Thursday, April 1, 2010

Nonoy Marcelo and His Fan

Was it only the other day? I received a letter that almost vanished among a glossy pile of literature from grocers Coles, Woolies and that electronic Dick Smith. I squinted to read sender's name; it was from Debbie.

In these days of online transactions, snail mails are as rare as elephants in Uluru; well except for the usual junk and those marked: To the resident.

Ned Kelly by Australian painter Sidney Nolan. Image from this site

That day a gem of a letter fell from the heavens and slid through the narrow window of my mailbox that stood guard like an emaciated Ned Kelly under a canopy of eucalyptus trees. I ptyk-ed some ants that crawled around the sweet edges of the stamp.

Inside the envelop were a photocopy of an old letter from late cartoonist Nonoy Marcelo, a photo of him (above) ...

..and a very old Tisoy cartoon strip. I was seized by a benevolent paralysis. A curious-whadda! What's Debbie got to do with Ninong Nonoy? Oh m-a-a-n, I thought, thiz-eez-za gonna be a very interesting day!


Curious, I unfolded what seemed to be a satin-coated paper fan with pica-sized fonts of uneven tones, evident of typing ribbon hammered thin; and no Wite-out; it was the opposite of a correction fluid -- perfection solid! However despite all his sincere effort I imagined the typist frustrated and struggling in front of the cumbersome machine. What dilemma! To type or to pen? Keyboard or Indian (ink)? QWERTY o Cajun? (oi, didn't that sound like the title of that Filipino game show hosted by Pepe Pimentel?)

Oh, the nostalgic era of non-electric typewriters where carbon paper ruled, homeworks shared in triplicate during the primordial Facebook; we (and not Wii) were all still truly carbon-based, clerical human beings; but I wonder why, sans carbon paper, we still use the initials CC (Carbon Copy) and BCC (Blind Carbon Copy) in our email? Hmm, maybe that explains why I pencil a drawing in PhotoShop using a rodent.

Besides who wants to add more confusion to the Compose toolbar by using CF (Copy Furnished) or BCF (Bloody Copy Forwarded)?

Sects, Lies and Mimeo

How could I forget the noise barrage spilling out of Typing 101 classrooms? Don't laugh now but although I'm not the type, I did pre-requisite courses on typing and stenography in early college (still can do Gregg shorthand) and I thought I was good. Why? Because PCC was! (now PUP. Hate that acronym:).

A mimeograph machine (above) similar to one at Kalayaan Centre, QC; background: Gigi and this blogger, April 5, 1972

When it was still PCC, we ate Metrocom truncheons for merienda while we disseminated a diarrhea of mimeographed nationalist manifestos. Then the dictator's iron typewriter printed more rights-curtailing EO's that forced the mimeograph machine to go subterranean.

People were caught and tortured. Everyone was under suspicion. Some type of faces were stereotypically branded by the regime's military henchmen. Arrest him! He looks like a Courier ; Let's beat up those Vagabond hippie guys; f--g drug addicts! They're cohorts of those communist Webdings. Hey Sarge! give the water treatment to that sonafabi..h Franklin Gothic, just found out he's chairman of Helveticang pamangkin pa raw ni Aling Othic, pinsan ni Clip.

No laughing matter that Proclamation 1081 Martial Law crap; the elite ruled out the pica majority that conceded to The New Society euphism; and so The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy docs, while the opposition typed a series of Now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of the party.

Then a good senator, back from exile, was assassinated in an airport tarmac. The bully had crossed the line despite his denials! For whoever did it, it was a big mistake! Hence a united font was formed, workers, students, agricultural workers, sakla operators, the Catholic church and other religious orders howled a series of chants in bold caps (try decoding this) M-H-D-T! M-H-D-T! M-H-D-T!

Today is anniversary of the April 6 noise barrage that hammered the keyboard of the Pambansang Makinilya ("National Typewriter") wearing down the key letters E, D, S and A . The dictator was eventually deposed; escaped while confused and asked himself how and why in Hawaii; and we still wonder what ever happened to that general font called Ver-dana.

