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Remembering ‘Funny Komiks’

When my siblings and I were younger, our entertainment primarily came in the form of Pilipino Funny Komiks. More commonly known as Funny Komiks (FK), it was a local, full-color children’s comic book first published in June 1978, featuring various anthologies, at most four pages long, in a single issue.

Our mom bought our first copy around 1996, when I was 4. Back in those years, it was her way of making reading a gratifying experience for us than an ordeal we had to face upon entering school.

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As soon as we got our copies, my sister would sit on the floor and binge-read while I lay atop our double-deck bed, never to be bothered. My younger brother, then unable to read, much less coherently speak, could wait since he would just scan the strips.

It was not long before FK became our weekly staple, thanks to its relatable, eponymous characters and Filipino language. Cliffhangers sparked our curiosity and excitement for the next issue.

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When I was 6, my sister, mother and I were crossing a highway pedestrian lane on our way home from the market when a speeding car hit me, leaving me face flat on the pavement, my mother hysterical, and my poor FK strewn about and in tatters. Thankfully, a kindhearted couple pulled over and immediately drove us to the hospital.

Coincidentally, before the accident, I was reading about Angel Doodle — an angel sent to earth by Angel Gabriel to teach unruly children values. The couple, I thought, were probably angels tasked to save my life. During my confinement, I caught up with the rest of the stories through my sister’s copy—the only thing that mattered more than my recovery.

That FK played a huge part in our childhood is an understatement. Through it, we learned to read proficiently, draw better than stick figures, excel in arts, differentiate ng from nang even before it was taught in school, and patronize our own.

During fourth grade, I started saving up from my allowance to personally cover the expense. I didn’t mind walking three kilometers back and forth and braving the scorching heat of the sun on Saturdays just to grab a copy. My newfound self-reliance was fulfilling.

But more importantly, FK took me to places I had never been to, on a thrilling journey with robots, warriors and talking animals who were my heroes and friends. I imagined myself alongside the iconic Combatron, A.X. defenders and Tinay Pinay, fighting enemies and helping those in need.

I identified with the antics of Eklok and Pitit, and wished our family was as complete as theirs. Likewise, the backfiring mischief of the trio Tomas, Kulas and Poink in “Tomas en Kulas”; the misadventures of Haring Matsungit, his nephew Bardagol and his right-hand man Matsutsu in Roni Santiago’s “Planet Opdi Eyps”; and the realistic portrayal of the typical married life of the nameless couple in “Mr. and Mrs.,” which never failed to crack me up. “Mga Kwentong Pinoy” — fables, legends and holiday issues where most of the stories focused on central themes like Christmas and New Year — made me appreciate our unique culture more.

I was lucky to have witnessed Niknok, Superdog, Darmo Adarna, Bulol at Tangak and Lilit Bulilit — notable FK characters in the ’80s — together in the silver anniversary reunion special issue. And last year, a former employee of Islas Filipinas Publishing Co., FK’s publishing company, sold me his 1979 hardbound issues.

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It felt surreal flipping the actual pages “Superkat” and Larry Alcala’s “Bing Bam Bung” once dominated. The stories had more depth; the detailed and vibrant front cover illustrations were a sight to behold. That it was faithful to the traditional drawing style — before the Japanese anime and manga influence became evident in FK in the late ’90s — was telling of its adaptability to the changing times and tastes of its audience.

Featured letters, artworks, anecdotes and pictures of its readers promoted a sense of community and belongingness. Sections devoted to idioms, vocabulary words, trivia, travel destinations and biographies of local heroes made FK as educational as it was entertaining.

Though its price rose from 70 centavos in its maiden issue to as high as P18 over the next three decades, it didn’t deter my patronage.

Until one fateful day in 2005, when FK suddenly stopped appearing in newsstands. The popularity of the local comics industry had been waning. I wasn’t emotionally prepared. That day, a part of the kid in me died, too.

Though it reappeared in 2008 when I was already in college, it no longer had the original vibe. Still, I bought copies out of loyalty. But its comeback was short-lived; FK was seemingly gone for good after about four issues.

That all good things must come to an end was my pathetic attempt to somehow assuage the pain and make sense of the loss. If it’s any consolation, the same digital age that contributed to its downfall also made possible through social media the connection with fellow enthusiasts who became my friends. Passionate group members would upload scanned FK images and share their insights for an ultimate throwback. Sometimes, I would send random people, to their surprise, pictures of their published artwork via Messenger, reuniting them with their sentimental masterpieces.

As my mother and I decluttered the understairs cupboard two summers ago, I stumbled upon our surviving FK collection, which had been untouched for years (she has this commendable proclivity of not throwing away things). A bittersweet nostalgia washed over me as the changes time had wrought on them unraveled: stained pages, rusty staple wires, missing covers, rat bites, and the musty smell of old book paper.

Or maybe it’s because the stash reminded me that childhood is still one of the best days ever. When we had no existential crises and heartbreaks yet, we were worry-free and satiable, and leisure didn’t need to be costly. When the only thing that made me cry was missing (albeit rarely) an FK issue — not an opportunity or a deadline. When “durugtungan,” “abangan” and “sundan” after each story were the only words that I had a love-hate relationship with, not “work” or “adulting.” When happiness was spending a rainy day by the window, clasped by the magic that was a Filipino comic book.

I didn’t know it then, but aside from my poor eyesight and love for reading and writing, FK also figured prominently in my life more than I gave it credit for. The death of Axel and Metallica, Combatron’s allies, opened my eyes to such sordid reality. It reinforced in me the value of respect, honesty, generosity and sportsmanship, and taught me two takeaways that I live by: to do good and to do no bad.

It made me realize that, just like how FK chapters culminate, our lives are but comic book pages punctuated either by a lesson, redemption, assurance of continuation, or, true to its name, a funny resolution.

* * *

Erden Jan D. Legaspi, 27, will always be a kid at heart. His search for early ’90s Funny Komiks issues continues.

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