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As I See It
Filipino cartoons and Alcala’s ‘Slice of Life’

By Neal Cruz
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 05:12:00 10/29/2010

Filed Under: Cartoon, Entertainment (general), Arts (general)

THE FESTIVAL 2010 OF PICCA (Philippine International Cartoons, Comics & Animation) at SM North Edsa was a huge success. It gathered together in two venues (The Block and Annex) the outstanding works of several generations of cartoonists and comics illustrators, from Jose Rizal and Fernando Amorsolo to Jess Abrera and other contemporary cartoonists, plus samples of the drawings of our outstanding comics artists, like Francisco Coching and Alfredo Alcala.

Comics were a very popular form of entertainment in the 1950s and later. There was a time when our comics became so popular that the industry was churning out at least two dozen titles a week.

Alas, the comics industry has fallen on bad times, together with the vernacular magazines, with the rise of television as the new entertainment medium.

TV and the motion picture industry have adopted many of the comics superheroes such as Batman, Superman, Spider Man, etc. as their own heroes, earning millions of dollars because of them.

Cartoons (editorial cartoons and comic strips) are still very popular because of the newspapers.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the most famous editorial cartoonist was Gat, whose caricatures enlivened the editorial pages of The Manila Chronicle. In the funny pages, it was Malang?s ?Kosme the Cop? with the toothbrush mustache who poked fun at the Manila policemen every day. Later, Malang introduced ?Chain-Gang Charlie,? a convict with a ball-and-chain attached to his leg, in the weekly magazine.

Malang formed a triumvirate with two close friends and compadres, also cartoonists, Hugo Yonzon Jr. and Larry Alcala. The three were inseparable and they frequented the Chronicle newsroom. Together with Gat and other cartoonists, they opened The Bughouse, a gallery on Mabini, then the center of art galleries, where they gathered regularly and exhibited and sold their cartoons.

Yonzon, who drew the daily comic strip ?Sakay and Moy? for The Manila Times, was also an accomplished and prize-winning painter and art photographer, and his oil paintings are now much sought after and command astronomical prices. Malang is also now a much sought-after oil painter.

Alcala concentrated on cartoons, both daily and weekly, his most famous strips being the weekly, ?Kalabog en Bosyo,? ?Siopawman? and ?Tipin,? and the daily ?Asiong Aksaya.? Alcala?s cartoons were known for the many beautiful girls adorning the frames, reminiscent of the American comic strip ?Etta Kett.?

But Alcala became very famous for his full-page weekly cartoon ?Slice of Life? which first appeared in the Weekend Magazine of the Daily Express.

The pièce de résistance of the PICCA show at SM City were versions of ?Slice of Life? by other PICCA cartoonists. Indeed, they attracted the most viewers, next to the cartoonists drawing caricatures of willing models. There were two original Larry Alcala ?Slice of Life? cartoons in the exhibit, and viewers crowded in front of them the longest. You know why? They were looking for the caricature of Alcala in the huge cartoons.

Alcala hid an image of himself in the weekly ?Slice of Life,? always a crowded scene in the Filipino urban and rural life. It was like a puzzle, and readers enjoyed looking for him in the many characters and objects in the cartoon. How this came about makes an interesting sidebar:

When I was assigned as editor of the new Weekend Magazine of the Daily Express, I had the problem of what to put on the back page. So I asked Larry Alcala to draw scenes, in color, of Philippine life, with many visual jokes, every week.

?What shall we call it?? he asked.

?Slice of Life,? I told him.

The cartoon was an immediate success. Later, I began to think of gimmicks to spice up the cartoon.

Larry and our gang were fans of the movie suspense director Alfred Hitchcock. The director always inserted himself in a scene in his movies?a fat man with a banjo hurrying to board a bus, or seated with a group in a framed photograph, for example. When we watched a Hitchcock movie, we had a contest on who would spot Hitchcock first.

Alcala adopted this Hitchcock gimmick in his comic strips. He drew himself, a young man in thick horn-rimmed glasses, carrying a drawing board, walking in the background among many characters. Looking for him in his comic strips also became an added attraction for his readers.

I asked Larry to do the same thing in ?Slice of Life.? He did, and from then on, readers, before looking at the whole cartoon, looked for him first.

But it soon became very easy to find his likeness, still wearing the same horn-rimmed glassed, but now fat, with a mustache and longish hair. So I told Larry to hide himself in the whole frame, to make it harder to find him.

First, Larry put himself on calendars tucked in a corner of the frame. Then he was hidden on magazine covers and news photographs. Then his face started appearing among rocks and bushes. When readers learned to look for him among the rocks and bushes, Larry began to make ?Slice of Life? look like a real puzzle. Sometimes they had to look at the whole page upside down or sideways to find him.

His caricature became bigger, sometimes occupying the whole page, and appeared only when one looked at several objects together at a certain angle and distance. It became harder to find him, and readers took a longer time looking closely at the cartoon. Readers enjoyed many times more, looking at the cartoon, laughing at the visual jokes and looking for his image.

Alas, with the death of Larry, ?Slice of Life? died with him, and the younger generations can no longer enjoy his humor and his art. I think a coffee-table book of all his ?Slice of Life? cartoons should be published.

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