One thing I learned from old school keyboards, there's no such thing as a perfect, typewritten letter. To aim for one shall only disrupt the momentum of inspired writing, not to mention a waste-basketful of crumpled A4s.

Call it a draft, like Philippine democracy for example, its Constitutional ink is still wet yet so many are already annoyed by typographical errors and spend the whole Senate/Congress days deliberating on strange issues; What? Katrina Halili who? I don't know but they held the writing implement full of ink and yet let the sharp point scrape the rough and potholed surface of the nation's canvas; thus the nibs twisted and broke and the people peniless. I suspect they had no real inkling about the significance of texture.

There's no hope they say, the country is a bad essay. However I like to think it is a raw narrative of a people that suffered during and after WWII, an inspired writing by an inspired people. It's the typist not the typewriter; the writer not the ink, for heaven's sake! For Andres Bonifacio, any ink would have been fine, even blood.

The story of a nation still rested upon our scholarly typesetters and men/women of letters, the layout and photos are still in transitional editing, relentlessly evolving from a little Twitter entry to a blog to an anecdote to a novella to a novel; from a doodle to a drawing to a painting and so on. The imperfection is the character as the quality of politics evolve, just like the young Filipino democracy; so far away from when it was invented by the ancient Romans in the middle of the fifth century BC.

The calligraphic quill pen was edged out when the typewriter (actually our own, little personal printing press) was born; but the artiste mourned and refused to give in to a mechanical tool except when he had to use one to make official a résumé for that insurance sales job (or else endure the cliche of the starving artist). Nevertheless he still saw a sable brush that painted fonts and symbols.

Free and natural typing could also be like painting in watercolor; where we need not worry about mistakes, letting the pigment-rich water take its course and us not forgetting our mantra: Let there be happy accidents! You'll never know what the next sentence's gonna be. We take care of the richness in color of the message, and the editors and proofreaders take care of the rest. Let them keep their jobs. We've got ours. It's for the good of ink-onomy.

above image from this site

Ah, Remington was Bill Gates then, putting a typewriter in every home just like computers today. In Manila, Claro M. Recto Avenue (the old Azcarraga) was the typing capital of the city, much like today's internet cafes. Did you want your high school essay typewritten but your old typewriter disappeared in a Pasay pawnshop? Well, no worries! Let the typing speed demons do it for you; and you give it to them, one peso per page, honey! Then you'll hear someone murmur from inside "This is really one bad essay, tell that customer guy there's no need to go through all this typing sh--; tell him we multi-task and could make him a nice, "authentic" diploma, complete with dried insect eggs and tattered edges. The Filipino's enterprising artistry was phenomenal. It was a boon to lazy ones; and so Mills & Boon took another meaning in the conceived Third World.

My family in Manila owned an already exhausted Corona typewriter back in the late 50s and God knows I was lulled to sleep by its staccato sound as big sis pounded on it to finish her homework while Mother played her old radio dialled to Hi Lilly, Hi Lo. I miss the bloody thing (the typewriter) and the scenarios that revolved around it. I miss my analogue youth; and my grandfather. Wonder if my grandkids shall miss their iPad youth when they grow white whiskers. If I could I shall provide them a magnifying glass to see the future via the past.

I studied the cartoon strip, there was Debbie's name inside the balloon. Wow, it's like you're on tv when your name gets mentioned by a newspaper cartoonist, you know. You become famous, you dream.. then t-i-i-ng! A tiny bell rang. I swear I heard the old Corona reached the end of the line.

Anyway I stopped reading the letter and put it down as I blew out some stale air. There was guilt. "Ang kay Pedro ay kay Pedro!" (Peter's is Peter's) I thought I heard Ninong mumbled, he bellowed like the sound of a distant didgeridoo.

