Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Filipino Cartoonist

The Saturday Mirror Magazine
March 23 1957

They provide a happy, satiric chronicle manners and morals in Philippine society

The first written language of man. historians tell us, is the pictograph, which is the stylized representa­tion of words by picture-drawings. From that ancient and honorable ancestry have descended the trade now known as cartooning.

The Filipino cartoonist learned his trade in the be­ginning of the American regime. Cartooning had before that been a political trade in the West, as it had been in ancient Egypt. In hieroglyphics are still preserved such scenes as the gathering of tribute, and the disputations between litigants in royal courts. In revolutionary Eu­rope, cartoonists contributed to the downfall of the an­cient regimes by exhortatory drawings. But the first comic-cartoon was devised in the United states.
Filipino artists were soon proficient in the new art of social satire by cartoon. The propaganda newspapers and pamphlets of the revolutionary period carried no drawings, but by the first decade of the American regime, cartooning was a major occupation in the Manila news­papers, which carried not only material distributed from American manufacturers but cartoons drawn by Filipi­no artists on Filipino subjects, on such subjects as fa­shion, husband-wife relations, politics, gossip.

Today, cartooning forms a major part of newspaper and magazine fare. Filipino cartoonists still ceaselessly provide a happy, satiric chronicle of manners and morals in Philippine society; puncturing the high-and-mighty, celebrating the ridiculous, deflating the sublime," and pro­viding thousands of readers cause for joy, thoughtful pause, or shriek of laughter.

Liborio T. Gatbonton, who signs and calls himself Gat, is the acknowledged dean of Filipino cartoonists. This is a distinction Gat wears with little gravity. He is in his early 'forties, and has been drawing cartoons since he was 17. Then, he was a 'cub' in the Tribune art de­partment, a tall and lanky Pampangan from Candaba­gay and quick-laughing, light on his feet, and irreverernt ot his 'h'es and 'p's. As he likes to tell it, Gat was one day commissioned to draw a horse for a Tribune maga­zine illustration. He was a callow youth from the Uni­versity of the Philippines School of Fine Arts and the horse, alas, turned out more like dachshund, than tho­roughbred. Alejandro Roces, the Tribune publisher, liked to take a direct hand in how his newspaper was run. Then and there, he decreed that Gat should be­come cartoonist. Gat still grows sober and reverent when he remembers that fateful moment.
Since then, Gat has been happily chronicling the follies of high society and its peripheral characters: the social climber, the comb debutante and her scheming mother who hopes to marry her off to the ratch of the mating season; the wolf. (who might in spots be more - than faintly autobiographical), and the playboy who, too, wants to marry above his .station and thus live in idle happiness ever after. Gat has circulated in Manila so­ciety not as a social satirist making a sortie into enemy country, but as gaily as a cocktail-shaker. His satires on the people who climb up and down the social ladder are gentle and magnanimous, with very little trace of venom.

Not so are his recent series on man and woman in a cartoon named "Henry." That is every bit as sharp -at its best-as the" famous men and women in Thur­ber's battles between the sexes. Thurber is defeatist,but 'Henry" never says die. "Henry" is a little man possessed of a termagant-wife who surely summarizes all the malevolent women the cartoonist has known. But there is little meekness of spirit, little humility of heart, in "Henry." Though his little heart is seldom pure, Henry's strength of spirit is the strength of ten. Indeed, "Hen­ry" often carries the battle into the enemy camp. Be­tween "Henry" and Thurber's little man cowering before a huge, evil woman whose figure merges into a house­in the famous cartoon called "Home-there is very lit­tle in common. In Gat's considered judgment, man is winning the eternal battle of the sexes, althoqgh the se­parate little skirmishes may indicate otherwise. "Henry" strikes a blow for the hen-pecked husband every time the strip comes out in the Chronicle.

What Gat in his best days did for Philippine upper class society, E. Aguilar Cruz and Salvador Cabrera are now doing for the other end of the social ladder. Agui­lar Cruz is associate editor of the Daily Mirror, once staff­writer for the Graphic. Myopic, learned, addicted to to­hacco and the pun, he once did watercolors, cartoons and, drawings, still writes editorials, columns, articles, and criticism of a great number of the arts. (Once he expressed in writing the gentle hope that a mass-hang­ing of several unnamed Manila painters be conducted).

Of all of these accomplishments, Aguilar Cruz would rather be known as the creator of "Bindoy," which is the piece-de-resistance of the Times today. "Bindoy" is a joint endeavor, the young artist Cabrera drawing it. The strip is signed "Kabigting," no doubt a wry tribute by Aguilar Cruz to one of his illustrious province-mates, the famous Pampango swindler who is better known as "Dick-A-Doo." "Bindoy" is a gentle satire on the new Manilans of the city's slums. Bindoy, apparently, came from the same farm-village as did many of the folk of Palomar­ the Pampango quarter of Tondo. . . until a civilized free­ way ran their transplanted barrio through the heart. Bindoy is a gentle farm boy whose strength is the strength of ten not only because he used to work -a rice­field, but because his heart is pure. He is a character descended from the ancient Filipino folk-hero tradition, touched with Aguilar Cruz's own brand of satire: strong, silent, guileless, well-meaning-and more than slightly simple-miinded.

