Komiks nuts: Filipino komiks and the four-color dream factory
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I did not grow up in a reading household, and by that I mean there were no leather armchairs in the family living room nor were our shelves lined with hard-bound editions of “War and Peace” and “Great Expectations.” Although my father is a voracious reader, he has never spent a centavo on a reading material. Every single printed matter he has ever read had been either given to him as a gift, borrowed from (or bequeathed by) a neighbor or relative, or rescued from a humiliating stint as a smoked fish wrapper.
My first introduction to reading for pleasure came the way it did for many children of my generation, in the form of mass-produced comics magazines that we Filipinos call “komiks.” Unlike their glossy American counterparts and the Japanese manga, the Filipino komiks of my generation were printed on second-grade (newsprint) paper stock and featured characters with anatomically achievable chest-waist-hips ratios and did not look like Sailormoon or Koji Kabuto.
I stumbled into my first komiks underneath a stack of old newspapers and dog-eared Reader’s Digest and Life magazines that my father had stashed under a hardwood side table. The title of the komiks eludes me now, but I remember the cover art: a pair of star-crossed lovers locked in a passionate embrace and all around them are faces of people wearing grim, disapproving expressions. A pedestrian artistic adaptation of a timeless Shakespearean romantic tragedy, this komiks serial also borrowed heavily from radio soaps that told tales of love against all odds. Although my serendipitous find did keep me entertained for a good half-hour, I can’t say I was instantly hooked.
My whirlwind love affair with komiks would start a bit later, when, while playing in a neighbor’s house, I spied a komiks whose cover art work appealed to my young imagination. The cover showed a pig, sitting at the dining table and holding a spoon and a fork in each trotter, looking disbelievingly at his (literally) moving repast: a hotdog on legs, ant legs, that is. Unlike the throbbingly vivid cover art in komiks targetted to more mature readers, this one was done in jolly, eye-catching pastels. I wasted no time in committing my obliging mother to ply me with a copy of “Pilipino Funny Komiks,” every week from then on.
“Funny Komiks” featured a menagerie of easily likable characters in kid-friendly storylines. Which man, woman or child could resist the charms of Pat V. Reyes’s “Niknok,” a mischievous but well-meaning young boy who spoke with an adorable stammer and had a knack for getting himself in petty trouble? Another instant favorite was the unforgettable tandem of Haring Matsungit and his bumbling right-hand-man Matsutsu , whose foibles and follies in the simian kingdom of Roni Santiago’s “Planet opdi Eyps” echoed the chemistry of comedic dynamic duos of local cinema . While I had never had a pet in my life, reading about the adventures of Leandro S. Martinez’s anthropomorphic superfeline “Superkat,” made me wish I had my own “Ming” who could thwart villains bent on world domination and rescue me from up a tree without losing a whisker. And who else except legendary cartoonist Larry Alcala could meld social commentary, art and humor, mostly about the Filipino way of life, through “Bing Bam Bung”?
It wasn’t long before I moved on to “adult” (no, not that kind of adult) komiks, lured by fantastic tales of a green-hued serpentine demi-god who fancies nubile girls, alien cannibals unleashed into a hapless humanity by a team of unsuspecting scientists, a scrappy butcher by day who’s street fighter by night who aspires to boxing greatness, an ugly duckling who transforms into a beautiful swan by the power of an enchanted chemise, and a singing contest winner who rises from destitution and surpasses the fame of her ungrateful superstar idol. Funny Komiks became such a hot commodity it began publishing twice weekly.
Enterprising neighbors who owned stores or newsstands rented the komiks on the side for 25 centavos a piece, only a quarter of its purchase price. The catch was that the komiks had to be read in front of the store, no bringing home the komiks to share with the household. Two or more people renting at the same time could swap komiks while respecting the “read on-site” rule.I looked forward to weekends when I would splurge whatever was left of my allowance on komiks rentals, which became a modest revenue stream for newsstand owners.
Several masterpieces of Filipino literature have been given the comic book treatment. High school students who found the language of 16th-century epic poetry “Ibong Adarna” or Francisco Balagtas’s romantic epic “Florante at Laura” too florid or arcane found solace in easy-to-understand comic book adaptations. Jose P. Rizal’s socio-political novels “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo” have also been adapted into comic books.
But the countless summer days spent enraptured by stories of mystical beings and woebegone lives would come to an end, for me, initially, and for the rest of the country not long after. I was growing up, ready to ditch komiks for other forms of mass entertainment. My family became the proud owners of a newfangled machine that brought Hollywood blockbusters into the living room. I started skipping the neighborhood komiks stand to make a detour towards the video rental shop. In school girls traded their Nancy Drew mysteries for Sweet Dreams and Sweet Valley High romances. “Clear copy” VHS tapes became so highly sought that they had waiting lists.
One by one the komiks titles that onced fanned out proudly across busy sidewalks disappeared. Funny Komiks retreated to being a weekly publication, before bowing out to the modern times that no longer had a place for it. It was in the early 2000s when the plug was pulled on the Heidelberg presses that had churned out our four-color dream factories. I wonder how many people of my generation lament the day the komiks stopped coming.
Typical of young children growing up in urban middle class households, my son struggles with the Filipino language. I sit down with him and painstakingly translate his Filipino and Sibika textbooks. We read Lampara and Adarna storybooks together. His Filipino is, shall we say, a work in progress. Some days wish I had a stack of old-school komiks to read with him, as I bored him to tears with tales of those long lost summer days.
You can find more more Pilipino Funny Komiks covers in Alden Francisco’s Pinterest board.
A few more Filipino komiks covers from Marius Maronilla’s Pinterest board.