There was this bit of voyeurism I felt from reading someone else's letter. But hell, it was delicious! I plucked an alibi from thin air..see I was just a proud "sharee" of a proud "sharer", and was wearing Debbie's delightful smile, albeit vicarious. I like to think I was BCC'd in his letter.

Nonoy's M

Who could forget a signature that was seen in daily newspapers by thousands if not millions of Filipinos? There it was, vintage '65; an artwork of a signature where underneath a typewritten Nonoy was a droopy, capital M that hovered like a mothership.

I actually saw it in many ways.. the shadow of an arachnid, a skeleton of the common Filipino kite defrocked by the wind; a simple robotic claw, or a limpid crucifix etched by Matisse but playfully bent by Dali, among others.

Wikipedia images

His M was unique, I haven't seen anyone bold enough to make an M out of a cross and still be recognized as so; unseen even in ancient glyphs. The genesis of his signature was detached and independent; followed by a rollercoasting a-r-c, then a brief pause that quickly climbed to e-l-o punctuated by a mysterious black triangle.The Thinker wrote with spontaneity balanced with calculated "pauses". He was in control.

Wikipedia images except last one

I did detect an opposition against the script's default path which is left to right. Maybe I understood the minor resistance; it was justified..

..after all, the Master was left-handed. He wasn't alone. Dutch engraver-painter Rembrandt was a leftie, too; and English cartoonist Ronald Searle, Umbrian painter-architect Raphael, American cartoonists Pat Oliphant and Matt Groening, Dutch printmaker M.C. Escher, that Florentine polymath Leonardo da Vinci, Swiss painter Paul Klee and English painter and sculptor Paul Hughes and Bavarian-born English painter Hans Holbein and many others.


..or the art of handwriting analysis in relation to human psychology isn't part of my portfolio but common sense is a bonus. No need for an Enigma to decode a signature of an open and most welcoming person like Nonoy (in contrast with tightly-written signatures).

Well how do you see his signature? A piece of tangled barbed wire? It's like reading clouds on a cloudless day. There was also my urge to compare his signature to a few European Masters and I discovered some interesting qualities in them.

There was Johan Vermeer (Italian, 1632-1675) who combined V and M, the former made visible by a vertical shaft, a letter within a letter;
almost like a visual of a curious event that day when I received a letter within a letter; or..

Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944) who perhaps pioneered the haloween font, Playful and scary with a couldn't-care-less attitude. You'd think he used his fingertips to sign his works, drippy and blotchy..

above image from

..nightmarish like his "The Scream"; (which perhaps inspired Adobe font Ghouly Solid:). Then there's..

Claude Monet (French, 1840-1926) who had a miserly yet impressionistic signature, his M quite disjointed and fine lines left to imagination. Impressive enough. His t won't dare cross the line and looked like a Bastille hangman's gallow.

Amedeo Modigliani (Italian, 1884-1920) drew laces lazily but oozed with seductive femininity mirrored upon his beautiful paintings of women (but did he ever draw men?); as exciting and titillating as his M.

Henri Matisse
(French, 1869-1954)
signed with simple, stark visuals, e.g. what seemed to be a chair, a fruit, a crucifix, a pair of asps and a decapitated snake head; respectively and the lot underscored by a sabre. Sacre bleu! Was the Master a swordsman who practised voodoo?:)

Edouard Manet (French, 1832-1883) signed like a complete drunk; definitely high with his Luncheon on the Grass. His M looked like a portion of a swimming pool fence in perspective, followed by letters apart and won't talk to each other, and a t that looked like a farm implement; (better if he used a good writing implement but at that time the French hasn't invented Bic:).

You are what you ink

Consider this, the signature signified finality of a creation, whether an artwork or a document. It is a handwritten commitment to claim intellectual ownership and take full responsibility of a literary or visual expression. In essence, the signature is the person.

Merely by chance, the quality of a signature I think is akin to the quality of character of the person. A thumbmark is only evidentiary, but not the character. Hence, what gives the person character is quality itself. Well there are mysterious signatures made by mysterious people, so then..beware of the Nigerian email scam!

