Quezon City, Dec. 14, 2001 - (STAR) By Juaniyo Arcellana - To say that Francisco Coching, during the four decades that he put out komiks-novels from the mid-30s to the early ’70s, forever changed our perception of this popular art form would not be an exaggeration: Coching’s storytelling, in particular the visual aspect of the narrative, would influence a generation or two of artists struggling to mend together aesthetics and more earthly concerns, like where to get the next meal.

The comprehensive monograph Komiks: Katha at Guhit ni Francisco V. Coching (published by the Coching Foundation), is an apt tribute to the man who revolutionized graphic art: essays by critics such as Patrick Flores, Alice Guillermo, and Justino Dormiendo, as well as by a fellow artist like Jose Tence Ruiz, look at the work of Coching from different viewpoints, the better to understand the illustrator as storyteller in his time. The bilingual volume all the more stresses the duality of the project, much like Coching wore the two hats of artist and writer in a perfect fit.

Now the komiks writer has, as one critic in the monograph noted, been habitually looked down upon by the "creative" writer, as if the writing of komiks-novels, with its dizzying twists in plot and soap opera-like ambiance, did not entail a smart enough dose of creativity.

Just because it is lapped up by the masa somehow makes the komiks medium somewhat of a bastard brother of the more "serious" literary and graphic arts, or so some would like to think.

It is thus heartening to come upon these modern and postmodern critics, no doubt influenced by a strain of Marx, to finally catch on to what preoccupies the Pinoy hoi polloi, from the nearby carinderia to the barber shop and beauty parlor, not to mention the sastre: komiks, or rather the reading of it, is more than mere pastime. They reflect a particular aspect of our culture, indeed mirror the zeitgeist, if you will, but that is better left to our academics and scholars to discuss further.

Coching caught the imagination of the Pinoy, enough to be able to translate many of his komiks into the silver screen; the artist eventually served as consultant in the filming of his novels, resulting in movies that are now like a time capsule for a bygone era. You see the drawings of Coching and there is that recognition of an old, unnamable movie star, whose faded picture adorns the lobby of rundown moviehouses on Avenida, or on the billboards of lost time.

The name of the actress is on the tip of your tongue, but for the life of you cannot remember it: it’s just a drawing anyway.

Be that as it may, Coching’s Talipandas, Condenado, or Marabini, perhaps Movie Fan, become archetypes for moviegoers of the ’50s and ’60s, many of them helping shape the image of, say, Fernando Poe Jr. or Rosa Rosal, Gloria Romero or Zaldy Zhornack, names and faces that helped define an era.

And the habit continues, because in eskinitas everywhere, from Recto to Basilan, people still pay 25 to 50 centavos for some quiet time with precious komiks; a few minutes to be transported to another dimension and be kinsmen of Thor, Satur, Lapu-Lapu and Barbaro for half an hour or more.

One can momentarily forget the tuba that has to be gathered, the eggs that have to be delivered, perhaps a war that has to be fought. All for the sake of komiks.

Even today the narrative aspect of graphic art is being explored and further developed by young illustrators like Arnold Arre, who already has won a couple of national book awards for his reinvention/depiction of Filipino mythology.

Yet Arre is quick to acknowledge that his comic books would not have become comics in the first place without the necessary research in books by Filipino scholars of myth and folklore.

And who can forget the komiks versions of the Rizal novels Noli me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, required reading in high school and college (the books, not the komiks), which were a great help especially when cramming for exams. The drawings were like a handy visual Cliff Notes, and if there was some memorization required, then all we had to do was to turn to the specific passage and focus on that alone.

Maybe those komiks a la Rizal were also inspired by Coching. Even the multi-awarded artist Manuel Baldemor paid tribute to the komiks writer and illustrator, when he said that when he was growing up in Laguna, he idolized Coching and also wanted to illustrate and write novels in Manila.

These days, comics illustrators and street cartoonists like PM Junior and Aranda rely on a strong narrative to give flesh to their drawings, but the fine attention to detail, the tell-all line or shade that conveys myriad of emotions that Coching so mastered is not so easy to mime or mimic.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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