Did you know that there are some 9 million people of Asian decent living in America? And that approximately a quarter of them are Filipino? In the state of California, there are more Filipinos than there are Chinese. In San Diego County, the Filipino-American community is larger than any other Asian Pacific Islander group.
Did you know that Filipinos were the first Asians to cross the Pacific Ocean? As early as 1587, Filipinos were among the crew of the Galleons in the Spanish Fleet claiming land in the name of King Philip II, some fifty years before the first English settlement of Jamestown.
Did you know that October is Filipino-American History month?
"Komikeros: The Filipino Contribution to the Comic Book Medium"
Part 1: 1970s-1980s
By Budjette Tan
There were no comic book stores in Manila during the early 80s. That made comic book collecting very difficult for a kid like me. Supposedly, the best way to get new comic books was to go to Dao, a place located near the U.S. Air Force base where lots of PX goods (including comic books) ended up in these big warehouse-type markets. If you didn't want to travel all the way to Dao, the other place to get comic books was in bookstores that didn't even bring them in on a regular basis.
The largest bookstore in the Philippines reprinted foreign books and comic books on cheaper paper and sold them at lower prices. As a result, the characters in comic books all looked pale and sickly. Everything looked pink and green at the same time. Not a good time to collect comic books at all.
As a kid, I remember finding tattered copies of "House of Mystery" and "House of Secrets" in my toy chest, probably left there by one of my uncles. One secret I didn't know was that some of those comic books were drawn by Filipinos. Back then there was no Internet, no Google to check who's who, no Wizard magazine that gave you inside info on the people behind the panels.
The first time I recognized a Filipino name in an American comic book was in an issue of "Batman." The artist was Alfredo Alcala. I knew he was Filipino because my favorite comic strip artist was Larry Alcala and I knew that anyone named Alcala just had to be a Filipino. But I only became certain when my dad got me a copy of the "History of Komiks* in the Philippines and Other Countries", a thick, hard-bound book that contained a directory of Filipino comic book artists.
["Komiks" is the Filipino term for comics, a word whose origin is obvious even if you did not know that the Filipino alphabet does not have a "c" in it. "Komikero" means "cartoonist" or "comic artist." But you've probably already figured that out by now… - J. Torres ]
I was surprised to find out that the Philippines' national hero Jose Rizal actually drew a comic book story. Back then, all I knew about Rizal was that he was executed because of his so-called subversive writings and novels. In 1886, Rizal wrote and drew the fable of "The Monkey and the Tortoise" in 34-panels, a work considered the very first comic story made by a Filipino.
Going back to Mr. Alcala, the book also said that he won international recognition for his work on "Voltar", a character he created that was inspired by the "Conan the Barbarian" novels. Years later, he became one of Marvel's long-running artists on "Conan." When I met Mr. Alcala at the 1994 San Diego Comic-Con I saw him in Artists Alley drawing - what else?- Conan the Barbarian! Right beside him was Ernie Chan, another Filipino artist who became an illustrator for "Conan" as well as "The Incredible Hulk". There was just something so fascinating with the thought that something read and adored by people around the world was actually made by a Filipino.
It was also the Comic-Con that I got a copy of "Secret Teachings of a Comic Book Master: The Art of Alfredo Alcala" and had it signed by the master himself.
Later on, I hunted down copies of "Swamp Thing" drawn by Alcala and was just blown away by the great detail and intense mood he was able to put into those pages.
Alcala created more disturbing images for the pages of "Hellblazer" and allowed us to visit that galaxy far, far away when he drew pages of "Star Wars". He passed away in April 2000 after a long battle with cancer.
Mr. Alcala was recruited into DC Comics by editors Carmine Infantino and Joe Orlando and Filipino artist Tony de Zuniga, who all came to the Philippines in 1972 looking for talent to add to DC's pool of artists.
At DC, De Zuniga worked on titles like "Jonah Hex", "Black Orchid" "Batman", "Superman", and "Supergirl." For Marvel, he illustrated "Thor", "X-Men", "Punisher", and "Conan the Barbarian" for eight years.
Another artist that was recruited during that talent search of '72 was Nestor Redondo. Mr. Redondo did a tour of duty on DC's horror titles and was eventually asked to take over the art chores of "Swamp Thing" from Bernie Wrightson. He also did artwork for "Rima" at DC, "Conan" for Marvel and comic book adaptations of "The Great Adventures of Sherlock Holmes." He then went on to do work for the Marvel Animation Studios in Los Angeles.
