiks writers, know the komiks best. And that we do not need the advice of people who do not know anything about it, to tell us how to do our work. I got a long applause from the komiks writers present"
(source: Matienzo, Ross ed. "The Philippine Comics Review" 1980, Manila Philippines)

In all his career as komiks writer, Ravelo broke grounds and established new ones. He was a master storyteller. His writings were lucid, straight and without any verbosity.

He understood that the primary consideration in komiks writing is to captivate the attention of the reader at once. His more than 500 successful komiks creations are proof that he mastered it. No doubt, Ravelo is the greatest writer the komiks industry had produced.

Our grandparents knew Ravelo's masterpieces: Maruja, Mambo Dyambo, Bondying, Dyesebel, Jack en Jill, Rebecca, Pomposa, Roberta, Goomboo Roomboo, and hundreds more. I was younger but am fortunate to read them in my musty old bound Tagalog komiks sets.

When you read Mars Ravelo comedy, you end up with stomach and jaw aching due to so much laughter. His tearjerkers can make you melancholy for days. His adventures can make you leave momentarily the boring plane of existence you are currently in.

Truth is, when you read Mars Ravelo, you forget everything and become a spectator to a unique world he had created, be it the world seen from an abused child (Roberta), or the brokenhearted (Maruja). That's why I prefer reading his komiks than reading Harry Potter.

Only when one takes a survey of most of the komiks writing of the last fifty years, one can truly appreciate how Mars Ravelo became the original King of Komiks

GASI:The Rise and Fall of a Komiks Giant

Note: I had to rewrite this essay completely due to some new discovery of materials pertinent to the history of GASI. This updated essay contains new information as a result of further interviews to those who worked in GASI, especially with Pablo S. Gomez, Hal santiago, and Ramon Marcelino. I would like to thank them for their unbiased insights -Dennis Villegas

Immediately after the fall of the giant Ace Publications in 1962, Don Ramon Roces (its publisher) met with Tony S. Velasquez, Damy Velasquez, and Ramon Marcelino, to discuss the future of the komiks industry in the Philippines.

The aging magnate decided to retire but he still wanted to continue the family tradition of mass media publications which he inherited from his father, the late Don Alejandro Roces, Sr.
Specifically, Roces still wanted to pursue the comics industry which he and Tony Velasquez started in 1947.

But since Ace had folded up due to laborer’s strike a few months before, Don Ramon wanted to create a new comics publications which would grab back the market lost to small competitors like GMS Publishing Corporation, PSG Publications, Extra Publishing, Bookman, Sosayti, and the CRAF Publications.

Indeed, the comics industry was too profitable industry, that it would be unimaginable the rich Roces clan would suddenly withdraw from this business.

Roces did not want the company named for him though, or even carrying the Roces name, since it was just too recent that his Ace Publications closed down, lest Ace’s former employees file claims in court.

Hence, from that meeting between Don Ramon, the Velasquez brothers and Ramon Marcelino, was born the Graphic Arts Service, Incorporated or as it became more popularly known, the GASI. The company was formally launched on August 1, 1962, with Damy Velasquez acting as publisher, Tony Velasquez as General Manager, and Ramon Marcelino as editor. GASI’s offices and printing press were located in Gen. Solano St., San Miguel, Manila.

The first comicbook of GASI was called Kislap Komiks, first published in September 1962. In October of the same year, GASI produced its second comicbook, the Pioneer Komiks. In January 1963, the Aliwan Komiks was born, followed in May by the Pinoy Komiks, and in August by Pinoy Klasiks, and one month later, Holiday Komiks. The last baby of GASI was Teens Weekly Komiks, which first saw publication in 1968.

A Gallery of Early GASI Komiks-Magazines

Kislap Komiks

Pioneer Komiks

Pinoy Komiks

Pinoy Klasiks

Aliwan Komiks

GASI: Restructuring

In June 1968, a major revamp on the top management of GASI was implemented by Don Ramon, who now decided that it was time to put the Roces name on GASI. Hence, Ramon Marcelino resigned from GASI to organize the new Ace Publications (also under the Roces clan) and Damy Velasquez replaced him in the editorship.

Tony Velasquez remained as General Manager of GASI. The position of publisher was given to Dona Elena Roces-Guerrero, one of Don Ramon’s two daughters. The other daughter, Dona Carmen Roces-Davila took charge of the new Ace Publications founded by Ramon Marcelino.

By the end of the 1960s, the Roceses were once again on the top of the comics publishing business in the Philippines. Their competitors either sold their comic titles to the Roceses (like PSG’s United Komiks, Kidlat Komiks and Universal Komiks) or closed down permanently (like CRAF Publications and Sosayti). Others held on until well into the early 1970s, until heavy censorship under the Martial Law regime forced them to fold up too.

