Inspired by American comic strips and "Funnies" during the early 20th century, komiks eventually became widespread and popular throughout the country, making the Philippines one of the biggest publishers of komiks in the world. In recent decades, though, their popularity has subsided due to various factors, including the advent of other mass-media forms of entertainment such as television and the Internet.
Rise of the industry
While the first indigenous cartoons may be traced to José Rizal's 1887 fable "The Monkey and the Turtle," the origins of the mainstream komiks industry would not arise until after the Spanish-American War.
The period of 1896-98, when the Philippines was in the throes of revolution, certain magazines appeared in Manila that carried cartoons. Two of these were Miao and Teh Con Leche. Presumably these were influenced by the American magazines Puck and Judge, possibly brought to the islands by American volunteer soldiers.
After the defeat of the Philippine Revolutionary forces, the anti-colonialist struggle shifted to the free press. Unbeknownst to American colonial administrators, Filipino nationalists had shifted their revolutionary struggle to the satirical press, in which they denounced American slights and injustices. Many of these magazines or newspapers published only in Tagalog or Spanish, two languages that the English-speaking colonialists could not understand. In 1907, Lipang Kalabaw, a magazine owned and edited by Lope K. Santos, was published. This magazine was in Tagalog, and it carried satirical cartoons directed at American officials. However it did not have any paneled cartoon strips, only editorial ones. The magazine died in 1909.
The very first Filipino komiks serials appeared in the early 1920s as page fillers in Tagalog magazines.
Two of these magazines, Telembang and a resurrected Lipang Kalabaw, carried anti-American or anti-Federalist satirical cartoons. These two magazines could be considered as the precursor of today's komiks.
Art historians Alfredo Roces and Alfred McCoy attribute the art of both these comic strips to Fernando Amorsolo. Indeed, Roces featured one of the issues of Ganito Pala sa Maynila in his seminal work on Amorsolo.
In 1923, the Tagalog magazine Liwayway was born. Although the magazine did not contain any comic serials in its early years, this was to change in 1929, with the publication of Album ng Mga Kabalbalan ni Kenkoy as a filler in the entertainment section of the magazine. Kenkoy was the star of the series, a funny everyday Filipino teenager representative of the colonial-minded youth of the early 1930s.
In 1946, the first regularly published all-comic-magazine was born, the short-lived Halakhak Komiks. Halakhak lasted only ten issues, perhaps due to the lack of efficient distribution. It certainly looked like "komiks" had died a few months after it was born. But it did not, because in 1947, Pilipino Komiks, under the management of Tony Velasquez, was published, opening the floodgates for other komiks magazines to follow.
Afterwards came such popular tiles as Tagalog Klasiks in 1949, Hiwaga Komiks in 1950, and Espesyal Komiks in 1952. This was the start of one of the largest comics industries in the world, such that by the mid-1950s, komiks was already considered the unofficial "national book" of the Filipinos.
Originally inspired by American comic strips and comic books left behind by American GIs , the komiks' early aim was to entertain Filipinos with cheap reading material. Hence, many of the strips in those early years were cartoons, a local version of the popular "Funnies" comic books being published in the United States.
But the medium steadily diversified, and by the 1950s, drew more inspiration from other forms of Filipino literature such as komedya, alamat, folklore, as well as Philippine mythology. The early Tagalog komiks magazines were therefore rich in tales of the aswang, kapre, nuno sa punso, tikbalang, and many other characters indigenous in Philippine folklore.
Many komiks were also evidently inspired by specific American comics, such as Kulafu and Og (Tarzan), Darna (Wonder Woman or Superman), and D. I. Trece (Dick Tracy). The predominance of superheroes has continued into the modern day.
During the Martial Law years, President Ferdinand Marcos censored many of the content of komiks magazines. He also ordered the use of cheap paper to produce komiks, such that the visual and the physical qualities of komiks magazines were affected, resulting in the eventual decline of readership in the 1980s.
As a result, many of the top Filipino komiks artists went on to work in the American comic industry instead, including Alfredo Alcala, Mar Amongo, Alex Niño, Tony de Zuniga, Rudy Nebres, and Nestor Redondo.
After the lifting of Martial Law, the komiks industry began to generate new readership. The heavy drama of komiks novels was the trend, with such writers as Pablo S. Gomez, Elena Patron, Nerissa Cabral dominating the field.
Fall of the industry
The resurgence in komiks' interest was only to last up to the early 1990s when Filipinos began to notice other forms of entertainment such as video games, karaoke, cheap pocket book novels, cellphones, and much later the internet and text messaging -- especially the humorous text messages that are very popular with Filipinos. The shift in the interest of Filipinos from being readers to viewers reflect the constant advancement of technology in modern times, which has adversely affected the komiks industry.
Many komiks publishers cut their budget, reduced their artist's and writer's fees, used the cheapest paper for production, and resorted to more movie gossip pages than komiks pages. Suffering from low pay and low prestige, komiks artists and writers eventually lost vigor and enthusiasm, until their works become a burden, with the writers forced to rehash old stories again and again, and the illustrators producing mediocre drawings that did not reflect the great komiks tradition of the past.
These factors eventually led to decreased consumption of komiks from even the most loyal fans. A steady decline followed, until most publishers finally gave up and cancelled their titles once and for all.
By the year 2005, there were no longer any major publishers of komiks in the Philippines. What remained were the smaller ones, who instead published independent comics titles.
Komiks in Pinoy Culture
During the heyday of the komiks industry in the Philippines, komiks embedded itself, so to speak, in the Filipino consciousness.
