Filipino comics in the news

Continuing our trip through the vaults, we found this picture of the late Alfredo Alcala, Phil Yeh and The Beat at a 1994 signing for our book SECRET TEACHINGS OF A COMIC BOOK MASTER. During the research of the book I spent many hours interviewing Alfredo and learning about the history of Filipino comics. The Phillippines have a rich, individual history of comics and cartooning that goes back 120 years, making it one of the more quirky outposts of comics tradition.

Just this week, Benjamon Ong Pang Kean had a two part history of Filipino comics at Newsarama, an examination of the past and the current scene. At various points, komiks, as they are known, have been hugely popular in the Phillippines, with the most popular being adapted into movies, plays and soap operas.

The biggest contribution of Filipino cartoonists to American comics history was undoubtedly in the 70s, when many of the top Filipino artists were recruited to work on the then burgeoning horror comics scene, but tons of superhero work as well. The top artists were Alcala, Nestor Redondo and Alex NiƱo, but the list included, Tony DeZuniga, Rudy Florese, Ernie Chan, ER Cruz, Gerry Talaoc, Rico Rival, Jesse Santos, Teny Henson, Romeo Tanghal and many others. The artistic wellspring for their tradition was the American pen and ink school of illustration, best exemplified by Charles Dana Gibson, originator of the “Gibson Girl.” No wonder that so many of the artists become inkers, then, most sporting an intricate, sometimes overwhelming style. (I know Alfredo had no qualms about redrawing whatever he thought was bad draughtsmanship.)

Nowadays, artists like Whilce Portacio, Leinil Francis Yu, Jay Anacleto, Gerry Alanguilan, Rod Espinosa, Philip Tan, Francis Manapul and J. Torres are staying in the forefront of the US mainstream, with a wide variety of styles. Kean’s articles include interviews with these artists and more about the past and current state of Filipino comics. Some of them admit they aren’t completely well versed in history, but others have longer comments on the current struggles of the marketplace, as gaining acceptance for fresh material is as hard as in any other market. A lot is still going on, however.

Garry Alanguilan (a regular poster here) also supplies a report on Komikon 2006, the second annual national komiks convention.

Although much of the new material comics from independent self publishers, the most significant step in bringing comics back into the mainstream was the publication of Filipino Komiks #1 by Risingstar Printing Enterprise. Risingstar is the publisher of many nationally distributed music magazines, romance and horror pocketbooks, and puzzle booklets. Bringing together the talents of writers and artists from the old komiks industry and the new industry, creatives from komiks like Karl Comendador, Nestor Malgapo, Ofelia Concepcion, Nar Castro, Fermin Salvador work side by side with younger creators like Gilbert Monsanto, Rodel Noora and Ner Pedrina. The style of the stories and art are decidedly reminiscent of the old komiks, which is cool, but I think they need to be infused with newer blood and newer sensibilities of approaching comics storytelling, without losing any of the Filipino feel so evident on every page. I thank Risingstar for taking this risk, and it’s obvious Editorial Director KC Cordero loves comics to the bone.

Alanguilan also runs Komikero, an online comics museum, an outstanding source for information on the history of komiks. You can spend a long time looking at the art — there’s a kind of adventuresome elegance to the prevalent style that you hardly ever see in comics any more. I have to admit, I’m a big fan of the romantic Alex Raymond/Caniff/Pratt school of comics, and the komiks seem to have excelled at this tradition.

Alanguilan’s own current book is ELMER, which is about the adventures of some chickens who gain human intelligence. Needless to say, if I ever come across a copy, I’ll definitely check it out. The history of Filipino comics may be peripheral to the American trends, but it’s also ax example of the universal appeal of comics, and how a unique culture adapts them to its own concerns and sociology.