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As I See It
Cartoons, comic strips and ‘komiks’

By Neal Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 20:57:00 12/10/2009

Filed Under: Christmas, Books

IF YOU STILL do not know what Christmas gifts to give to your friends and relatives, here is a suggestion: Give a copy of the beautiful coffee-table book, ?The First 100 Years of Philippine Komiks and Cartoons,? published by Yonzon Associates Inc. This is the first comprehensive compilation of Philippine komiks and cartoons, and comic strips dating back to the prewar years when the first comic strips were published by the vernacular magazines of the Ramon Roces Publications.

For this, we have to thank Boboy Yonzon, head honcho of Yonzon Associates, son of prolific painter Hugo Yonzon Jr., and president of the Samahang Kartunista ng Pilipinas. He was able to get copies of old and rare comic strips which are reproduced, in color and in black and white, in the book.

The main writer of the book is Dr. John A. Lent of Temple University, a comics scholar. Yonzon noticed him when he wrote an article, ?The First Seventy-Five Years of Philippine Comics,? which appeared in the US magazine, The Comics Artist. Yonzon asked Lent to expand it for a coffee-table book. The result is the book I am writing about.

Aside from the very old cartoons, the book has many interesting information. For example, do you know that among our earliest cartoonists was Jose Rizal? Also among the early comic strip artists were Fernando Amorsolo, Vicente Manansala and Carlos V. Francisco, all now National Artists for painting. The book has samples of their early comic strips.

And do you know that our early comic strips and komiks were copied from American cartoons? (For the edification of readers, cartoons, comic strips and komiks are different. Samples of cartoons are the editorial cartoons in the opinion section of newspapers; comic strips are those printed regularly in the comics page of the entertainment section; komiks are the serialized stories in vernacular and komiks magazines, comics spelled in Filipino.)

Some comics aficionados claim that our early comic strips were modeled after American comic characters: Kenkoy after Dagwood of ?Blondie,? Lukas Malakas after Popeye, Pamboy at Osang after Mutt and Jeff, Kulafu and Hagibis after Tarzan, and Goyo at Kikay from ?Bringing Up Father.?

Among contemporary comics characters, everybody can see that Darna, the most popular and enduring of Filipino comics characters, was modeled after Wonder Woman. The act of uttering the words ?Darna? and ?Narda? that transform the heroine from one or the other was an adaptation of ?Shazam? which transforms Billy Batson into Captain Marvel and back to Billy Batson. Darna has been made into a series of motion pictures and television telenovelas, and no less than 10 shapely actresses, from Rosa del Rosario to Vilma Santos and Marian Rivera, have flown through the skies as Darna.

According to the book, Darna was first known as ?Varga,? designed and first drawn by the author himself, Mars Ravelo. It debuted in Bulaklak Magazine in 1947. Ravelo was a good storyteller but not a good artist, however. Darna did not take off until another artist, the young Nestor Redondo, ?gave flesh to what would become an endearing cultural icon, using clean but powerful and graceful lines that would be emulated by other artists for decades. Although Darna looks very much like Wonder Woman, Ravelo insisted she was modeled after Superman and ?thus has the power of flight, super strength, and invincibility.??

Darna was so popular that a weekly ?Darna Comics? was published ?until the Ravelo family withdrew its permission for it.?

After disappearing for almost 10 years, Darna was revived in 2002 by Mango Comics which came out with a glossy full-color series. Written by Boboy Yonzon and drawn by Ryan Orosco, Ian Medina and Gilbert Monsanto, the launching was given the works in publicity. Darna became a blockbuster television series on GMA Network which broke all TV ratings and made Angel Locsin and Rivera popular.

Another enduring comics character of Ravelo is ?Dyesebel,? which is inspired by many old stories of mermaids. The name was adapted from the biblical name Jezebel. Other characters by Ravelo were ?Bondying? and ?Roberta? which were made into top-grossing movies.

Another comics author who is a better storyteller than illustrator is Carlos J. Caparas, author of the ?Panday? franchise made popular by actor Fernando Poe Jr. who made four Panday movies. Bong Revilla and Jinggoy Estrada made one each. It was made into a television series in 2005 and 2006.

In the FPJ ?Panday? movies, it is interesting to note, said the book, that ?it was another prolific komiks novelist who wrote the scripts? Pablo S. Gomez, the man who gave Caparas his first break via his PSG Publishing.?

Caparas was a former night watchman ?who whiled away the boring hours by drawing and writing komiks stories. Caparas, like Ravelo, however, was a better storyteller than illustrator. His more popular creations were drawn by somebody else. So that when Caparas was made National Artist for Visual Arts, there was an uproar. Fellow komiks creator and artist Gerry Alanguilan launched an online protest. Caparas cannot be a National Artist for Visual Arts, Alanguilan said, because he did not illustrate his komiks creations.

Anyway, some of the best komiks novelists and illustrators are Francisco Coching, Francisco Reyes, Nestor Redondo, Alfredo Alcala, Fred Carillo, Alex Nino, Pablo S. Gomez, Tenny Henzon, Federico Javinal, Jesse Santos, Menny Martin and many more.

(The best editorial cartoonists and comic strip cartoonists in another column.)

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