Saturday, November 23, 2002

By Fred dela Rosa
Spiderman, the Spirit, and Ptyk

My favorite comic-book character is not Spiderman. My superheroes were Superman, Batman, Captain America, the Green Hornet and Plastic Man. And before the anime cartoons came, the movie characters that helped fill my time were Bugs Bunny, Mickey Mouse and Popeye.

Growing up, I discovered Will Eisner, whose The Spirit was a masterpiece in craftsmanship and story telling. Val Foster’s Prince Valiant was a wondrously graphic dramatization of Camelot. Terry and the Pirates by Steve Canyon introduced us to the excitement of the Cold War and the original “Dragon Lady.” Walt Kelly’s Pogo was rich in humor and wisdom, besides being well drawn. Bill Mauldin of course immortalized GI Joe.

In the days when Liwayway was king, I was among the millions who followed the Kenkoy comic strip with fervor. Tony Velasquez amused generations no end with the love story of Kenkoy and Rosing, whose dress always touched the floor. Velasquez also contributed to the national vocabulary such endearing names as Tenyente Dikyam, Talakitok and Nanong Pandak.

Comic strips were a regular staple of the weekly literary magazines—Liwayway, Sinagtala ang Bulaklak, journals that celebrated popular fiction through short stories and serialized novels. I remember enjoying the works of J. Zabala Santos, Mars Ravelo, Elpidio Torres and Francisco V. Coching. Coching was the master illustrator, the artist who knew the human anatomy and spared no detail to illustrate a body or a scene

I was present at the creation when the comic-book industry exploded in the 1950s with Halakhak, Pilipino Komiks and Tagalog Klasik. It was the Decade of Innocence and children were lapping up the works of Fred Alcala, the Redondo brothers, Larry Alcala, Roddy Ragodon, Dani Aguila and Edgar Soller, among others.

The weekly newsmagazines and Sunday supplements of the popular dailies boasted Liborio ‘Gat’ Gatbonton and Mauro ‘Malang’ Santos (This Week), Lib Abrena (The Sunday Times Magazine), Hugo Yonzon (Graphic) and E.Z. Izon (Philippines Free Press).

Soon, new cartoonists and illustrators enlivened the op-ed page and comic sections. Among the better ones were Boy Togonon (The Times art director), Sonny Bismonte, Corky Trinidad (now working for the Honolulu Advertiser), Danny Dalena (presently a full-time artist), Ben Alcantara, Roddy Ragodon, Neil Doloricon, Manny Baldemor, Pol Medina and Jess Abrera

In the Sixties, The Manila Times introduced us to a young genius, Nonoy Marcelo, a Tamaraw from FEU. At various times, Marcelo was editorial cartoonist and contributor of a daily comic strip, Tisoy. He also contributed panels to The Sunday Times Magazine and the Saturday Mirror Magazine.

Tisoy was a great hit. A teenager who dominated the campus and the kanto, he never ran out of profound observations about life and death, and quips about love and sex. Legend has it that Marcelo modeled Tisoy after Alfredo ‘Ding’ Roces.

Revolving around Tisoy’s life was a menagerie of characters inspired by Nonoy’s friends. They included mommy Aling Otik (inspired by Joan Orendain), Maribubut, (Sylvia Mayuga), the enfant terrible Caligula (inspired by columnist Tino Dauz). Tatang (modeled after Village Voice editor Joe Buhain), and Tikyo (Bert Marcelo). Zip Roxas, our former editor- in-chief and now executive editor at the Journal Group of Publications inspired Clip, Tisoy’s archenemy.

Tisoy amused Filipinos across the country for years until martial law closed down The Times and the other papers. The comic strip, with its wit and characters, reflected the national mood, advertised popular lifestyles and mirrored national trends. It captured the follies of a generation and the milestones of an era.

After martial law, Marcelo edited and published a number of satire publications and new comic books. From time to time, he drew editorial cartoons for the dailies. Some of his comic strips were a spin-off from the Tisoy original.

