Monday, May 01, 2006


The Death of a Once Great Industry

I was browsing through one of my online message boards just the other week, the one specializing in the local Philippine comics industry. I read a message from long time illustrator Nestor Malgapo that illustrator Rod Santiago was reporting Atlas Publications' cessation of publication of all their comics.

It was the last report in a long line of alleged reports indicating the end of comics from Atlas. I had been hearing the same thing as early as last year during October's Komikon, the First Philippine Comics Convention at UP Diliman.

Although early reports have proven to be untrue as I continued to see komiks being sold at my local town store, this last report by one of the illustrators working for Atlas itself, seemed to confirm the inevitable truth.

Komiks from Atlas had been limping along for the past few years, appearing only sporadically, and hardly ever these last few months. I realize, much to my chagrin, that the last batch of comics I was able to buy was from late last year and early this year, and then no more.

Atlas Publications had been the repository of a truly great and legendary line of comics, passed down from company to company, beginning with ACE Publications, which originated these comics as early as 1947.

Pilipino Komiks, the first regularly published Philippine comic book after the short lived Halakhak Komiks, came out in June 14, 1947. Tagalog Klasiks followed in July 1949, Hiwaga Komiks in 1950 and finally Espesyal Komiks in 1952. These four comic books, initially published once every two weeks, and then years later once a week, were a huge success. Selling an average of more than 100,000 copies per issue, it is conceivable that those 4 comics alone were selling more than one million copies in a single month. For a poor struggling country trying to recover from the horrors of World War II, those numbers are staggering indeed.

The success of these comics spawned many, many other comics, not only from ACE Publications itself, but from many other companies that were born in its wake.

Graphic Arts Services, Inc. (GASI) produced Kislap, Pinoy Komiks, Pinoy Klasiks, Pioneer, Aliwan, Holiday and Teens Weekly. Affiliated Publications produced Superstar Nora Aunor Komiks, and PIP Komiks. Makabayan Publishing came out with Tagumpay Komiks. Soler Publishing House published WOW, Romantic Klasiks, Mr. and Mrs. Komiks Magazine, and Hot Komiks. Pablo S. Gomez Publishing came out with United, Kidlat, Universal and Planet Komiks.

CRAF Publications came out with Redondo Komix, Alcala Fight Komix, CRAF Klasix,etc. Nestor Redondo himself published Superyor Komiks. LIRA Publications came out with Caravana Klasiks, Darling, Venus and Adonis Komiks. RAR Publishing House published 8teen Mag, Teen World, Bulaklak, Dracula, and Ravelo Komiks. Gold Star Publishing came out with 9 Teeners, Pag-Ibig, Movie King and Movie Queen. Sold Gold Publishing published Pilipino Funny Komiks. GMS Publishing came out with Sampaguita, Diamante, Kilabot, Fantasya, Ligaya, Lagim, Detektib, Sweetheart, Wakasan and Short Story Komiks.

And believe it or not, I really haven't even begun to list all the comics that were ever published in the country. I'm just scratching the surface of a gigantic industry that was as part of Filipino culture as eating, newspapers and movies. You can't go anywhere without seeing them being read, being sold, being rented, and being used as wrapping paper at public markets.

And at the very top of this heap were Pilipino Komiks, Tagalog Klasiks, Espesyal and Hiwaga.

From these comics a lot of our greatest artists were born. From here came Nestor Redondo, Alfredo Alcala, Fred Carrillo, Teny Henson, Mauro Malang Santos, Federico Javinal, Elpidio Torres, Jesse Santos, Larry Alcala, and so many more.

From the pages of these comics sprang forth immortal classics like Darna, Jack and Jill, Roberta, Bondying, Ang Panday, DI-13, Kalabog en Bosyo, Ukala, El Indio and many more. Comics were the source of many motion pictures. The connection was so close that at many times, movie versions of komiks serials were already filming before the series even finished running.

The impact on Filipino culture was so strong that it's still being felt today. On TV now you will be able to see programs inspired from Komiks serials. Darna, Panday, Kampanerang Kuba, and ABS-CBN's Komiks series. Bear in mind that these are not new stories. These are stories that have been produced at the height of the komiks industry many decades ago.

