Homage to the hero-maker
Mars Ravelo is just as iconic as the characters he created
Nov 30, 2016
It would be a great disservice to Pinoy komiks if it were attributed to a single driving force, but among its pantheon of luminaries, Mars Ravelo is undeniably at the forefront. While he didn’t pioneer the local comics industry (that honor belongs to the Spanish occupation-era editorial and newspaper comic strip cartoonists) nor can he be credited for spearheading the industry’s current form and development (the domain of the likes of Budjette Tan’s Trese and Paolo Fabregas’ The Filipino Heroes League), Ravelo was nevertheless instrumental in shaping the genre’s formative in-between years, giving it—and us—some of Philippine pop culture’s most recognizable characters in the process.
Born on Oct. 9, 1916, in Tanza, Cavite, he first broke into comics with Rita Kasinghot in 1949, which was instrumental in the success of Bulaklak magazine. He followed this up with Liwayway’s Buhay Pilipino and Roberta, a long-form komiks novel that was published by Ace Publications before it was turned into a movie by Sampaguita Pictures.
Ravelo is best remembered, however, for what he gave Pinoy komiks next: Darna in 1950, and a slew of other superheroic and fantastic characters in her wake—Dyesebel, Captain Barbell, Lastikman, and many others. His characters were Filipino incarnations of the tradition of costumed adventurers that were defining mainstream Western comics, a new breed of Filipino heroes who fought larger-than-life battles on the home front.
And these characters weren’t limited to the printed page, either. Decades before the start of the ongoing heyday of comic book movies, Ravelo’s works were already being translated to the silver screen, with Ravelo often serving as a (frequently begrudging) consultant. This komiks writer made such an impact on the Philippine film industry that he was awarded the Filipino Academy of Movie Arts and Sciences Life Achievement Award in 1984, for originating the stories whose cinematic adaptations shaped an imagination already primed by their written origins.
In creating Darna and her contemporaries, Ravelo gave us more than just enduring characters—he gave us icons. Like Siegel and Shuster’s lone survivor of doomed Krypton, or Simon and Kirby’s all-American super-soldier, the village girl Narda, who uses a glowing white stone to become a heroine, is a narrative that has captivated Philippine popular imagination. Hers is a story that persists, a narrative that inspires, a hero we can call our own.