Ubiquitously present in poor and middle class homes, komiks could be found being read almost anywhere: in the ricefield as the farmer enjoyed a short relief from his backbreaking work, in the hagdanan (staircase), in the comfort room, or almost everywhere else. Dubbed as "bakya" by the elitists, the lowly komiks were patronized in great quantities by the Filipino masses who could not afford theaters, movies, or vaudevilles.
Countless poor Filipinos who could not afford to send their children to schools taught their children reading and values formation through the pages of the komiks. Children easily and happily learned reading through these paneled picture stories. They adored the fumbling escapades of Kalabog, or the latest antics of Kenkoy, or the Phantomanok’s newest adventure. Adult readers likewise eagerly awaited the continuing saga Coching’s of El Indio, or the latest trick of Redondo’s Palos, or the further adventures of Clodualdo Del Mundo’s Pitong Sagisag.
Komiks were a disposable item. Filipinos usually did not care to keep their copy after reading it, letting other members of the household or even the kapitbahay read it afterwards.
What happened to it later was never a thing to ask about; unless one hadn’t yet finished his reading. “hoy, nasaan na ba yung komiks na binabasa ko dito. Umihi lang ako e nawala na?”
Everyone took komiks for granted. After all, komiks were cheap at 25 to 30 centavos a copy, the price of one bottle of Coca Cola (which usually had a weekly advertisement on the back cover of the komiks). One could even throw it away afterwards without feeling guilty.
After this much passing of hands, komiks, printed on cheap pulp, were usually reduced to a torn and creased state, after which they must fulfill their final duty: panggatong (fuel for the fire stoves), pambalot ng tinapa (salted fish wrapper), an emergency umbrella during a sudden downpour (why not?), or worse, as portable and convenient lavatory equipment.
Written in the Tagalog lingua franca, the vernacular language spoken at Filipino homes and gatherings, the komiks had become a kind of “national book”, easily understood by Filipinos.
“Hindi nakakasakit ng ulo basahin”, “madadala mo kahit saan”, “nakakapagpaantok”, "magaganda mga kuwento", "magaganda mga drowing" “murang bilhin”: these were some of the answers of Filipinos to a survey conducted in 1986 as to why they read komiks.
It was indeed fun to read stories with dialogue used in everyday conversations. Slang words common among the younger people proliferated in komiks conversations, such as “datung” for money, “askad” for ugly, “bebot” for girlfriend, “datan” for an old man or woman, “repa” for friend, “dyahi” for shy, or “tsokaran” for buddies. It was thus possible to read dialogue like, “Askad naman repa. Mukhang datan na yung inireto mo sa kin. Dyahi sa mga tsokaran”.
Cuss words such as “walanghiya”, “hayup”, “ulol”, “impakto”, “bastos”, and “kiri” were qualitatively allowed, meaning they must appear only in humorous stories and intended as words for teasing. The more serious stories required justification to use these words. The harsher words like the “F” and “S” words (Putang-ina, anak ng puta, etc.) were restricted and not allowed to be printed. These words were only found in the more fly-by-night publications such as the Bomba Komiks type which were sold clandestinely on the newsstands.
Komiks as collector's item
Inasmuch as Filipinos loved the komiks, they did not collect them and or store them for future reading or reference, unlike their Western counterparts. Of course there were a relative few who cared to store them in wooden bauls or deep drawers in their aparadors. These komiks may survive for years, but a tropical country like the Philippines may not really be a good place to hoard komiks in the long run. In a few years, humidity, tropical climate, floods, termites, and fires would destroy many of these komiks. The komiks may escape human apathy, but not the natural elements. Thus, a good number of these komiks have not survived into the present time and are now considered scarce.
Movie, Television and Radio adaptations
Many serial komiks were later adapted into other art forms like movies, radio plays, musicals, and theater plays.
As early as the 1950s, komiks had become a rich resource of movie outfits for their screenplays. Some of the early stories that were made into movies were Sawa sa Lumang Simboryo, which won the first FAMAS Best Picture Award in 1952, El Indio, Darna, Kenkoy, Bondying, Tres Ojos, Barbaro, and hundreds of others. Indeed, a movie that was previously serialized as komiks was sure to become a box office hit. The tradition of komiks into movies continued well into the 1960s, 70s, 80, and 90s. Up to the present, komiks serials are still a staple on the menu of movie producers, an example of which is the recent movie Zsazsa Zaturnnah from the comic book by Carlo Vergara.
More recently, ABS-CBN started a TV series entitled KOMIKS, featuring classic Pinoy komiks stories made into short teleseryes. GMA 7 countered by buying the television rights of such popular komiks characters as Darna and Captain Barbell and turning them into highly-rated prime-time television series.
Komiks was also a rich resource for radio plays. The radio, being a cheap appliance that most Filipinos could afford to buy -- unlike the more expensive television -- was once the basic source of home entertainment alongside with the komiks. Thus, from the 1950s up to well into the 80s komiks serials like Prinsipe Amante, Kurdapya, Batas ng Alipin and hundreds of others were staples of the radiowaves.
- Arevalo, Cynthia et al. A History of Komiks in the Philippines. Manila: 1983
- Matienzo, Ross. The Philippine Comics Review. Manila: 1980.
- Tony Velasquez Biography of the Founding Father of the Philippine Komiks Industry
- Ace Publications, Inc. The Largest Publisher of Komiks in the Philippines.
- Graphic Arts Service, Inc. The successor of the Ace Publications.