One can appreciate today how large this industry was when we look around and we no longer see any of these comics, and yet we still feel and see the impact that they have left us.

Through the years, many of these comics companies that were once so successful slowly dropped out one by one, until at the very last, only ATLAS remained. The big FOUR comics, including a few others like Love Story and Horoscope, themselves slowly disappeared from the sidewalks and newsstands and for a time, they could only be seen at National Book Store. Until finally early this year, Atlas finally called a halt to their komiks, ending more than 60 years of a tradition of comics that was part of the lives of your parents and grandparents, and in certain ways, your lives as well.

The very last issue of Pilipino Komiks that I ever got was issue # 3248. Last issue of Tagalog at # 2775, Espesyal at #2598, and last issue of Hiwaga at #2867. I'm sure that there are some more issues that came out after that, but I never saw them, even as I staked out my local magazine stand week in and week out.

Look at those numbers. More than three thousand two hundred individual consecutive issues of Pilipino Komiks alone. Collectively, that's eleven thousand, four hundred and eighty eight comic books. For a local company now to be able to release 10 consecutive issues on a bi-weekly or weekly basis is daunting enough, and as far as I know, *nobody* is doing it at all. You now start to see what a staggering achievement these comics were, and how unimaginably large that tradition of comics was.

At last it can finally be said. A great tradition in Philippine comics is finally ended. And it truly is an end to an era.

But today, nobody hardly seems to notice, or even care. There's nothing in the newspapers about it, not in the TV or radio, and hardly anything at all on the Internet. And that's a tragedy.

But all is NOT lost.

Although Atlas Publications has ceased publishing its comics, it doesn't mean it's the end of the Philippine Comics Industry, as some people seem to fear it is. Bear in mind that Liwayway Magazine is still being published on a weekly basis.

Remember that Liwayway is truly where our comics industry was born when Tony Velasquez debut KENKOY on its pages in 1929. It is here that writers and artists like Francisco V. Coching, Mars Ravelo, Clodualdo Del Mundo,Tony Velasquez, and Francisco Reyes came from. It is here that stories like HAGIBIS, Marabini, Kulafu, Pedro Penduko, Buhay Pilipino, Rita and El Vibora were published.

Today, Liwayway still thrives under its current publisher, Manila Bulletin, and it features a group of reinvigorated artists who carry on the tradition like Rico Rival, Hal Santiago, Abe Ocampo, Nar Cantillo, Jun and Rod Lofamia, and many others.

I also heard that Atlas is not selling their comics properties. One can interpret that any way they want, but I prefer to be optimistic. There may still be a chance that they will continue publishing eventually in some form. And then again they may not. If they do, they need to take a serious look at what went wrong, and learn their lessons from it.

A part of me is hoping that something like Bulletin buys the properties completely, like they have Liwayay, and continue publication with improved production values. I can certainly use a few million pesos right now. I can make a lot of comics with that!

Completely independent from these established publishers, a new industry of comics has been growing since the early 90's, spearheaded by young artists looking to find a venue for their work. Failing to find established venues, they formed their own groups and companies, and published comics on their own.

It is from this industry that writers and artists like Arnold Arre, Oliver Pulumbarit, Gilbert Monsanto, Jim and Jay Jimenez, Lui Antonio, Carlo Vergara, David Hontiveros, Reno Maniquis, Budjette Tan, Zach Yonzon, Marco Dimaano, Dean Alfar, Elbert Or, Jamie Bautista, James Palabay, myself and many more have come from, producing comic books like Mythology Class, Siglo, Class, After Eden, Andong Agimat, One Night in Purgatory, ZsaZsa Zaturnnah, Trese, Horus, Lexy and Argus, and many others.

Although this new industry has a long way to go before it can reach a mass audience like the previous industry, if it even can, what's important is that they are there, that they create, even if they make very little money out of it. If that isn't doing it for the love of it, I don't know what is. And with people like that, this industry will never die.

Can love save an industry? Yes it can. And a pox on anyone who says otherwise.