In 1972, Tony Velasquez retired as General Manager of GASI, and was replaced by Mrs. C.P. Paguio, a protege of Dona Elena Roces. In gratitude to his long service to the Roceses, and his immense contributions to the Philippine comics industry, Roces gave Tony Velasquez lifetime royalties to the sales of GASI comic books. In addition, Roces gave Tony Velasquez a big apartment inside the GASI property (located in 18th Avenue, Cubao, Quezon City) lifetime free of rent.

Velasquez refused this generosity, thinking "delicadeza" that other editors might regard it as favoritism. But the old man insisted, saying that he would not accept no as an answer. Hence, from that time until Velasquez death in 1997, he and his wife Pilar lived in that big house in GASI. After Roces' death in 1993, Velasquez was pressured by the heirs to vacate the house.

The Martial Law Years

On September 21, 1972 President Marcos placed the entire country under Martial rule. The komiks, as well as other mass media, was heavily censored. The content of komiks must strictly adhere to the moral regeneration program of President Marcos' New Society.

The economic policy of Martial Law also affected the physical look of the komiks. To support local paper manufacturers, Marcos ordered that the publishers use cheap local paper materials instead of the more durable imported paper they were used to print their magazines . It was actually a patriotic move, but the look of the komiks became also cheap.

With komiks printed in cheap paper, and writers forced to write stories that only adhered to the social program of President Marcos , the komiks inevitably lost its appeal to the mass readers. Even Tony Velasquez, shortly prior to his retirement in GASI, was forced to lend his prestige to the kind of komiks approved by Marcos.

At Marcos' insistence, he wrote a novel entitled "The Green Thing" a fantasy novel that encouraged the Filipinos to support Imelda Marcos' program of 'Green Revolution"

A Komiks Resurgence

It was only after the lifting of Martial Law that the komiks somewhat regained life, regaining most of its lost mass-readership. Yet, in all those years of censorship under Martial Law, the Roceses' GASI and Atlas still dominated the field of komiks publishing.

As proof that it was still going strong, three more titles were added in 1982 to the GASI comics fleet: Nobela Klasiks, Kuwento Komiks and Damdamin Komiks. The GASI (and Atlas) had all but monopolized the komiks industry in the Philippines. Their market share account for more than 70 percent of the total sales of komiks in the Philippines. The remaining 30 percent shared by small publishers like Rex, Bookman, and GMS.

The early1980s also saw a rise in mass readership of komiks, such that millions of komiks copies were being printed for distribution not only in the Philippines but abroad, particularly countries with large Filipino population.

The surge in readership may be due to the lifting of Martial Law in 1981 by President Marcos. More writers became bolder in their chosen themes, and the komiks was no longer dominated by fantasy adventure fare about caped superheroes, talking horses, and the like.

The more relevant social themes became a major genre in komiks. This field was dominated by such talented writers as Elena Patron, Nerissa Cabral, Gilda Olvidado, Carlo Caparas, and Pablo S. Gomez. Their serials of drama set in the local theme of poverty and/or oppression ( a hint of Marcos dictatorship) became favorites. Themes of poor people succeeding in life because of their kindheartedness were also favorites. Hence the success of such titles as "Bukas Luluhod ang mga tala" and "Bituing Walang Ningning", and many more.

The Decline and Fall of GASI

This resurgence in komiks interest was short-lived, however, for other factors began to affect the komiks industry once more. The advent of other alternative entertainment hurt the komiks industry.

Even in the early 1970s, the television had already been accessible to many Filipino homes. Reruns of old black and white Tagalog movies were frequently aired on the televisions, as well as game and entertainment shows like Student Canteen and Tawag ng Tanghalan. Also Japanese anime started to creep into Filipino TV screens at this time, with Voltes V, Daimos, and Mazinger Z being most popular.

But perhaps the biggest rival of komiks entertainment was the importation of American TV shows in Filipino television. They captured the attention of the Filipinos in the mid and late 1970s. The Incredible Hulk (starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno), Six Million Dollar Man, Wild Wild West, Combat, Charlie’s Angels, were the biggest shows on Filipino television.

Meanwhile, the arrival of the telenovelas in the 1980s (most notably Ana Liza and Flordeluna) sealed the fate of the Philippine comis industry. Now, entertainment is no longer the monopoly of komiks, and Filipinos even did not have to pay to watch television. There was no problem even in the barrios where most people cannot afford televisions. One TV set was enough in one neighborhood; it was a tradition among Filipinos to let neighbors watch on your TV.

By the 1990s, the comics industry was in such a bad state that Tony Velasquez, living in retirement, refused to comment on an interview about the prospects of the future of Philippine komiks industry. The advent of the video games, the Romance pocketbooks, all contributed to the decline of the Philippine comis industry, not to mention the later arrival of gadgets like pages and cellphones, and the birth of the internet.

