Sunday, August 19, 2007

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.


dodongflores said...

Hello, Pareng Dennis. I'm amazed at your adeptness in writing about the Philippine Komiks History. I was reading your essay diligently with a dropped jaw. I would want to read more but my time is very much limited. I'll come back here some other time. I'll write my comment in every blog entry that you have here just so to indicate I completed to read one.
Good luck, Pareng Dennis. Write more and keep up this noble task...

Dennis said...

Thank you Pareng Dodong!

dreadknoxx said...

our house is just few blocks blocks away from gasi and im proud to say that during my elementary days lagi ako bumibili ng komiks nila. pinoy komiks, pinoy klasik, holiday (evry wed) funny komiks (evry fri) sat and sun lang hindi. i also used to attend seminars coz hilig ko mag sketch.ill surely miss those days. and by the way fan sa sobrang hilig ko sa mga komiks ng gasi hindi ako bumibili ng gawa ng atlas. correct me if im wrong sila yung local version natin ng dc and marvel.

Jet said...

dennis, congrats on this well-written and excellently researched article. i am one of the editors of gasi in the 80s. i believe it is worth mentioning that one of don ramon's apo, wahoo guerrero (anak ni dona elena)tried to infuse new ideas in comics publication during the 80s. he published sci-fi, horror and ala-mad magazine comics genres to keep up with the times. wahoo is also one of the pinoeers of the pocket comics, via SPEED (sci-fi theme). mr. ollie samaniego is another editor who re-invented comics via his horror themed publications like Kilabot. saksi ako sa huling bigwas ng comics industry nung 80s. tama ka pinatay ito ng teknolohiya.