KENKOY is the Philippines’ first true pop icon. He is a ludicrous portrait of the Filipino…pathetically trying but barely succeeding in keeping up with his American mentors — Nonoy Marcelo
KENKOY: 1. Isang nakakatawang karakter sa Komiks na nilikha noong 1929 na may maluwang na pantalon at plastadong buhok. 2. Isang mapagpatawang tao. – U.P. Diksyunaryong Filipino, University of the Philippines Press
Biography of a Komiks Character
Long before the era of the movie stars and showbiz celebrities, there already was a Philippine pop icon named Francisco Harabas, more popularly known as Kenkoy. He was a debonair, bombastic, irreverent, hilarious, and much-loved character in his time.
Born on the pages of Liwayway on January 11, 1929, Kenkoy did not go through infancy and childhood. He was born straight from the conception of Romualdo Ramos and the brush and ink of Tony Velasquez.
Kenkoy came into this world garbed in the latest fashion of his time, the Jazz Age of F. Scott Fitzgerald, where London-style checkered baggy pants (its hems as wide as one’s shoes), a sailor hat, and a double-breasted polo complete with suspenders, were the leitmotifs of the age. Says Tony Velasquez: “Kenkoy is always pusturyoso…He wore suspenders even before Frank Chavez made them fashionable”
Born during the American period when Western influences were beginning to encroach into Filipino culture, Kenkoy adapted to the changing of his times, making fun of the old mores and keeping up-to-date with the latest trappings of Western fashion. He mouthed the "pidgin" language fashionable among youth at that time, which was a mixture of Spanish, English and Tagalog, resulting in what was later known as “Taglish” and “Spangalog”. Thus were born Kenkoy's trademark lines like "Halo, how is yu?", "watsamara" (what's the matter), "dats oret" (that’s all right), "nating duwing" (nothing doing), "okidoki" (okeydokey), "lets tek ewok" (let’s take a walk), "is beri nesesari", and "bay gali".
Even today, this mangling of the languages proves an effective technique of humor, recently used to comic effect by actor-comedian Jimmy Santos.
Kenkoy was always in a hilarious misadventure or “kabalbalan”: painting the town red, gate crashing into birthday feasts, attending carnivals and fairs, and, of course, courting Rosing, the immaculate and impeccable Manileña.
Rosing was the epitome of the ideal and much romanticized Filipina. She would not be seen in anything other than the traditional baro't saya or the Sunday camisa y panuelo. She displayed the typical characteristic of a "Maria Clara": timid, shy and impeccable, cariñosa yet selosa, but could also be matampuhin (sulky), and often demonstrating the Filipino value of pagpapahiwatig, which is to show emotions through non-verbal hints, without completely revealing her thoughts.
The Kenkoy and Rosing romance was one of the most enduring and fascinating love stories in the history of the print media, a tale that had always been loved by the Filipinos. It was a story made more interesting due to the conflict provided by Kenkoy’s perennial rival, Tirso S. Upot.
Tirso was not the stereotypical rival, however, because unlike Kenkoy, he was "guwapo". This makes his character lovable instead of being loathed. There were times when Tirso would get the full attention of Rosing, stealing the show from Kenkoy, to the great anger of our hero.
Kenkoy and Tirso made elaborate schemes to trap each other, but most of the time these traps would backfire. Their comic rivalry for the attention of Rosing provided for most of the strip's early plot.
Kenkoy and Rosing eventually got married and they had several children: Dyunyor, Dyulie, Tsing, Doy, Dalisyosa, Etot, Nene, and Piching. They also adopted a child, the wily, mute but cute Tsikiting Gubat.
The Harabas family became the most read-about family in the entire Philippines, and Filipinos loved to read their story. Their familial affairs mirrored the Filipino family in general, even before the time when Pinoy TV sitcom John and Marsha did the same in the 1970s. This is possibly the greatest difference of Kenkoy and pals from the other cartoon strips of his time, both foreign and local.
While Mickey Mouse, Betty Boop, Li'l Abner, Popeye or Bugs Bunny, would forever be the same in accordance with their respective creators' original conceptions, Kenkoy and his pals would grow with the times, because theirs was a continuing story. They would get married, have children, their mores and actuations grow in accordance to the current trends of Filipino culture.
Thus, in the 1960s when suspenders, charol shoes, and baggy pants went out of fashion, Kenkoy shed them in favor of the more fashionable “Beatles” pantalon, collared sport polo, and Converse rubber shoes.
“Si Kenkoy ay laging nasa uso” said Velasquez.
One thing about Kenkoy never changed, however. It was his hairstyle, which remained slicked back and plastado as before, forever reflecting a four-paneled window. In fact, it is Kenkoy’s most recognizable trademark.
Perhaps only Rosing would retain her original look just as she first appeared in the Liwayway. Up to the 1960s and well into the 1990s (Di Ritarn of Kenkoy), when the mini-skirts were in fashion, she would still wear the traditional bakya and baro at saya. Indeed, her provinciana character could not be reconciled to the more outlandish attire of the modern times.
On October 29, 1991, on the 81st birthday anniversary of Kenkoy creator Tony Velasquez, a tribute was celebrated in Manila Hotel to honor the great Kenkoy Harabas, with Senator Heherson Alvarez as Guest Speaker. During the ceremonies, Senator Alvarez insisted on emceeing the tribute himself.
He said “I am such a big fan of Kenkoy, and I won’t pass this opportunity to be an emcee to this important event”. He also pledged to sponsor Tony Velasquez as a National Artist of the Philippines.
By this year, 2007, Kenkoy is already seventy-six years old, but he has not grown old, he is still here -- debonair, bombastic, irreverent, hilarious, and much-loved. He will always stand out from among the great multitudes of other comic characters he had helped paved the way for in the Philippine comics scene, grinning and saying mischievously….”Bay Gali! watsamara?”
Kenkoy was first adapted into the movies by Premiere Productions in 1950, with Lopito as Kenkoy and Virginia Montes as Rosing. In the 1960s a remake of this film was produced with comedian Chiquito as Kenkoy. In 1993, Kenkoy was made into a musical with Janno Gibbs as Kenkoy and Regine Velasquez as Rosing.
In World Popular Culture
In 2005, Kenkoy appeared in the cover page and back page of The Essential Guide to World Comics, a book written by Tim Pilcher and Brad Brooks. There is also a special section on Kenkoy and his creator, Tony Velasquez, in the book.
- Arevalo, Cynthia. A History of Komiks in the Philippines. Manila: 1983.
- Matienzo, Ross. Philippine Comics Review. Manila: 1980.
- Komiks Blog
- The Philippine Comics Art Museum
- For additional information about Philippine Komiks, visit the Top 100 Pinoy Komiks Serials of Filipiniana.net Digital Library.