WHO IS THE KING OF PHILIPPINE COMIC BOOKS?
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.
Supremong Kapre (Floro Dery) will take another stab at a topic that, according to him, would rattle many comic book fans: Filipino Comics Kings with no crowns, scepters, throne, and even kingdoms.
Well, maybe I should present who the possible candidates are for this title.
It is of paramount importance, therefore, to ask the comic book fans to cast their votes on whom they think is the True Comic Book King of Philippine Comic Books. I am including the names here of the candidates. Your vote will be counted according to your choice. Post the name of your choice and the reason you think why he should be called the King of Philippine Comic Books. Since there is transparency here, dagdag-bawas will not work. So, cheaters, you're out of luck.
Here are our candidates:
1. MARS RAVELO
2. FRANCISCO COCHING
3. CLODUALDO DEL MUNDO
4. PABLO GOMEZ
5. CARLO CAPARAS
Each candidate has some strong points and weak points as a comic book creator. Since I am very familiar with the bulk of works of these candidates, let me give you some backgrounder about them.
His comic serials had mass appeal and quite entertaining. He had a solid grip on human foible. The psychological darkness of his characters even reminded me of Dostoevsky's characters. He had a wide sense of humor. Watch a Ravelo serial translated to film and you’d see the audience in the theater laughing in one moment, then crying the next. Many of his serials reflected the Filipino way of life. Many of his heroes were ordinary people and/or the ones on the fringes of society – the poor or the marginalized: Kwatang, Facifica Falayfay, Roberta, Gabriel in Maruja, the physically ugly spinster Bruna Bangengak, snake head Valentina, fish bottom Dyesebel, the bashful Kapre Goro, the Impakta head behind Rona, and even the deadly Bartola. His antiheroes are all looking for poetic justice. They all possessed good hearts until they were trodden by their fellow human beings, generally, the brutish beast macho men: Valentina after being bum rapped by her town mates and lover Edwardo for the mere reason that she was born different (I mean being born a snake head is different, isn’t it?). Ursula, who was a victim of domestic violence, and after deliberately entombed by her husband in an old cemetery, she ate rotting flesh of the dead, and soon she was on her merry way to becoming an Asuwang, and, finally ate the liver of her husband. Bartola, for being fooled by men due to her physical ugliness, so, when she used that ax to butcher the men, we can’t exactly blame her 100% for doing so or can we? Mars Ravelo didn’t spare any subject under the sun: child abuse, homosexuality, nymphomania, satyriasis, metempsychosis (reincarnation), psychic power, fear, prostitution, necrophilia – you name it, he had written it (except Adobo westerns which was Coching’s favorite, and Sinigang Royalty, which was Clodualdo del Mundo’s forté). He also wrote stories from all sorts of genre: fantasy, horror, adventure (of the Disney type); action, drama, political, period pieces. His period stories such as Maruja, Asuwang, Alicia Alonzo, and Bittersweet were well-researched and authentic looking, from costuming to social mores and general attitudes of people who lived in the era the story was set. He had never declared himself as RP’s Comics king, but the readers did. No one in his colleagues questioned the title, and since he lived until his old age, this title was attached to his name for many years, until the komiks congress happened recently, when suddenly, someone unabashedly declared himself as king of RP comics. Ravelo, despite his popularity, never threw his weight around. He never sought the limelight. He never resorted to ridiculous “costuming” or had worn a certain laughable get up such as wearing a mask like Captain Barbell, or a pair of wings on his forehead like Darna. He refused to be interviewed and call attention to himself. He didn’t even brag the fact that he had saved Sampaguita Pictures from being bankrupt after the studio had burnt down. Roberta, starring Tessie Agana, had saved the studio that produced many, many more movies for several years. Ravelo had the most serials made into films compared to Francisco Coching, Pablo Gomez, Clodualdo del Mundo, and Carlo Caparas.
He decidedly geared his serials towards the low brow crowd. He resorted to adding subplots to his serials that sometimes would go astray, weakening the story proper. He tended to “lift” characters from western comics to cater to the fans who loved to see foreign superheroes as local heroes.
I did an experiement here in North America by showing photos of Ravelo’s superheroes to westerners who had never seen our local superheroes. Here’s their response: DARNA - WONDER WOMAN • LASTIKMAN - PLASTIC MAN • VALENTINA - MEDUSA • KAPTEN BARBELL - SUPERMAN WITH A BARBELL. He also used well-known world celebrities and made them Filipinos, with his own original stories but nevertheless patterned from the well-known personalities: Rosa Rossini was definitely Dame Margot Fonteyn de Arias; Bruldo Grajo was none other than Edgar Cayce, the American psychic who even predicted the exact date of his own death.
He was known for his action serials, but what really shone were the contemporary stories of his own time, the 40s and the 50s: Talipandas, Gigolo, Tatlong Magdalena, Gumuhong Bantayog, Maldita, Waldas. His characters are mostly Sirkian: raw and down-to-earth, they are battered by forces beyond their control, and their lives were outlined by cultural mores that constrained their behavior and their moral choices. Most of his serials were made into films, about a third of the bulk of Ravelo’s creations. Coching’s drawings made the RP comic fans awestruck, despite the short height of his heroes – something that his colleague artists questioned because most of them seemed to follow the 8-head structure by Andrew Loomis; but it made sense to me, because he was just drawing what a true Filipino looked like during his time: not too tall and more on the mesomorph/endomorph type.
