Komiks is the general term used for comics created or produced in the Philippines. It is simply the English word “comics”, adapted to fit the orthography of native Filipino language such as Tagalog. Partially inspired by American mainstream comic strips and comic books during the early 20th century, particularly after World War II, the medium became widespread and popular throughout the country, though its popularity has subsided somewhat with the advent of other mass media forms such as telenovelas.
The Rise of the Industry —
While the first indigenous cartoons may be traced to José Rizal’s 1885 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 1896-1898, 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. There were two prominent comic strips in these magazines that were very popular with the Filipinos during those years: Kiko at Angge in Telembang and Ganito Pala sa Maynila in Bagong Lipang Kalabaw. 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 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 titles 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 DI-13 (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 Gomez, Elena Patron, Nerissa Cabral dominating the field.
The 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.