Remembering Larry Alcala
Posted: 8:58 PM (Manila Time) | Jul. 07, 2002
By Neni Sta. Romana-Cruz
Inquirer News Service

JUNE 24 was an extraordinarily bleak day for the Philippine Board on Books for Young People (PBBY) because it lost two special friends. First, there was the news from New York that Doreen G. Fernandez had passed away. Then, within an hour, there came the word from Bacolod that "Mang" Larry Alcala had died, too. The double-blow was more than anyone could handle.

Doreen would have been a special guest at this year's National Children's Book Day (NCBD) opening ceremonies at Museo Pambata on July 16 not only because she was a known consummate lover of the written word, but in her characteristic giving manner, she had donated to Museo Pambata her late husband Wili's collection of all the original artwork for Nick Joaquin's "Pop Stories for Groovy Kids," a 10-book series published by Mr. & Ms. Publishing in the '70s. The exhibit of the original artwork is one of the special offerings of the museum for NCBD.

During Doreen's prolonged hospitalization at the Makati Medical Center last year, Museo Pambata head and PBBY member Nina Lim-Yuson called to follow up on John Silva's lead that Doreen was thinking of making the donation. Doreen was not yet ready to take calls and since I was keeping watch that day, I took the message (Doreen and I were first cousins and dear friends). Even with many tubes attached to her body, she never complained or showed displeasure that we should be talking about the donation at a time like that. She quietly said that yes, she would attend to that sometime later.

She did attend to the donation. Before she died, there had been concern that Doreen might still be away on her New York vacation and thus fail to attend NCBD. Now definitely, her absence will be especially felt on that day.

Dean of illustrators

Mang Larry was the original sectoral representative of illustrators in the PBBY board. He organized workshops for illustrators at the Film Center in 1989 and the children's illustration workshop at the Goethe Institute in 1991 with German illustrator Reinhard Michl. He inspired many students at UP Fine Arts, where he taught and was department head of visual communication before he retired. He became the acknowledged godfather of Ang Ilustrador ng mga Kabataan (InK), according to founding member and former president Bernie Solina Wolf. In those days, artists specializing in children's book illustrations were unheard of.

PBBY chair Beaulah Taguiwalo succeeded Mang Larry as sectoral representative when he left for the kinder and healthier pace of Bacolod living in 1996. Taguiwalo vividly and gratefully recalls the incredibly humble manner in which this icon of Philippine cartooning conducted the PBBY-Goethe Institute workshop. A workshop requirement was an exhibit of illustrations for stories to be given to the illustrators on the spot. There was Mang Larry "humbly presenting typewritten stories he brought as possible choices." Taguiwalo says those were the early winners of the PBBY writing contest.

Taguiwalo chose "Sampaguita" by Ma. Elena Paterno, and her stunning artwork for the story, reminiscent of Ezra Jack Keats' illustrations, won in the workshop and became her first published children's book. "I only realize now that Mang Larry was there to carry his responsibilities as sectoral representative for illustrators, to help in the creation and promotion of children's books."

Young illustrator Enrico Chua never met the cartoonist personally, but he was inspired by Mang Larry's cartoon strips "Bing Bang Bum" in Funny Komiks and "Siopawman" in the dailies. This was when Chua was four. "He taught me that anything is possible with his crazy characters and their unbelievable inventions (a lotion that creates prickly heat, a hat that makes you smarter, etc.) and that there's always something funny somewhere somehow in our "slices" of life. We just have to look for it. I miss him already."

It is a tribute to Mang Larry that the InK members have become the most sought-after illustrators in book publishing and graphic design today. Mang Larry, look at where they are now.

Never selfish

Mang Larry was never selfish with his art. He effortlessly dashed off our family Christmas card one year, humoring me with his hidden profile. But there was one artwork of his where he could not quite hide himself. This was PBBY-commissioned caricature he had to prepare for a Sunday magazine cover for the 1991 NCBD. He portrayed the board members as school children who loved to read. And since he was one of us, there he was reading not a book, but "komiks." He was well out of the range of vision of National Artist and PBBY honorary chair Lucrecia Kasilag who was depicted as a librarian. Other characters in the cartoon were Nic Tiongson and Virgilio Almario fighting over a book on "Girls", Dr. Serafin Quiason, Narcissa Munasque, Karina Bolasco, the late Carol Afan, Gloria Rodriguez, Elizabeth Peralejo, Nina Lim Yuson, Rene O. Villanueva, Angelina Cabanero and this writer.

RayVi Sunico, sectoral rep for publishers, visited Mang Larry during the wake. "Mang Larry in death looked happier, cooler, and better than some of the live people I see walking around," he remarked. "Says something about his quality of life."
Thank you, Mang Larry, for the laughter and the many years of friendship and working together to bring books and children together. We are fortunate to have known you better than just your now-famous profile.

The author is a member of the Philippine Board on Books for Young People, tel. +63 2 372-3548 to 49. E-mail comments to nenisrc@