GASI one by one cancelled their titles, and shifted more in publishing movie-magazines, the gossip type where popular with movie fans. More and more, the komiks was relegated as the “other publication”, being published only for the sake of tradition. In 1997, Tony Velasquez, founder of the old Ace Publications and GASI, and the recognized “Father of Philippine Comics” died in GASI compound. He never saw the re-emergence of the industry he loved and founded, and died of a broken heart.

His death saved him from further hurt, though, for later that year, GASI was finally dissolved as a publisher of comics.

A curtain was therefore lowered down on one of the great publications company in Philippine comics history.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Bomba Komiks

Bomba Komiks is a generic term applied to any Philippine komiks magazines that contain adult-oriented materials especially those that contain graphic nudity and sexual themes. In Tagalog, the word Bomba means "nude" or "naked"

It is not known exactly when the first Bomba Komiks appeared in the Philippines. In the early 1960s, some fly-by-night publishers began issuing underground komiks with adult contents. One of these was Akda Komiks, first published in 1964. Although this komiks did not contain any frontal nudity, it nevertheless contained stories about illicit affairs and suggestive sexual themes.

By the end of the 1960s, there were already numerous Bomba Komiks sold in the streets of Manila, most containing frontal nudity. Many veteran komiks writers and illustrators were lured into the additional income offered by the Bomba Komiks. Many of them illustrated in Bomba Komiks although they somewhat changed their drawing styles.
Understandably though, they rarely used their real names in writing or drawing, preferring to use pen names instead.

Maybe the most successful of the Bomba Komiks publishers was Cil Evangelista, a movie talent manager. His komiks gained a following for portraying movie stars in the nude. For sometime Cil almost gained cult status, somewhat a Filipino version of Hugh Heffner.

The years 1967-72 were the peak years of the Bomba Komiks. They were sold like hotcakes by middle aged men and maybe women as well. Though they were not sold openly in newstands, they were however hidden beneath the clean-type komiks ,and only a suggestive ask can make the salesman offer it discreetly.

Understandably, many legitimate komiks publishers complain about the proliferation of Bomba Komiks. It was a just complaint. Religious and feminist organizations were rallying against the Bomba Komiks. Many people thought that all komiks-magazines contained sexual contents, and so even the clean-type komiks suffered a decline in sales. The stigma of the Bomba Komiks affected the wholesome ones, and it contributed to the decline of the komiks industry in the early 1970s.

When President Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972, the Bomba Komiks was finally suppressed. This does not mean though that Marcos was in any way a moral person. It was an open secret that Marcos was himself involved in many illicit sexual affairs.

The Bomba Komiks surged back to life after the lifting of martial law in 1981. In the mid-1980s, after the EDSA Revolution that overthrew Marcos, a few titles began to appear, also clandestinely. These included Betamax Komiks, Seksi Komiks, and Sizzling Hot Komiks.
In the 1990s up to the present, many Bomba Komiks titles were stiull being sold in Recto and Quiapo area with such titles as L na L, Super Hot, and Xerex Xaviera, and numerous others.

As long as there are people wanting to deviate from reading the ordinary komiks, and as well as men in general are fascinated by sex, the Bomba Komiks will still be around. Even if society and religion consider it taboo.

FOR ADULTS ONLY! The following is my collection of Bomba Komiks from ancient times to the present:
Akda Komiks, one of the earliest Bomba Komiks in the Philippines. The cover shows a priest following the woman he desires.

Cil Evangelista's Uhaw Komiks gained cult folowing in the early 1970s. It not only portrayed nude illustratios but nude photos of movie starlets as well.

A sample page from Bomba Komiks

Cil Evangelista's Censored Komiks

BF Comics Vol.1 No.1

A Sample of pin-up page for the movie starlets

Game Komiks (subtitled: with clean drawings and moral lessons)

Exclusive Komiks

Cil Evangelista's Exclusive Komiks

VIP Komiks Vol.1 No.1

Amazona Komiks Vol.1 No.1 1970

Leo Zapata's Topless Komiks Vol.1 No.1

Another Exclusive Komiks by Cil Evangelista

Premium For Adults Only Komiks Vol.1 No.10

Super Hot Komiks #187, 1995

Monday, March 12, 2007

Mga Kuwento Ni Lola Basyang: Classic Tagalog Tales in Komiks

I have been re-reading old issues of the Liwayway recently, the oldest existing Tagalog magazine in the Philippines. I am a big fan of the Liwayway, especially the older issues from the prewar up to the early 1970s.

It's really hard nowadays to find vintage copies of old Liwayway. Like Tagalog komiks, Liwayway was very popular back then, but very few Filipinos managed to collect them; the old Liwayway copies have suffered the same fate of the old komiks: pambalot ng tinapa (dried fish wrapper).

