The Comics Wars

GASI or the Graphic Arts Services, Inc. is the comic book publishing firm established by well-known cartoonist and comic scriptwriter Tony Velasquez (1910-1997) and Ramon Marcelino, also a comic scriptwriter and editor.

The company was financed by Don Ramon Roces of the Roces clan of publishing magnates Its office was then on Calle Solano in Intramuros, Manila.

GASI was the publisher of major comic titles in the Philippines namely Kislap (founded September 1962), Pioneer (October 1962), Aliwan (January 1963), Pinoy Klasiks (August 1963), and Holiday (September 1963).

It was in 1968 when Roces implemented a major revamp in GASI. The aim: to put another Roces inside GASI.

Because of this, Ramon Marcelino resigned from his post as editor and organized the new Ace Publications (also under the Roces clan). Damy Velasquez replaced him as editor in GASI.

Velasquez has remained as General Manager of GASI and the position of publisher was given to Doña Elena Roces-Guerrero, one of Don Ramon’s two daughters.

The other daughter, Dona Carmen Roces-Davila, took charge of the new Ace Publications founded by Ramon Marcelino.

The rise of the monopoly

By the end of the 1960s, the Roceses were once again on the top of the comics publishing business in the Philippines. Their competitors either sold their comic titles to them (like PSG’s United Komiks, Kidlat Komiks and Universal Komiks) or closed down permanently (like CRAF Publications and Sosayti). Others held on until well into the early 1970s, until heavy censorship under the martial law regime forced them to fold up too.

When martial law was lifted, comics somewhat regained life and most of its lost mass-readership.

Even during the years of censorship under martial law, the Roceses’ GASI and Atlas still dominated the field of comics publishing.

Three more titles were added in 1982 to the GASI comics fleet: Nobela Klasiks, Kuwento Komiks and Damdamin Komiks.

Since then, GASI and Atlas had monopolized the comics industry in the Philippines, Their market share accounts to more than 70 percent of the country’s total comics sales.

The remaining market was shared by small publishers like Rex, Bookman, and GMS.

The creation of Atlas

Meanwhile, the Atlas Publishing Co., Inc. a.k.a. ATLAS, is what used to be Pilipino Komiks, Inc. (PKI).

To prevent confusion on the company’s name and the magazine’s title, its incorporators decided to change its name to Atlas Publishing Co., Inc.

The company’s name was inspired by the mythical hero, Atlas, the one who carries the world upon his shoulders.

Doña Carmen Roces-Davila, one of the daughters of Don Ramon Roces, served as the publisher of Atlas.

Aside from Pilipino Komiks, Atlas also owned Tagalog Klasiks, Hiwaga Komiks, Espesyal Komiks, Tin-Edyers Songs and Shows, Darna Komiks and Sixteen Magazine.

It was in 1972 that Atlas acquired Kidlat Komiks from the defunct PSG Publishing House. They published the magazine under its new title, Kidlat Superkomix.

Later, in 1976, Atlas introduced Extra Special Komiks to the public and in 1981, it released the maiden issue of King Komiks.

Three more comics titles were added to the Atlas family in 1984: B’wisheart Komiks, Love-Drama Komiks and Kasaysayan Komiks.

And when GASI created Speed Komiks, its first pocket-sized comics, in 1985, Atlas also came out with its own series of “pocketkomiks”, the most popular of which included Ninja Pocketkomiks, Super Action Pocketkomiks, Horror Thriller Pocketkomiks, Ayos! Pocketkomiks and Children’s Stories.

However, these were later transformed into the regular-sized comics.

Until the early 2000s, Atlas continued to produce more comics titles.

Aside from the Big Four Komiks (Pilipino Komiks, Tagalog Klasiks, Hiwaga Komiks, and Espesyal Komiks), the other widely-read comics title Atlas published produced was the True Horoscope Stories.

In 1996, half of the Roces family’s Filipino comics publishing monopoly, Atlas, was sold to National Bookstore, Inc., the leading Filipino bookstore chain.

It was unfortunate that since the sale, “traditional” Filipino comics under the Ramos family’s watch have practically disappeared from the Philippines’ cultural map.

In 2006, after more than 60 years of comics tradition in the Philippines, Atlas Publishing Co. Inc. made a final bow with the cessation of the publication of its comics titles including the Big Four Komiks.

The golden years of comics in the Philippines

It was during the 1980s that the country saw the rise in mass readership of comics.

Weekly, millions of comics copies were being printed for distribution not only in the Philippines but abroad, particularly in countries with large Filipino populations like Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Hong Kong.

The fall of comics

But this surge of interest in comics was short-lived because of the rise of television and other forms of entertainment.

The old black-and-white Tagalog movies reruns, which were frequently aired on television; the game and entertainment shows like Student Canteen and Tawag ng Tanghalan; the Japanese anime which began to dominate the Filipino TV, like Voltes V, Daimos, Mazinger Z, etc., became the strong rivals of comics for the public’s attention.

However, the biggest rival of comics entertainment were the American TV shows. They captured the attention of the Filipinos in the mid- and late 1970s. Among them were The Incredible Hulk (starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno), Six Million Dollar Man, Wild Wild West, Combat, and Charlie’s Angels.

The arrival of soap operas in the 1980s, also posed a threat to the comics industry.

By the 1990s, the comics industry was in such a bad state that even Tony Velasquez, living in retirement, has refused to comment about the prospects of the industry.

In addition to these, the advent of the video games, the romance pocketbooks, all contributed to the decline of the Philippine comics industry, not to mention the later arrival of gadgets like pages and cellphones, and the birth of the Internet.

GASI one by one canceled their titles, and shifted more in publishing movie-magazines, the gossip type where popular with movie fans. More and more, the comics were relegated to the margins as the “other publications”, being published only for the sake of tradition.

In 1997, Velasquez, founder of the old Ace Publications and GASI, and the recognized “Father of Philippine Comics”, died in the GASI compound. He never saw the re-emergence of the industry he pioneered and loved, and died with a broken heart.

His death mercifully saved him from further hurt, though, for later that year, GASI was finally dissolved as a publisher of comics.

A curtain was therefore lowered down on one of the greatest publishers in Philippine comics and media history. (Bulatlat.com)

References:

A Brief History of Philippine Comics, http://komiklopedia.wordpress.com/history/; accessed May 2, 2009

Larry Alcala cartoons, http://www.geocities.com/larryalcala/aboutlarry.html; accessed May 2, 2009

Graphic Arts Service, Inc., http://en.wikipilipinas.org/index.php?title=Graphic_Arts_Service%2C_Inc.; accessed, May 2, 2009

Atlas Publishing Co., Inc., http://komiklopedia.wordpress.com/2007/05/10/atlas-publishing-co-inc/