He illustrated coffee-table books and various book projects. He also matured into a master caricaturist, drawing his characters more densely and intimately, in the manner of Edward Sorel and David Levine. Last year, he had an exhibit of his caricatures, and it was a great success.

Nonoy has also turned into a historian and biographer. He has completed a book on Malabon, his hometown, but printing must wait because his angel ran out of cash. I have seen the book and I am amazed at Marcelo’s scholarship and sense of history. It is rich in historical detail and wonderful graphics. After his History of Malabon, every self-respecting town and city will want to have its biography written by Nonoy.

Marcelo is the only cartoonist to be honored by the Cultural Center of the Philippines when the country observed its centennial in 1998. The CCP cited Nonoy, among a group of100 Centennial Awardees, for excellence in the visual arts and for helping define national identity by taking a stand on political and social issues.

The good news is that Nonoy Marcelo has returned to his first family, The Times. Starting Monday, he and a band of irreverent writers and cartoonists will put out a weekly supplement, Ptyk, as part of the new Manila Times. Ptyk promises to be a humorous mini-magazine, a welcome addition to The Times family of publications.

Satire, sarcasm, wit, irony and devastating humor — of which there is a tremendous deficit — are back. Nagpu-pugay ako kay Nonoy Marcelo at sa kanyang Ptyk!

Fewer Filipinos read the papers
By Patricia L. Adversario

Thursday, July 18, 2002

MORE Filipinos are losing the habit of reading newspapers and magazines. A recent survey showed an alarming trend of declining readership of newspapers and magazines from 1996-2002.

The shrinking numbers ought be a wake-up call for the print industry to take measures to arrest the decline in readership, and retain the interest of the few who still read, said Vivian Y. Tin, executive director of Nielsen Media Research, who released the survey results to The Manila Times.

The US-based Nielsen Media Research is part of the VNU Media Measurement and Information Group, a global provider of information services for the media and entertainment industries.

The decline in readership was seen across all economic classes with the largest drop in the AB group. From a high newspaper readership rate of 82.6 percent in 1997, it dipped to 59.7 percent in 2001.

The DE class, or the low income groups, which already have the lowest readership rate among the socio-economic classes, further dropped to a low 44.4 percent in 2001 from 60.4 percent in 1996.

Young people not reading

The decline in newspaper readership was evident across almost all the six age groups, except for one. More young people didn’t read the newspapers compared to those who did five years ago — only 20.3 percent among those aged 10-14 said they read yesterday’s +newspapers in 2001 compared to 53 percent who said the same in 1996.

The 20-29 age group posted the largest drop in newspaper readership in the last six years — only 46.4 percent kept the reading habit last year from 71.8 percent in 1996. Only the 40-49 age group sustained the habit, posting an increase in readership to 68 percent in 2001 from 59.3 percent in 1996.

The same decline was seen in the readership of weekly magazines. The number of readers who read a weekly magazine in the past week dropped from 35.6 percent to 14.2 percent from 1996-2001. The drop in readership was evident across all economic sectors with the most significant changes in the AB and DE classes.

The readership rate of weekly magazines for the AB class dropped to 26 percent in 2001 from 59.5 percent in 1996 while the DE class, which already posted a low 31.4 percent in 1996 slipped further to 8.7 percent in 2001.

Social impact

“There are serious implications if we turn out to be a nation of non-readers,” said Tin. “Introspection comes from reading. We need introspection to become better businessmen, better voters and better citizens.”

Monthly magazines even fared worse. Those who read a monthly magazine in the past month dropped to 8.8 percent in 2001 from 18.6 percent in 1996. Fewer Filipinos also said they read a monthly foreign magazine in the past month. The slippage was most apparent in the AB and C2 (lower middle) groups.

For the AB class, 15 percent said they read a monthly foreign magazine in 2001, down from 24 percent in the previous year; while the percentage of those who read a foreign magazine in the C2 class dropped to seven percent last year from 14 percent in 2000.

