Pablo S. Gomez: A Filipino comics legend

Pablo S. Gomez, one of the Philippines’s most popular and respected comic-book authors, died the day after Christmas Day.

Gomez, along with the other komiks authors and illustrators in the Philippines, were the heroes of my youth. As with the comic books of today, their creations provided an escape, particularly for poor children like myself who couldn’t afford the price of a movie ticket and would instead skip class to spend the day at the public market to read the week’s latest editions, at 25 — or was it 10? — centavos per sitting.

Pablo S. Gomez; "Gilda," one of his characters; and a typical komiks cover (Photos from flipgeeks.com and video48.blogspot.com)

Pablo S. Gomez; "Gilda," one of his characters; and a typical komiks cover (Photos from flipgeeks.com and video48.blogspot.com)

(I tried searching for any photo of these comic-book stalls in the public markets, just to give you an idea how it was, but couldn’t find any. I remember, however, getting stoked each time I visited one of these stalls at the Carmen Public Market in Cagayan de Oro City, where I grew up, and seeing all these new editions strung across the store’s frontage, literally covering it. These komiks, by the way, were printed on cheap newsprint, not the glossy paper being used today, and they came in weekly editions, featuring mostly serialized novels).

The characters of Gomez and company — Jim M. Fernandez, Carlo J. Caparas, Vincent Kua Jr., Hal Santiago, Karl Comendador, Mar Santana, Elena Patron — populated my youthful daydreams. I imagined myself as free spirited as Pokwang, as mythical as the boy — whose name I couldn’t recall — who rides sharks, and as mean as Zuma, the snake man. I  dreamed of having the powers of Mr. Universe, shouting “Dalton!” to turn myself into this superhero and “Tondal!” to turn myself back into a mere mortal. During really hard times, I found myself shouting, in my head at least, “Dalton!” quite often.

I was so enamored with komiks that at one point, I tried writing some, eventually publishing two short komiks stories. I didn’t stick with it, however, because the pull of journalism was much more stronger.

When authors like Gomez complained years ago that television was killing the komiks industry — young children were no longer as excited as I was over new editions shipped to the stalls each week; why would they, right? — I, too, felt their pain. Gomez later found it ironic that the medium that led to the slaughter of komiks is now capitalizing on it — the dramas and shows Filipinos watch on TV these days are invariably based on these komiks characters.

In this sense, Gomez and the others came out triumphant, if only because they proved that their characters are not prisoners of those white box strips or forever consigned to cheap newsprint. Because the komiks creations of Gomez  are literary and cultural gems in their own right, they found a way to reach new audiences through new mediums. His legacy lives on.