Take for example the signature of a wily scammer (above image). He signed his name with initials that read FEMS (no, that guy wasn't gay) with a breathtaking F, a noodly E, an M that looked like a dead mattress spring; and a sexy S. Fine, but then he crossed them all out, as if he made a grave mistake. Oh well, typical of leader guys who started good and ended bad. Marcos' M was loopy like a stack of gold coins that connected to a distant S, while all the letters in between magically disappeared; exactly what happened to the contents of the Philippine treasury! (And you wonder what that S stood for; Switzerland of course!:)

Now that he's gone and only left us dire consequences of his actions, he must now be at peace, still looking up the heavens and wondering why he's not up there, his vision still glazed behind the dynamite-induced 3D glasses he seemed to be wearing (above image).

Artists! Those vindictive guys must be deconstructionists and perhaps used C4 (not C5, that's Villar's) to blow up an artwork to create another artwork. Amazing, get me off this planet.

Let's push the envelope further; what if he borrowed Nonoy's signature M and break all its four legs so as to avoid copyright laws? It truly looked awful. Oh well, that's typical again.

Codes and crossword puzzles I find generally entertaining..or perhaps I'm just reading too many Dan Brown books, but lines, glyphs and symbols do amuse the child in me.

Pero cuidao
, Nonoy Marcelo's signature in motion could look as dangerous as an arrow; a yin-yang of a projectile, feathery at one end of an undulating stem that joined to a solid arrowhead! Perfect.

People familiar with his satirical drawings saw an arrow shanked into the gut of a Kevlar-wrapped public opinion that for decades was cruelly moulded and mauled by a vicious dictatorship. However the quill didn't fly a straight line but instead danced. It scanned and wove around the target and richocheted with mocking irreverence; poked 'til it hurt, penetrated and ignited the gas inside until the airbag collapsed.

Once I playfully meditated on his signature, the letter o bigger than the Swiss atom collider, and in full was larger than the ancient Nazca lines; and embossed high like the Cordilleras (op kors, bosing eh:) in a dry patch of the Filipino psyche which forever prayed to a cloudless but gray sky for that invigorating and cleansing rainwater of truth and social justice; moving through the sounds of the Pinikpikan band; a cranial raindance sans human sacrifice. His pen was a soulful earthmover; and if all his works were laid end-to-end, it would be more breathtaking from the highest hot air balloon.

If a computer were to read his signature, it would be M arc e l o∆
, that's why I didn't use the OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software to convert the letter into Word. It could have just sanitized it, ignored amusing elements(e.g. strikeovers) that truly made his typewritten letter funny, rich and unique. One thing for sure, the eccentric cartoonist hated the typewriter keyboard. Why, he'd rather use his left foot!

And so that was the befuddling connection. Debbie was a pioneer comic strip fan of Nonoy who dared write him a letter and that she deserved a response, the symbiosis between the artist and his audience was complete.

Nonoy's letter began:

Dear Debbie,

I ain't much good in writing letters or typing one, but in the absence of a stupid ballpen,
and with the pressure of guilt for not answering you sooner, ugh!
wrong spacing already!...(and the rest you have to read by clicking image below)

I never really knew my Ninong so well, he rarely talked, he only did. My drawing skill, I believed, was my only passport into his hectic editorial and strip cartooning life but it allowed me to observe a man without judgment. Mention his name and I'm instantly plonked back to a raging whitewater of animated images and emotions; back in his animation studio in Scout Morato. The ambient sounds and images were still vivid, like the closing doors of his low, blue sports MG that had just parked off street. It took some time for him to import it from New York, and the damn thing often overheated in Manila's stop-and-go traffic; nevertheless he definitely added cool to the streets.