Even comics reading, which is said to be a popular pastime, was not spared. Those who read comics dropped to 19.4 percent in 2001 from a high 52.7 percent in 1999. There were even fewer comics readers from the low income DE group in 2001: readership dropped to 19.9 percent last year from 51.7 percent in 1996.

Comics reading among the young (aged 10-14 and 15-19) dropped during the six-year period in review. Fewer teenagers (aged 15-19) read comics — from 71.1 percent in 1996 to just 24.6 percent in 2001, and among those aged 10-14 from 69.1 percent in 1996 to 38.4 percent in 2001.

Print media in trouble

“Prospects for the print medium are dim,” said Tin. Apart from a declining readership, another Nielsen survey showed significant decreases in advertising spend and volume for the print medium from January to March this year.

During the period in review, the print medium saw “a serious decline” in both advertising volume and cost, the first time that print contracted in double digits on a quarterly basis.

Even as costs of print ads already dropped 23.7 percent in the first quarter this year from a previous 14-percent growth, the volume of print ads further shrank by 10 percent in the first quarter this year from a previous reduction of eight percent.

Limited advertising budget is shifting to television, which is perceived to be the more effective medium, said Tin. “If newspapers fail to address this contraction in the first quarter, print is going to see further serious contraction this year,” she added.

During times of crisis, spending for a newspaper might be one of the first things a consumer would have to forego. A study, conducted in April 2001, by the Asian Institute of Management found that about 20 percent of respondents from all income classes in Metro Manila stopped buying magazines and comics, although the figure was less for newspapers.

In Cebu, 40 percent of the DE class scrapped newspapers from their list of daily needs. In Davao, the figure was 25 percent.

Lack of interest

Tin, however, said the decline in readership is largely due to a lack of interest and not because the cost of a newspaper has become prohibitive in an economic crisis.

She pointed out that the Nielsen survey showed a steep drop in readership across all income classes and age groups.

“Newspapers have to invest in knowing and understanding their readers. They also have to make them interested in reading. When readership is high, advertising spend will increase. In other Asian countries, advertising spend in the print medium is high because their readership rate is high,” said Tin.

She also said the decline in advertising spend is not because there are now about 20 broad sheets and tabloids. “There are more radio stations and they still maintain their share of advertising,” she pointed out.

Unlike print, radio did not see any serious contraction last year. While the number of advertising spots for radio dropped slightly to 0.5 percent last year, costs rose 20 percent to P13 billion.

The survey was conducted through face-to-face interviews in October and November last year. A total of 1000 males and females aged 10 and above from all socio-economic groups were interviewed.

Nielsen Media Research is a global provider of media research and analysis. It provides TV and radio audience measurement, advertising information services, print readership and customized media research services to 40 markets, including the Philippines.

Monday, November 04, 2002

The Pinoy tradition
by Dirk Deppey

I first stumbled across Gerry Alanguilan's Komikero Comics Journal by accident about six months ago. I was idly running a Google search for "Comics Journal," just to see what came up, and there it was: a chronicle of the day-to-day adventures of a comic-book artist in the Philippines, written in a friendly and conversational tone, like reading letters from home written by someone I didn't know. Having essentially stopped reading superhero comics some ten years ago, I was unaware of Alanguilan's work with fellow Filipino cartoonist Whilce Portacio for Image Comics, but I liked reading the blog, so I bookmarked it and checked back every couple of weeks to see what he was up to.

For the longest time I never bothered to look at the rest of his site. When eventually I did start clicking around, I discovered that in addition to being a working mainstream cartoonist, Alanguilan was also an artist steeped in a deep and rich tradition of comic books of which most Americans are unaware to this day. Which is strange: for the past forty years, Pinoy cartoonists -- "Pinoy" being to Filipinos what "Yankee" is to us Americans -- have been making significant and high-profile contributions to the American comics scene, developing an industry-wide reputation for astonishing craftsmanship and skill.