His Adobo Westerns were treated by his critics as tongue-in-cheek and I’m with them, knowing that this era never existed in the Philippines. This genre was similar to what Sergio Leone started in Italy, the Spaghetti Western (and I won’t be surprised if he got the idea from one of Coching’s Adobo westerns). His comics serials catered more to the male audience, leaving the women out in the cold.
The use of Deus ex machina to solve insurmountable conflict in some of his stories rendered them weak and undesirable. His period stories were convoluted and contrived (El Indio, Barbaro). The subjects he tackled in his stories were limited to action-adventure, domestic drama, and relationships, making Ravelo’s serials more versatile and adventurous.
Gomez’ protagonists are usually underdogs. Everybody identifies with underdogs, hence, the endearment of his characters to the comics readers, mostly the women. Life-like as if you have known them from somewhere, Gomez’ characters breathe with life. The readers identify their dreams and their hopes, agonize with their trials, celebrate with their triumphs. His storylines are engaging, the characters interesting, and the messages are thought-provoking. Many movie versions of Gomez’ serials were quite good: Donata, Gilda, Debborah, Pitong Gatang, Asyong Salonga, Mga Ligaw na Bulaklak, Anino ni Bathala. Gomez loves stories about family secrets, domestic turmoil and jealousy within the family unit. Some of his works like Bahay na Bato and Lihim na Lihim have the trimmings of Nick Joaquin’s brand of writing.
His characters tend to be melodramatic at most times. They usually have to deal with repression, and their minds are usually dictated by fatalist view.
His characters have to face insurmountable trials and mountains of obstacles, yet in the end, they are emancipated from the quagmire, even if the result becomes contrived sometimes, but hey, it was time to end the story, so let’s do it.
CLODUALDO DEL MUNDO
Del Mundo was both an intellectual and an entertainer of the masses. He created a big chunk of Filipino literature that many were used in schools. Yet, he had also written many serialized stories for the RP comic books. He was a very careful writer. His research was unbelievable. Many of his works in RP comics entailed stories that were almost semi-documentary in appeal, because of the subject they tackled and the surprises it delivered: an exposé. His brilliant works include: Kandelerong Pilak, Kadenang Putik, Magnong Mandurukot, and the film version of his Malvarosa won the best Picture in Asia in the 1950s, one of the early international awards won by the Philippines. His characters were never wishy-washy; they always meant business and ready to protect their lot. They were strong and well-defined, and when placed in a realistic milieu within their own universe, the outcome was three-dimensional. This was the reason every comic serial by Clodualdo del Mundo had translated beautifully as a movie.
In his time, stories about kings and queens were the most popular, therefore, he was writing stories about them in a Philippine setting. We can call this type of genre Sinigang Royalty. Despite the wonderful research work, these stories never happened in the Philippines and like Coching’s Adobo Western, I felt too uncomfortable reading them and/or watching them as films. He had almost always chosen Fred Carillo as his teammate in RP comics, and despite Carillo’s wonderful drawings, some genres would have looked more glamorous and/or more realistic if assigned to other brilliant artists of the so-called Golden Age of Philippine Comics. I could just imagine what Magnong Mandurukot would have looked like if it were drawn by Nestor Redondo or Alfredo Alcala. Malvarosa might have looked more “Filipino” with Elpidio Torres or Petronilo Marcelo and might have resulted with more impact and power.
Just like in acting, an actor can create a character and play it with restraint like Lolita Rodriguez, or all-out like Charito Solis – and del Mundo’s writing was always on the restraint side, a disadvantage, because the readers would be looking for more. He could have adopted Ravelo’s all-out story-telling, of going out on a limb, and the devil may care if the branch he was sitting on would break.
Caparas inspires many disadvantaged individuals because of his rags to riches life story. He is definitely a very hard worker, and he really tried so damn hard to emancipate himself from poverty. Now that he’s well-off, he's still trying to achieve more embellishments to his existence. What for? Search me. He has written some good comics stories, namely, Angela Markado, Till Death Do Us Part, Ako’y Lupa, and Somewhere. When his stories are well-written, they are innovative, enthralling, and even endearing. See what happens when a writer tries to slow down and writes his material with tender loving care?
Caparas turns out stories like a recycling depot: used tin cans will be grounded and a new, same looking tin can will emerge from it. Many of his stories are not well-thought of, some have no redeeming value and others are just plain silly. He seems to have forgotten that quality is always better than quantity.
Manoling Morato, being Caparas’ friend and colleague, should teach Caparas how to do research. Many of Caparas’ stories are so inaccurate and ridiculous from zero research. His massacre films are horrendously bad that he should really pause and reflect, take a deep breath and ask himself: Why am I rushing always? Can’t I slow down a little, think deeply and write something worthy than rushing to finish half-assed manuscripts that would only gag many people?
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There you go, folks: our Five Candidates for RP Comics King. Before you vote for Noynoy or Gibo, make sure to vote first for these five guys.
Take it away.