A Polaroid photo of (L to R) Nonoy with Sonny, Tan Lung, this blogger & Pandy. (c.78)

Next was the heavy clicking of leather boots that almost swallowed the ends of his tight leather jeans, the sound of striking matches to light up his ciggies, shirt tucked in but only in front (now that's a fashion statement that caught on in the 90s),disheveled hair, wide, insomniac eyes that often caught me off guard when his lips quibbled: "Edd, pakigawa nga ako ng dance study sa animation intro ng Annie Batumbakal. Yung mga contributors sa Bukol Mag, oks na ba? Sa'n yung kay Rox Lee? Yung kay Benjo?" (Edd, can you please do me a draft of an animation dance for a movie's intro? What about our Bukol (his version of Mad Magazine)? Anything from our contributors yet?")

What joy it was working in his projects and they're all of importance.Why so? Because cartooning lent a significant part in Filipino culture. It's a powerful genre when wielded by a very witty and skilled artist. Nonoy raised the bar of Filipino cartooning. He was feverishly fluent, not affluent.

Debbie gave me permission to have the letter featured and may I share it with you. It wasn't email, it didn't exist in the internet until now. It was organic and tactile. It was..err..Da Real Makoy! But what's the big deal? Because the letter was dated July 22, 1965, still a dozen years before I finally met the man!

High Times

It was year I painted a mural backdrop for our high school play in Araullo; and I was also actor villain of Mir-i-nisa! How can I forget? That was year my eldest sister set to emigrate to the United States, to work in Washington. Gee, sis was smart. She finished as a magna cum laude and easily got a job overseas.

Back cover of The Wall (Araullo '65-'66)

Old calendar leaves flipped in reverse quicker than the movie scenes of Benjamin Button. I considered myself fortunate among hundreds of students for I was selected as artist for our high school pulp (The Wall/Ang Moog of Araullo High). Looking back at my drawings I realized they were poorly-drawn. I wanted to return and redraw those jagged, unconfident lines and redesign the whole thing; but gee whiz, they looked good at the time.

Inside the nucleic core of my subconscious I ached to become a real cartoonist. A professional, mentalist clown that could draw and quarter misbehaving targets.

Nonoy Marcelo often impregnated his comic strip balloons with sarcastic puns and hip, canto lingo most of which made the mainstream, e.g. 'Pinas. His written articles made me fumble for the dictionary yet in context were comprehensible in its written imagery.

I dreamed to meet the man one day. It happened in 1977 when he welcomed me to be part of his animation team and became one of his comics editors. There were times we were left together working into the middle of the night at his Ermita studio, the room full of smoke and uncertainties but the sun certainly shone the next day. He left me alone tho', and I liked it. He did his stuff, I did mine; so who was saying I was his prodigy? Nothing can be further from the tru..hang on; there is a subtle ring of truth there because even before I met him I was already his prodigy, a great comics fan.

Nonoy wanted me to have my own signature. I had my own pen and he only provided the paper and ink. He never interfered and had often complimented my work with a strange snigger. I felt proud.

In November 1979, he became my marital godfather after a 10-year engagement to Virginia (Gigi) Cristobal. He was assisted by his close friends Pandy Aviado and Boy Rodriguez, Jr. It was the wife of Primitivo Mijares who wedded us. Later that year we arrived in Australia. In 1987 Virginia succumbed to breast cancer. My Ninong was in sorrow upon hearing the tragic news. I died, too.

cover of Ikabod book sent to me by Ninong Nonoy in 1985

Ninong's handwritten message on first page of my Ikabod copy.

Sorry I've drifted again. Anyway Debbie must have been delighted by the letter. Why, she had kept it for 45 years! Precious. I've always believed time is the real investment.

But what minutes! Count them by sensation, and not by calendars, and each moment is a day. tweeted Benjamin Disraeli; and it was another Benjamin (Ben) Razon of Oarhouse (Ermita) who, a few years ago, introduced me to Debbie who was in Manila at that time for a photographic exhibit.

Debbie, the Tisoy fan and myself are of the same age now, both Australians. My stride leans over the hill towards the east because I still nurture a single aorta of my heart healthy..keeping it fat and nicotine-free because it is linked to a nation of islands and its hardworking and sunburnt, noble people. How lucky we are for our lives were touched by a beautiful human being. Why did he have to leave so prematurely?

