Playing with Fire

Creator of our unforgettable komiks remembered

By Gonzalo Duque

 

WE are taking the liberty of reprinting an article by Joanne Rae M. Ramirez on a well-loved komiks artist Francisco V. Coching, a National Artist, as his works reminds all of us including Pangasinenses and Dagupenos who loved komiks as a favorite reading during our childhood.

Who will ever forget Pilipino Komiks, Hiwaga, Tagalog Klasik, Espesyal, etc?

Let’s listen to Joanne: “I am the proud wife of Francisco V. Coching, National Artist for Visual Arts,” Filomena Navales Coching wrote in September this year, just over a month before the exhibit Images of Nation: F. V. Coching, Komiks at Kultura opened before a distinguished gathering at the Ayala Museum in Makati. Mrs. Coching, unfortunately, did not live long enough to witness the proud moment as she passed away, also last month, at the age of 94.

A tribute to one of the most prolific figures in Filipino komiks’ golden age, Francisco V. Coching, known as the “Dean of Philippine Illustrators,” the exhibit was launched at the Ayala Museum in celebration of the 100th birthday of the National Artist for Visual Arts.

In a book published by the Ayala Museum in time for the event, Mrs. Coching said the exhibit — putting komiks as an art form on a pedestal — breaks a glass ceiling.

“This is a breakthrough in the world of komiks, once neglected and dismissed as not achieving the level of fine art of the cultured, thus considered only to suit the taste of the unlettered,” Mrs. Coching wrote.

She would have been joyous to see the high-brow Ayala Museum all aglow with the literati — and the glitterati — during the opening of the exhibit.

Komiks is a challenging art form because the komiks artist blends prose with illustrations. And the illustrations tell the story as well, for they depict motion even in their stillness.

“That’s how I learned to read, by reading komiks,” says my colleague Büm D. Tenorio Jr.

A legend in the komiks industry, Francisco V. Coching (1919-1998) produced over 63 titles, 51 of which were adapted into film. Among his many classics were Pedro Penduko, Hagibis, Ang Barbaro and La Sombra.

Senior curator Ditas Samson says that though reading komiks is “no longer a national pastime” with digital technology now reigning, Coching and his generation of komiks novelists will live on for their bodies of work are “embedded in the hearts and minds of Filipinos.”

The exhibit Images of Nation: F. V. Coching, Komiks at Kultura features original plates of covers, first-issue spreads, character studies, illustrations and scaled, re-colored reproductions of his most popular works. It gives a behind-the-scenes look of Coching’s creative process, allowing viewers to grasp his vast imagination, commitment to details and mastery of draftsmanship.

The artist’s narratives and imagined heroes during the ‘40s to the ‘60s became part of the aspirations and imagination of a young Philippine nation, freed from a colonial overseer and recovering from a devastating war, Coching, a master visual artist and storyteller, instilled in his readers a strength of spirit to cope and overcome the trauma of war and face the task of rebuilding the nation.

In an essay well-known art critic Alice Guillermo explains that “Coching’s art reveals the influence of (Hal) Foster — author of the popular 1930s pulp series Prince Valiant — in the acute characterization, the interrelationship of the figures, the general composition, the use of color and tones, as well as the feeling for the natural setting.”

Through his tales of heroism and triumph, Francisco V. Coching was also able to bring discussions on race and identity over to popular culture. His contributions to the komiks industry, to Philippine culture and popular consciousness, merited him the National Artist Award for Visual Arts, which was posthumously conferred in 2014.

F.V. Coching: Komiks at Kultura is presented under Ayala Museum’s Images of Nation exhibition program, developed to share the extraordinary vision and excellence embodied in the National Artist Award, with the support of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

It is on show at the Ayala Museum until Feb. 3, 2019.

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