Tony Velasquez (29 October 1910 – 1997) was a Filipino cartoonist widely recognized as "The founding Father of Philippine Komiks Industry." He created the very first serialized Filipino cartoon strip, Mga Kabalbalan ni Kenkoy ('Kenkoy's Antics') in 1928.
Arguably the most influential comic strip in the Philippines, Mga Kabalbalan ni Kenkoy opened the floodgates that started the tradition of cartoon strips in the Philippines.
During his career as a comic artist Velasquez created more than 300 cartoon characters, some of whom became household names in Filipino homes, such as Kenkoy, Tsikiting Gubat, Talakitok, Talimusak, and Ponyang Halobaybay.
Velasquez went to Paco Primary School in 1916 and in 1919 transferred to Sta. Ana Elementary School. In 1927, he attended evening classes at Jose Rizal College, and worked as a part-time artist in Banaag Press. That same year, Banaag Press was bought by Don Ramon Roces. As part of the deal, Roces retained all Banaag's employees, including Velasquez. Banaag was renamed Acme Printing, tasked to create graphics for Liwayway.
In 1928, Liwayway writer Romualdo Ramos asked Procopio Borromeo, an engraver in Banaag Press, to create a cartoon series in Liwayway. Borromoeo could not find the time to create the requested comic strip, and the assignment was given to Tony Velasquez.
Tony Velasquez created the strip Kenkoy in 1928, starring a teenager named Kenkoy Harabas. The script was written by Romualdo Ramos.
Kenkoy debuts in Liwayway
On 11 January 1929, Kenkoy debuted in Liwayway, with four panels occupying one third of a page. It showed Kenkoy borrowing the ukelele of a worried Bino. Kenkoy was chased by a rabid dog climbing the street lamp pole while the dog waited for him to descend.
It was a huge success. The readers loved his honest carefree character. In 1932, Romualdo Ramos died and Velasquez was left to do the drawings and script by himself. Velasquez was a gifted writer too and later that year the Kenkoy strip was expanded to one half page with six panels. In 1935, Kenkoy occupied a whole page of the Liwayway with 12 panels and colors to boot!
Chief Advertising Artist of Ramon Roces Publications
In 1935, Velasquez was appointed to head the advertising department of the Ramon Roces group of vernacular magazines, which included Liwayway, Bannawag, Bikolnon, Bisaya (Cebuano), Graphic (English) and Hiligaynon (Western Visayan dialect).
In such capacity, Velasquez designed the drug bottles of Zamora's Tiki-tiki, Castor oil, Cortal, and other products. Velasquez also created cartoon characters for these advertisers, like Captain Cortal for Cortal, Nars Cafi for Cafi Aspirina, Isko for Esco Shoes and many others. He was the pioneer Filipino in this medium.
As artist in Liwayway, Velasquez helped or assisted many other future artists in Philippine komiks get their works published in the magazine. These included Francisco Coching, Mars Ravelo, Jose Zabala-Santos, and J.M. Perez.
Activities during the Second World War
When the Japanese invaded Manila, Velasquez volunteered at the USAFFE, a military organization founded by Gen. Douglas MacArthur. However, there were hundreds of Filipinos waiting in line and before Velasquez could be drafted, the USAFFE had already surrendered to the Japanese.
The Japanese Imperial Army invaded the Liwayway offices and all Filipino employees were retained. No one was allowed to resign. Since Velasquez was an influential person and his Kenkoy character was loved by Filipinos, the Japanese intended to use Velasquez and Kenkoy for propaganda purposes. Velasquez refused. With the backing of President Jose P. Laurel, he was able to avoid pressure from the Japanese. In the end the Japanese acquiesced, on the condition that Kenkoy at least promote the health programs of the Laurel government. And so, Kenkoy was also published during the Japanese occupation, teaching Filipinos how to economize and purify water, prevent mosquito bites, etc. For Velasquez, it was a worthwhile thing to do while waiting for America's promise to save the Philippines.
The birth of the komiks industry
In 1947, after retiring from Liwayway, Velasquez founded Ace Publications, which started the comics industry in the Philippines. Under Ace Publications, Velasquez started the publications Pilipino Komiks in 1947, Tagalog Klasiks in 1949, Hiwaga Komiks in 1950, Espesyal Komiks in 1952, Kenkoy Komiks in 1959, and Educational Klasiks Komiks in 1961.
All these komiks magazines became bestsellers, making komiks production one of the Philippines' profitable industries.
In 1962, Ace Publications was closed down for good because of a laborers' strike. Later that same year, Velasquez founded the Graphic Arts Service, Inc., or GASI, which also published popular local comic books like Pinoy Komiks, Pinoy Klasiks, Aliwan Komiks, Holiday Komiks, Teens Weekly Komiks, and Pioneer Komiks. As a pioneer and innovator of the Filipino comics industry, Velasquez's contributions to Philippine comics culture cannot be emphasized enough.
He passed away in 1997 at the age of 86.
- The Philippine Komiks Encyclopedia Everything you need to know about Pinoy Komiks
- Philippine Komiks A brief history of komiks in the Philippines
- Kenkoy A biography of a Fictional Komiks character
- Ace Publications, Inc. The story of the largest publisher of komiks in the Philippines
- Graphic Arts Service, Inc. The story of GASI, the most popular publisher of komiks after Ace Publications, Inc.