Huling Ptyk

It was so early, the cockatoos outside were noisy and rig trucks were just crawling along Sunnyholt Road. The barako coffee was just brewing as I slowly opened my Hotmail inbox. Iyak ako nang ibalita sa akin ni Pandy (I cried when Pandy broke the news).

On the sad day of October 22, 2002 Nonoy Marcelo passed away. Many people were left in shock and sorrow; newspaper editors slowly put down their eyeglasses to dry up little specks of diamonds in the corners of their eyes. Such an untimely death for a uniquely-gifted person.

Close friends and circles who knew him were restless and dejected; the vacuum left a gaping hole of crossed bones, his legacy of works hung in space like jagged, broken diamond meteorites; the links in the internet address bar broken and corrupted; Error 404! Something's wrong; what injustice!..

Huling Ptyk (Da Art of Nonoy Marcelo) book cover

..until a team of friends came up a few years later with a beautiful tribute book initiated by Sylvia Mayuga, together with Pandy Aviado and son Dario Marcelo, Krip Yuson among many others including national artist BenCab.

The book's title is Huling Ptyk, Da Art of Nonoy Marcelo. (Yey!.and har-har, I got two copies that I jealously guard, one from Pandy and the other a gift from Ding Roces. (Oh, readers, don't be jealous, the book has always been available online; I'm sure it will add pride to your little but sensible library, Google it!).

(above image) A scanned reproduction of detail in Huling Ptyk, p.40

The book is packed full of his drawings including a few specimens of Plain Folks (his spot cartoon in the Daily Mirror of early 60s ) and selected samples of..

... vintage Tisoy from 1963, Ikabod strips, editorial cartoons, caricatures and drawings he did until early Y2K.

Thanks to Debbie for sharing Nonoy Marcelo's letter (Deborah-Ruiz Wall is her full name). She arrived in Australia with husband David in 1974 and then later established a succesful teaching career.

Caricature feature of Debbie I did for Bayanihan News

I've featured her in my column published in Bayanihan, a local newpaper (above image) about 5 years ago. Debbie is one hyperactive and artistic community leader and has deeply integrated in Australian Aboriginal communities with the hope of helping and learning from them. I'm sure she'll also be able to find and inspire a rare and witty Nonoy Marcelo amongst the indigenious communities in Australia, maybe a little boy who could write and draw; and perhaps one day become prime minister of this land, able to hold an emu quill pen or a Mac keyboard to help rectify the social injustices of the nightmarish past. It's a Brand New Dae, spelling out a new found hope.

The aboriginal people believe in what they call Altjeringa or Dreamtime, and so he might have the potential to enrich it with his life's spiritual sketches; and if ever that little boy signed his name with an X like Nonoy, then it would herald a new Southern Cross.

In 2004 she made proud the Filipinos in Australia when she was awarded an OAM (Order of Australia Medal) by the Australian Commonwealth Government for her selfless work in the community, touching on social justice, reconciliation and multiculturalism. (More info here about Debbie)

After a few years, I met again Debbie when she invited us to her birthday party held in a Thai restaurant where I've tasted the best tom yum. My partner and I offered her a song, Noong Unang Panahon (Long time ago) written by Bienvenido Lumbrera, Philippine National Artist. Alfredo (Ding) Roces sent me photos he took during the event. (images below)

With my partner Menchie playing for the celebrant.

Debbie putting out the big fire!:)

Irene Roces with Debbie and Tessie Tomas and friends who did a cultural dance.

I've discoursed enough; remember, you are your signature; and I better redesign mine after you've encashed that cheque:)

Yesterday and Forever I'll be chanting
NONOY! NONOY! NONOY!..for there is Hope;

Today I cry NOYNOY! NOYNOY! NOYNOY! ..for there is hope; and that added Y is not and won't be a typographical error.