The Filipino komiks tradition began in 1929 when Antonio Velasquez' comic everyman character Kenkoy first made his appearance in Liwayway Magazine. Kenkoy was a cartoony character -- the only image of him I could find on the web is at the bottom-right corner of this page -- and was something of a caricature of the young Pinoy male of the era, whose continuing romance of the lady Rosing entertained his readers in bi-weekly installments for decades. Meanwhile, adventure strips started growing in prominence, mainly featuring knock-offs of American strips at first.

By the time the island nation had picked itself up again after the Japanese had been sent packing and World War II ended, the industry entered its Golden Age, and the man who would become its undisputed master, Francisco V. Coching, began drawing his first comics. By the 1950s, he was at the top of his game. According to the Sunday Inquirer:

"Coching's panels are distinctive in that they are fairly bursting at the seams with virile energy, as well-muscled heroes strike dramatic poses and explode into action. Not only did Coching render his pages in mind-boggling detail, with a richness in line and shading that remains unsurpassed, he was also a master of the visual vocabulary of the komiks, choosing the most dramatic angle, zooming in for the decisive moments, creating detailed, historically accurate backdrops for his stories, and moving the plot along at a brisk pace. He was also a rarity in that he wrote and illustrated his own stories, whereas most serials were collaborations between a writer and an illustrator."

Coching's skill was impressive -- according to the same article, cartoonist Alex Raymond considered him the best in the world. And he wasn't alone. To list his contemporaries in the field is to produce a roll-call sufficient to leave any knowledgable fan of fine comics art drooling: Federico Javinal, Nestor Redondo, Rudy Florese, Nestor Malgapo, Alfredo Alcala. To be a kid reading comics in the 1950s and 60s must have been a very rich experience.

Girls' komiks in the Philippines were great during this period as well, with probably the best of the lot being Mars Ravelo's Darna, a superheroine combining elements of Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel. You can even read her four-page origin story online (page one, two, three and four).

By the mid-1960s, television began to overtake komiks in the imaginations of Pinoy children, and the industry began to wind down. Around this period, editors for American comics companies, especially DC, began cherry-picking the best of the Filipino artists for work back in the States. While their overseas work brought them new levels of international fame and financial security, and while artists like Tor Infante continued to work in the Filipino market, Pinoy komiks were never quite the same again.

This is not to say that the komiks industry of the Philippines is dead, but by all accounts it does seem to be searching for direction. With the influx of Manga in the following decades, many Pinoy cartoonists began emulating the style, prompting the more traditionalist Gerry Alanguilan to remark:

"Personally, I think it's truly a missed opportunity. They have the means, they have the talent, the money, the machinery and the the will to create really good Filipino comics. It just saddens me that they chose to create Japanese comic art when they could have aspired to elevate the state of Filipino Comic Art. We really need those kinds of comics now."

As an ill-informed outsider, it seems presumptuous of me to comment, but I do wonder at such statements; it seems to me that inspiration is where you find it, and if you use the methods that appeal to you in well-practiced craftsmanship to create the stories you feel compelled to tell, everything else is but a means to an end. Like I said, presumptuous. Perhaps a better person to give the last word might be Francisco Coching himself -- in 1980, Philippine Comics Review writer Ros Matienzo tracked Coching down, finding him comfortable in his retirement, and asked him if he had advice for those who would work in comics. His reply, in part:

"Kailangan nilang pagandahin ang kanilang trabaho. Kailangan nilang magtiyaga, at magka-ambisyon na paunlarin ang kanilang sining, at ang komiks; kailangan din nilang magsikap. Hindi sa lahat ng panahon ay salapi lang ang dapat isaalang-alang. (They need to make their work beautiful. They need to be studious, hardworking, carrying with them the ambition to improve their art and the comics.)"

Local advice it may be, but it has international applications.


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