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!