I met Mr. Redondo at the '94 Comic-Con and remembered how he was such a soft-spoken man, and how he had plans to return to Manila and teach comic book illustration to aspiring Filipino artists. He unfortunately passed away before he could do that, but his fellow artists continued his plan and conducted workshops in his homeland.
Many artists are grateful for Mr. Redondo's helping hand, including, Rudy Florese, who was able to get his break at DC thanks to Redondo. Florese drew "Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan" and "Korak, Son of Tarzan." He also contributed to the Now Age Books Illustrated series of classic stories published by Pendulum Press Inc., as well as adaptations of "The Mutiny on Board H.M.S. Bounty" and "The Scarlet Pimpernel." All the while, Florese continued to contribute to local Filipino comics. After suffering two strokes between 1995 and 1999, he returned with his family to San Pablo City. He passed away on April 4, 2003.
The 1972 talent search also found Alex Niño, who did art chores for "House of Mystery", "Black Orchid", "Captain Fear", "Space Voyagers", "Bold Adventures", and "Star Reach Classics." The first time I saw Mr. Niño's art was in "DC Sampler 1984", which contained a two-page spread promoting the title "Thriller"- and no, it did not star Michael Jackson! (Hmmm… I betray my age… how many of you kids out there got that joke? Ummm, never mind.) Mr. Niño also did fantastic work for "Heavy Metal" and for the Sunday "Tarzan" strips.
It was also the Sunday funnies that featured the art of Floro Dery, who was the artist for the syndicated Sunday "Spider-Man" strips from 1982 to 1992. Again, I had no idea that Spidey was drawn by a Filipino. So I got all excited when I saw a sample of Dery's Spider-Man strip in "The History of Komiks" and that got me drawing (well… more like tracing all my Spider-Man comic books.) Needless to say, I became a big Spider-Man fan thanks to that animated series with that funky theme song. Dery moved on to become a concept designer for "Transformers: The Movie", which, in my opinion, contains very important life lessons.
Other Filipinos who got their break through American horror comic books are Tenny Henson, Fred Carillo, Rudy Nebres, and Romeo Tanghal.
Henson is a veteran of "Weird War Tales", but also got the chance to draw "Batman", "Superman", "Captain Marvel", and "Plastic Man." Henson went on to work on animated series like "Richie Rich" (Hanna-Barbera); "Blackstar", and "He-Man and the Masters of the Universe" (Filmation).
Carillo also worked on "He-Man" but before that he drew "Phantom Stranger", "Black Orchid", and "Ghost Stories."
Nebres, who's most recent work is seen in "Crossgen Chronicles", started his comic book career during the 1970s on Warren Magazine's "Creepy", "Eerie", and "Vampirella." His detailed artwork was also seen in the pages of "Iron Fist", "John Carter: Warlord of Mars", "Kull the Conqueror", and "Arion, Lord of Atlantis".
Romeo Tanghal is a name I constantly saw credited as inker of Marv Wolfman and George Perez's "New Teen Titans". Before that Tanghal also did pencils for "House of Mystery" and later on became an inker for books like "Batman", "Captain Atom", "Doctor Fate", "Justice League of America", "Green Lantern", "Wonder Woman", "Dazzler", and "Thor."
Since I was born in 1972, I only got to see the works of these great artists as badly reprinted editions or as sample pages in "The History of Komiks." Thankfully, some of their work has been reprinted in trade paperbacks, although most are lost in some back issue bin or in some kid's toy chest.
During the 70s and early 80s, the Philippine komiks industry was at an all-time high. The circulation of komiks out-ranked the leading newspapers. Komiks were read all over the country. The stories were so popular that they were adapted for film and became box office hits that spawned sequels and TV shows.
Despite all of that, some Filipino artists decided to try their luck abroad. As you may have noticed, some of them moved on to work in animation companies. Why? Maybe the work was better. Maybe they wanted to find new challenges. Maybe the pay was better. Some of them tried to spread their good fortune by providing work for other aspiring artists. They did this either by recommending them to their American editors or by setting up comic book companies in the Philippines. Most of these komiks companies have closed shop by now.
A new influx of Filipino talent and comic book studios appeared a decade later, during the mid-1990s. But that's a story for another day. (Actually, I'll tell you all about it next week.)
Budjette Tan is a founding member and editor of the Philippine-based Alamat Comics as well as the writer of the imprint's "Batch 72." He is also a published writer of other comic book articles, essays, and reviews for various Filipino newspapers and magazines. His other credits include TV spots for MTV Asia and Discovery Channel Asia. He currently works for Harrison Communications, an ad agency in Manila.
Special thanks to these websites used for reference in the writing of this article:
Next week: Budjette Tan continues his two-part look at Filipino comic creators.
Thank you for your attention.