Thus, Bindoy becomes fall-guy and soft-touch for such as Senador Bigat, the politician, and his own Tata Kardo, whose surname is Galang-Galang. Galang-Ga­lang, I suspect, is Aguilar-Cruz's own favorite character. He must typify a great number of the personages his creator has met in fact and in fancy. Galang-Galang is a precious scoundrel. He is drunken, domineering, scheming. He is quick to imitate his betters, he is a gre­garious confidence-man, a joiner. When Galang-Galang becomes rich (Bindoy happens upon a magic typewriter which runs unguided - purely sustained by his pure heart-and his scheming uncle speedily has it printing thousands of copies of the Pampango pasion, which he sells at great profit) what splendid fun Aguilar Cruz (who lives in an upper-middle class housing project, among the nouveau-riche) must have had, chronicling the transplanting of the Galang-Galang family from the slums of Palomar to the sham-swank of 'Porks Park!' This is part of the mission the Filipino cartoonist­i-- he is good enough, and true---continues to fulfill: to put down in drawings and balloons the manners and mo­rals of the society he lives in. This was the way men like Antonio Velasquez ("Kenkoy" and "Ponyang"), Juan M. Perez ("Pamboy at Osang," and "Akong"), and J. Zabala Santos ("Lukas Malakas", "Sianong Sano," and "Popoy") Deo C. Gonzales ("Sarion g Arbulario") used to do in their prime. Today, looking over old copies of the "Liwayway" of the 'thirties and the late 'twenties is an undertaking, if not nostalgic, at least in­formative. Their cartoons are the most accurate records now available of the manners of dressing, of hair-style, of general living of those times. Of these artists, only Zabala-Santos is even remotely active. Occasionally, he stirs from retirement to draw the lives of men, women, and dogs in his native Mala­bon:

Liberato Abrena, who signed himself Lib Abrena, was the first cartoonist to start working again after the war's end. Abrena had been quite an unknown artist in the early 'forties. He contributed little, anonymous cartoons for the special issues of the Liwayway, besides
doing a strip about a guperman-like character in the vernacular Bulaklak. But his That's Life in the first is­sues of the post-war Sunday Times Magazine made him famous.
Abrena was then a quiet young man in his late 'twenties. Half-blind, (he wore at all times a pair of dark glasses) addicted to the movies, he drew observant little cartoons upon middle-class life in the city, of the life of the poor in his native Pangasinan, and of the fisher-folk in Malabon, where he then lived. To That's Life, the Times devoted a full page each Sunday. Each page was taken up by a more or less timely topic: if it was the rainy season, Abrena made cartoons about what life was in the rainy season. The cartoons revealed a kindly, gentle disposition. When Abrena died, a few years afterward, the Times tried several substitutes, but none could quite approximate Abrena's soft satire.

"Kenkoy" quietly passed away last year, after hav­ing graced the "Liwayway" for the better part of three decades. Few marked the passing of the flamboyant folk-hero of the Filipino urban society of a generation ago. Kenkoy was weak, loud, smart, vain. He affected American slang, popularized what has become known as "bamboo English," followed the extremist fashions, lived beyond his means, plucked his eye-brows, and fancied himself a ladies' man. In short, he was a caricature of every little white-collar clerk, of every 'kanto-boy' in that, untroubled era between the wars. "Kenkoy" was a long, and great, success. Velasquez tried to pick up his pieces together again after the Liberation, but could not quite do as well, and" soon gave it up.
The post-war cartoonists all of them look young enough to have been literally born upon their drawing­boards. Their drawings are generally well-made, their brand of humor heavily linked to the American type best seen in the Post and the New Yorker.

Of these young artists, Mauro Malang Santos, who signs himself Malang is the best, and the most success­ful. Malang is a quite shy young man in his late 'twen­ties who is not only cartoonist but skilled illustrator and occasional painter. He is author of Kosme the Cop (Re­tired). Malang was a pupil, after the Liberation, to both Zabala-Santos and Gat. Kosme is the hen-pecked hus­band whose sad, endless story we all know. Malang is outstanding in that he can, by the sheer facility of his imagination, present this never-ending marital conflict -which is to him the eternal human condition -in in­numerable variations. Studious and diligent, this young; cartoonist is frankly nearer the American tradition than any of the older craftsmen-owing a debt to such out­standing American artists as Al Capp, Virgil 1. Partch, Sam Cobean. How closely Malang works 'his cartooning to the American model is shown by the fact that Pa­geant, the American picture-monthly, last December pub­lished a collection of his cartoons about ~n ingenious, comical convict named "Chain-Gang Charlie."

Comrades to Malang are Lauro Alcala and Hugo C. Yonzon. Alcala, who once painted, is an instructor at the U.P. College of Fine Arts, is author of the satire "Ka­labog and Bosyo," which is one of the staples of the Pi­lipino Komiks. "Kalabog" started out as a satire on the American comicbook's mysterious, crime-busting hero, but has branched out into burlesques of Filipino fads and customs. "Kalabog's" spiritual ancestor is Al Capp's "Fearless Fosdick," both cartoonists working on a plane far removed from the plane of reality.

Yonzon is more of painter than cartoonist. He is one of the country's most facile modern painters. With E. P. Patanne, he does "Sakay and'Moy", a strip that chronicles the lives of two of Manila's jeepney jockeys. Patanne is a young- humorist who works in the manner of S. J. Perelman, and is associate editor of this mag­azine.

Another cartoon which draws its inspiration from the "Gorio and his Jeepney," which is done by Ben Alcantara. Alcantara is a quiet man in his late twenties. He works for the Sunday Times Magazine art depart­ment.

Other young cartoonists who deserve attention in­clude Danny Villanueva, who is a free-lancer and who seems to be a good draughtsman, Bert Gallardo, who is with the Herald magazine, and Jess Sunga, who is another of the regular contributors to this magazine. All of these artists are in their early or middle 'twenties. Although their works still seem largely derivaative. They all promise good works.