As a young kid, I played Darna, imagining myself to be the heroine with superpowers who appeared in Filipino komiks popular at that time.
On ordinary days, Darna is Narda, a simple girl with a disability. When she is needed, Narda swallows a magical stone to transform into Darna—a being strong enough to battle bad men, demons and monsters. Darna has been a big part of many childhoods, including mine. From her adventures, we learned to side with and cheer goodness and to oppose evil. We also learned what basically constitutes goodness and also evil. From komiks, Darna has been adapted to movies and television shows, becoming an icon of Philippine pop culture.
Darna is the creation of prolific komiks writer Mars Ravelo, who also created several other iconic characters such as Captain Barbell, Lastikman, Bondying and Dyesebel. Ravelo is revered for creating characters and stories that colored many a childhood memory. On the centenary of his birth last October 9, the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) held a celebration. A three-tiered caked was cut in his honor. It was decorated with covers of his komiks and some of his characters. It was crowned, fittingly, with the face of Darna and a small typewriter of sugar icing.
The celebration was held at the Bulwagang Juan Luna or Main Gallery and the Pasilyo Guillermo Tolentino, the third-floor hallway gallery of the CCP, where the “Mars Ravelo Reinterpreted” exhibit, which opened on September 15, 2016, is on view until November 13, 2016.
Ravelo was born on October 9, 1916, in General Trias, Cavite, where he spent most of his childhood. He studied in Manila, but he cut classes to spend time in public libraries until he decided to leave high school during his sophomore year. He had already met Tony Velasquez, a well-known komiks illustrator, who influenced him to go into the genre. In 1939, he became the cartoonist for the comic series, “Bemboy,” but his career was cut short by the Second World War. After the war, Ravelo returned to komiks, coming up with original material, which was published in Bulaklak. On May 17, 1950, the first issue of “Darna” came out. Within the span of four decades, he produced more than 300 titles that included stories of superheroes, fantasy, comedy, science fiction, drama and romance, eventually becoming a household name. He died on September 12, 1988, leaving behind a legacy that influences many people until today.
The “Mars Ravelo Reinterpreted” exhibit kicked off the year-long celebration of Ravelo’s centenary. It gathered visual artists Kris Abrigo, Ang Gerilya, Virgilio Aviado, Mariano Ching, Ernest Concepcion, Maishadela Cruz, FaBo, Dex Fernandez, RM de Leon, Leeroy New, Jonas Roces, Jericho Vamenta and MM Yu, who created paintings, sculptures and installations inspired by Ravelo’s characters, challenging the perceived divide between fine art and comic art. It also subverts the statuses—comic art, which is usually perceived as low-brow and escapist, informing and inspiring the fine arts. The works range from the ones that comment on social issues using Ravelo characters to those that are simply homages.
Aside from the works of the featured artists, “Mars Ravelo Reinterpreted” has a section displaying memorabilia and works by Ravelo. There are volumes of komiks, as well as typewritten scripts. A small section displays works of thee of Ravelo’s eight children—Richard, Rita and Rex.
Rex’s work, a charcoal-on-paper painting called Tinapa Literature, depicts torn pages of comic books made into a little bag to hold smoked fish, a common practice then. It is described as “an interpretation of how his father would honestly want to educate Filipinos by passing on both moral values and Pinoy culture even only through repurposed komiks pages.”
Additionally, Rex emphasizes that one of the educational impacts of his father’s komiks stories is the popularization of the Filipino language. Komiks in Filipino were widely read, including in the Visayas and Mindanao, and as a result non-Tagalog speaking Filipinos learned Filipino.For his part, Rex is keeping alive his father’s legacy, as well as trying to revitalize interest in comics. With partners and associates, he is currently building the Mars Ravelo Komiks Museum on a 2,000-square meter lot in Neogan, Tagaytay City, Cavite. Planned to open during the culmination of the centenary celebration next year, the museum, he says, will not only feature his father’s works, but it will be about Philippine comics as a whole, showing the impacts and influences of the popular art form on Filipino lives and culture.
|Darna at ang Babaeng Linta typewritten script|
|Sisid, Dyesebel, Sisid|
|An old Royal typewriter of the Ravelos|
|Ang Gerilya’s Tagapagligtas (flat latex on plywood, 2016)|
|Darna and Valentina Encounter by RM de Leon (acrylic on paper, 2009)|
History of the Halimaw by Kris Abrigo (acrylic on wood, 2016)
|Leeroy New's Still Life with Two Flash Bombas (plastic toys)|
|Plastickman, Plastikman 2 by Virgilio Aviado (mixed media on tarpaulin and found objects, 2016)|
Portrait of Mars Ravelo by Richard Ravelo
|Tinapa Literature by Rex Ravelo|
|Dyesebel by Jonas Roces (brass on stainless steel stand, 2016)|
|Mars and Lucy Ravelo|
|Mars Ravelo, Amaya, Cavite|