Kenkoy kick-started 'komiks'
by Chong Ardivilla
The Filipino “komiks” industry began with
sheer luck... or by accident. You must remember that accidents are
just unplanned that could be fortunate or otherwise. Antonio
“Tony” Velasquez was just at the right time and
at the right place. In the late 1920s, Tony was working as a subordinate
artist for the ‘photoengraving’ section of Liwayway magazine.
The writer Romualdo Ramos had a great idea of writing
for a comic strip. Since the chief artist for Liwayway then had a
congested work schedule, the task of drawing fell to Tony’s
lap and the rest is the history of Kenkoy.
was, and in a lot of cases, still is a Pinoy icon. The weekly comic
strip Mga Kalbalan ni Kenkoy (Kenkoy’s antics) proved to be
so popular that it was translated to several regional languages, generated
comic spin-offs of minor characters, and raked in cash for a then
burgeoning film industry. Kenkoy with his slick hair, ‘plantsado(starched)
pants’ and hilarious antics has endeared himself to the Filipino
consciousness. Unfortunately, Romualdo Ramos died suddenly and left
Tony Velasquez to continue on his own. Tony proved to be quite effective
with Kenkoy working on Kenkoy. Consider the Legacy of Kenkoy... he
sparked a thriving comic book industry, the comic book artists came
up with similar quirky characters that snared the general public’s
attention and movie deals and advertising contracts.
Though considered a component of “Low Art,”
komiks provided for the pulse of the people. Serious artists such
as the musician Nicanor Abelardo wrote an entire
libretto called Hay Naku Kenkoy (Oh my gosh Kenkoy!).
Early 20th Century Filipino poetry has been affected
by the manner in which how Kenkoy would pronounce words as exemplified
by the poem Ay Introdyus to Yu Mr. Kenkoy. Considered a horrific attack
on the English language then, Kenkoy’s English persists and
has evolved to ‘Carabao English’ to the recent radical
form of the mobile phone SMS or what is locally known as txting. (Example:
Wru? M hir w8ng olrdy; Translation: Where are you? I’m here
But the starkest legacy is the word Kenkoy. It all
started when they were looking for a nickname for the main character’s
Francisco... Kiko, Iko, or Kikoy are quite common so they thought
of Kenkoy. In the Tagalog vernacular, Kenkoy has morphed from character
to meaning of somebody who stands out for being funny or as the life
of the party. It was Kenkoy who first ingrained himself as part of
the Pinoy colloquial vocabulary, which was followed by Barok, Jeproks
and other words invented by later cartoonists. Even the word Pinoy
or the colloquial for “Filipino” was popularized by a
The Pinoy komiks industry has boomed from the early
to the late 20th Century. The relative cheaper production costs of
the komiks industry has easily churned out hundreds of thousands of
issues for mass consumption. Considered as “poor man’s
reading fare” because of its accessibility to the general public.
Komiks characters have played with Pinoy imagination becoming apt
metaphors for dreaming, struggling and eventually wining over several
With the advent of the komiks’ popularity, politicians
saw the potential of this medium and used it for their own ends. Komiks
also provided for an easier and lesser intimidating educational tool.
Radio programs, movie scripts, celebrities, fanfare and profit deluged
the Komiks industry. With the sheer demand, the Komiks industry even
managed to produce luminaries that eventually made their mark in the
American Comic Industry such as Francisco Coching
and Alex Niño.
proved to be quite formidable that he was the only not banned by the
Japanese Occupation. However, Velasquez and Kenkoy were employed by
the Japanese to disseminate about the health programs of the Japanese.
Velasquez even created a comic strip about the life of the Pinoys
under Japanese rule. It is not sure though that could be an act of
collaboration by Velasquez’ part but just imagine the ruckus
of the Pinoys then at the time of disastrous war without Kenkoy to
give them a semblance of nostalgia and balance.
I consider it quite the irony that the current Philippine
komiks industry is ruled by Japanese influenced comic books such as
Culture Crash and Questor. But you can’t blame the present generation
of komiks fans for their “Japanization,” these kids were
raised with Voltes V. ‘Japanization’ of the komiks is
only exacerbated by local television’s bombardment of imported
Japanese cartoons. Plus it is also important to note that since the
late 70s, the komiks industry has been in steady decline to its now
death-throes. Even the komiks publication houses of today have to
compromise by making Pinoy “Manga” (Japanese word for
Comics) to keep their industry afloat.
Komiks started to fall from mass consumption when other
distractions were rendered accessible and more entertaining like the
television, radio dramas, telenovellas, tabloids, Pinoy romance novellas
and txting. The Golden Age of Komiks started by Kenkoy is now but
only small talk of nostalgic older cartoonists that bewail the loss
of their pantheon and now being overrun by outside influences. Of
course, they tend to forget that komiks is also, first and foremost,
an effective tool for American indoctrination.
Present-day comic book artists are divided. One group
hurls expletives over the use of Japanese style to make Komiks, while
the other group justifies that they were exposed to this Japanese
style earlier and that they are products of the changing times. One
rallying cry uses a famous Marvel character to instill patriotism
in the comic book art form: “Wolverine is a Filipino!”
This just shows that Filipino artists are becoming a visible component
of the American popular Comic book industry. The other group says
that komiks industry is evolving and MUST evolve to secure its survival.
But people wonder which is worse, drawing komiks a la Japanese Manga
(which is fast gaining popularity) or actually being proud to be part
of a former colonial ruler’s vast, cold, conveyor belt factory-type
of comic book publication?
What would Tony Velasquez and Kenkoy think?
Even Kenkoy has evolved from a komiks character to a
popular culture icon. His funny face regaling over highbrow restaurants,
t-shirts, and even on the cover of a coffee-table book about Pinoy
pop culture. If there is one thing to be comforted, it is that komiks
and the artists that produce them are veering toward the individualization
of style albeit how painful and economically non-viable it is. Some
argue that it really doesn’t matter which country influenced
What is important is the story you tell and the pictures
you draw. So which better story to surpass than Kenkoy’s?
So only time can tell when will another Tony Velasquez
come along producing another Kenkoy that captured the eyes, ears and
laughter of a nation.
For now, Kenkoy endures...and that is pretty amazing.