I liked the Liwayway not only because I enjoyed the stories in it, but also because I learn so much from it, the most important of which is my understanding of the Tagalog language. I have a deep admiration for the Tagalog language, and by reading Liwayway, my own Tagalog communication skills are enriched.
Yesterday, while browsing an old copy of Liwayway, I found one of the classic anthologies in Tagalog literature: "Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang".
Don Severino Reyes, the famous Tagalog playwright of the early 1900s-who wrote the immortal "Walang Sugat" play- was the man behind the Lola Basyang stories.

"Ang Hari sa Bundok na Ginto" Tagalog Klasiks #7. Written by Severino Reyes, comics adaptation by Pedrito Reyes, illustrations by Jesus Ramos. Cover art by Maning De Leon.

Popularly known as Mang Binoy, Don Severino Reyes, was also the co-founder and editor of the Liwayway in 1923. The very first years of the Liwayway was a struggle, and there was scarcity of literature to include in its contents, so Mang Binoy created the "Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang" in 1925 as filler. He did not sign it with his name though because he thought it was unethical, while still serving as editor of the magazine.

And so Mang Binoy used the byline "Lola Basyang" after a friend's neighbor named Gervacia Guzman de Zamora, who was known as "Tandang Basyang". It was from her where Mang Binoy took the inspiration to create"Lola Basyang".

In real life, Tandang Basyang was described as an old bespectacled woman in baro't saya, seated in her famous silyon, and reading her timeless classic stories- dug from her ancient baul- to her fascinated grandchildren.

The grandchildren were more than eager to hear stories about faraway castles, heroic princes, lovely maidens, giants, and elves. Always, at the end of each story is a moral lesson to be learned.
The first story of the "Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang" was entitled ang "Plautin ni Periking", a wonderful story of a kindhearted kid who has a magical flute and flying carpet.

It was the first of the more than 400 "Lola Basyang" stories to have graced the Liwayway, and only discontinued because of Mang Binoy's death in 1942.

Ang Sirena sa Ilog Pasig. Tagalog Klasiks #5.

In 1949, Mang Binoy's son, Pedrito Reyes, decided to revive the "Lola Basyang" stories. Working on the original scripts of his father, Pedrito transformed Lola Basyang's stories into komiks form, appearing in the earliest isuues of the Tagalog Klasiks. The illustrations were done by Maning De Leon, Jesus Ramos, and later on Ruben Yandoc and Jess Jodloman.

Ang Sinsing na Tanso. Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang. Illustrated by Jess Jodloman.

The "Lola Basyang" stories became more popular with its komiks versions, because now, Filipinos can visualize the stories by means of the illustrations. Later on, in the early 1950s, based on the komiks versions, a succesful movie adaptation was created. Now, GMA Channel 7 is adapting the stories into a television series.

Well, that's just goes on to say that a classic never goes out of style.
And the Liwayway and "Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang" never will.

Haring Tulisan. Mga Kuwento ni Lola Basyang. Illustrated by Ruben Yandoc.

Ang Prinsipeng Unggoy.Tagalog Klasiks #3.1949. Author's collection.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Hi. Happy New Year to all of you!

I'm very sorry for not being able to update regularly this "other" blog of mine. But no, this is not yet a dead blog..I will keep on writing about Philippine komiks history here so I hope you will drop by from time to time for updates and new discoveries.

The holidays, instead of giving me ample time for research, kept me busy more than ever. As you may have read in my previous entries, I am researching on the early Philippine cartoons from the Spanish era to the pre-war period.

I was able to discover so many interesting materials like an old comic strip from the Philippine Revolution era, as well as some turn-of-the-century comic strips from period newspapers. I am not sure if luck or serendipity kept me on unearthing some of these very important materials, but I will eventually share them here with you, just like what I did in the past.

Last night, as I was browsing through some of my old komiks files, I was able to find this inserted one of the pages of a very old komik book:

The world's smallest Tagalog Komiks, a free comic book inside a Bubble Gum wrapper. Cool!

Well, as far as I know, this is the smallest Tagalog komik book ever published. Actually, it was never published at all in a regular manner. During the 1950s and 1960s, a Bubble Gum factory called Columbia Candy, sold bubble gums with this miniature komik book (created by Tony Velasquez) inside as a freebie. It is very possible that the previous owner of the komiks bought a Columbia chewing gum and got this miniature komiks free. He then inserted this small komiks to the komiks he was reading(now my komiks), as a page marker.

Anyway, that's what just came to my mind, but maybe there are other circumstances behind. What is more important was that I was able to discover this. This miniature komiks is just a very exciting dicovery for me. The only other person I know who has one like this is my friend and fellow komiks collector Architect Alex Villaflor. But instead of Kenkoy, he has got the title "Kulafu" the character created by pioneer comics illustrator Francisco Reyes.

Well, all these materials I am gathering will find their place in the komiks museum I am envisioning in the near future.