Tuesday, August 25, 2009

For the Love of the Tagalog Komiks

For as long as I can remember, I have loved komiks and the entire experience of reading Tagalog komiks. When I was growing up, to help me in my reading, my father always bought me komiks. Our old house in Cubao was near the GASI offices in 18th Avenue, and there my father would buy back issues of Pinoy Komiks, Aliwan, Pinoy Klasiks, Pioneer, and those horde of komiks magazines being published by GASI.

There were plenty of horror komiks magazines during those times, with prices ranging from 75 centavos to 1 peso. I was very attracted to komiks with horrifying drawings. I remember quite clearly Devil Car by Vic Poblete, Cannibal by Jim Fernandez, Goomboo Roomboo by Mars Ravelo, and The Hands by Hal Santiago.

Yet, the beauty of Tagalog Komiks is the diversity it offered its readers. In an issue of Aliwan Komiks, for instance, the pages are alternately filled with horror serials, love shorts, fun page, cartoon strips, action, melodrama, etc. It catered to all people of different tastes and ages. Nothing is limited in the imagination and the komiks provide the reader to navigate their fantasies with them.

Tony Velasquez, Father of the Tagalog Komiks.
He created Kenkoy in 1929--the very first cartoon character in Asia.

(Dennis Villegas collection)

Sometimes when we didn't have enough money, we just rented komiks from a Sari-sari store in the neighborhood. The komiks were all lined up like sinampay in front of the store, and there we would rent for 20 centavos each for the latest issues. The rent time was only three hours so we better read immediately.

In the 1980s, with some money saved from my school allowance, I began buying komiks on my own. There really wasn't any value on them, but I thought I would like to put into folders my favorite komiks magazines. What fascinated me was the idea of having something tangible to be able to browse on rainy afternoons, rather than make them into pambalot ng tinapa or fuel for our cooking stove. I didn't realize then that I was starting a collection.

Ang Alipin ni Hogarta
(Dennis Villegas collection)

Basahang Ginto by Mars Ravelo and Elpidio Torres.
The 1950s komiks were excellent reading and visual materials

(Dennis Villegas collection)

Ironically, I stopped buying komiks during the mid 1980s. I may have been occupied with school, and certainly during those times, my interest in komiks somewhat waned, possibly due to the fact that there were other hobbies I could concentrate on. My father went to Saudi Arabia (and back then, it seemed that all other fathers were in Saudi Arabia). When my father came back, he brought with him chocolates, a stereo component, several cassette tapes, and a very interesting toy called Game and Watch, a pocket game in which a helicopter drops a marine solder into the sea and my task is to catch the guy in my boat or he drowns or eaten by an octopus. The game was the start of the computer craze that was to dominate the youth's interest in those times.

When I finally had a regular job, I went back into collecting komiks. As far as I know, very few people collected Tagalog komiks, and so I was challenged to collect only Tagalog komiks. I never cared for Batman, Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, or Superman. I wanted Darna, Bondying, Kenkoy, Tsikiting Gubat, Ponyang Halobaybay, Panthomanok, Kalabog en Bosyo, Zuma, or Mahimud Ali. My main objective was to collect the oldest possible komiks magazines.

Bomba Komiks: Adult-oriented komiks
(Dennis Villegas collection)

Since our house was just very near the GASI and ATLAS compound, I started inquiring if they had back issues willing to sell. But the General Manager Deo Alvarez bluntly told me that their back issues were not for sale. I was allowed to see the collection, though, and to my horror, I found that their great collection of komiks was stored in a damp and humid warehouse without proper ventilation. And so up to this day, Atlas compound has the largest un-inventorized Tagalog komiks collection in the world, where the komiks are already in a state of decomposition. I give a few years and this magnificent collection will be destroyed by the elements if not given proper care.

But then, fortunately, I had other sources of komiks.

Vir Redondo was a friend of my father's, and at that time, he was frequenting GASI to sell some of his old komiks. He sold me some of his collections before he died. I also purchased many bound komiks from the late Tony Velasquez, Tony Tenorio and Pablo S. Gomez. People told me I was crazy because I was spending all my salary into all these komiks magazines. Yet I give thanks to my parents who supported my passion and even loaned me money to purchase collections.

In the late 1990s, I discovered that some komiks were being sold in local auctions for 100-200 pesos each. I couldn't afford many but I thought this was my chance to build my collection. Thankfully, auction prices never went high than their initial prices simply because nobody, back then, was buying komiks. I was the only crazy one.

This general lack of interest in komiks has what led me to take interest in preserving this cultural richness of this unique literary and visual artform. As far as I'm concerned, the Philippines has the richest komiks culture in Asia, and possibly in the whole world. No country had a richer comics culture than the Philippines. Our komiks was not only a reflection of our people's fantasies, but a mirror of our mores, our sufferings, our history, our beliefs, and our religion.

By the start of the year 2000, I had accumulated so much komiks materials that I decided to sell the duplicates, and I used the money to buy more komiks and, this time, original art. In time I was able to open a komiks gallery in Cubao, was able to reprint the first comic book in the Philippines, and opened this blog--all for the benefit of cultural awareness of the importance of Tagalog komiks.