For the longest time, Maisha Dela Cruz wanted no one to know about her grandfather. As far as secrets go, this particular one proved to be tricky. Maisha’s grandfather, after all, isn’t just an old man; he’s also an institution in local pop culture. Mars Ravelo, writer, editor, illustrator, and grandfather to Maisha Dela Cruz, is the mastermind behind such ubiquitous local creations as Darna, Captain Barbell, Lastikman, and a broad list of other compelling characters, superhuman or otherwise. Ravelo has been called the King of Komiks, but to Maisha, he was just Lolo Mars. These days, Maisha spends most of her time talking about her grandfather, paying tribute to the legacy of what used to be her biggest secret. Things have changed quite a bit.Maisha, herself an artist by profession, never told her professors at the UP College of Fine Arts that she was descended from an icon in Philippine komiks. She was well aware of her family’s roots in the industry, surrounded by aunts and uncles that inherited Lolo’s talents. It wasn’t in ignorance that Maisha kept her professors in the dark about being a Ravelo because she knew all too well. In her childhood home, the halls of which were lined with crates of aging comic books, Maisha got to know her departed grandfather through the characters he brought to life in panels. From Rita, the mischievous little girl that jumpstarted Ravelo’s career, to Varga, a meek maiden’s superhuman alter ego and forerunner to Darna, Ravelo’s depictions of Filipino life opened his granddaughter’s eyes to the world around her. These same yellowing pages that littered young Maisha’s home would eventually become the contents of the National Commission on Culture and the Arts’ Mars Ravelo Early Works exhibit, curated personally by the freshly graduated and now adult Maisha.Inside the low-lit gallery of NCCA’s Intramuros quarters, Maisha squares her narrow shoulders and tells me in her firm, adjudicating voice that she’s her grandfather’s biggest fan. It wasn’t for lack of pride that she kept her ancestral roots a secret, but because of a nagging apprehension that she would never live up to Mars Ravelo’s legacy. According to Maisha, Mars Ravelo did much more than create characters for modern lore. Through his accessible medium of komiks, Ravelo extended to the common Filipino commodities that were normally reserved for the elite—fine art and literature.Maisha’s selections in Early Works show the man at his most political. Ravelo’s comedic and occasionally whimsical representations of life in komiks created a sense of identity and an urgent feeling of relief in post-war Philippines. This is why many of his early creations were more comic than messianic, making light of the mundane rather than saving the hapless. Through Boboy, a flat-nosed little boy raised by ill-tempered grandparents, Ravelo poked fun at the misbehavior of children left behind by their parents to work in a newly freed republic. Living up to Mars Ravelo, in terms of art and his contribution to modern culture, is definitely a tall order.In the decades since he penned these first few panels, Ravelo’s creations have been converted and repurposed for mass entertainment, providing the source material for generations of big and small screen adaptations. Maisha doesn’t mind. According to her, Ravelo’s creations were never meant to be highbrow anyway, always packaging unique and Western-influenced perspectives so that they could reach the most Filipinos with the most ease. Films make this even easier. With the upcoming Erik Matti adaptation of Darna just on the horizon, the Mars Ravelo fan in Maisha can barely contain her excitement. She confides that Erik Matti is the first adaptor of Darna to consult creative decisions with the Ravelo family. For this reason, viewers can expect the next Darna, whoever she will be, to not only be tasteful, but also faithful to the original creation.After going on a litany of praises for her grandfather and the creations that surround her, Maisha has to catch her breath. She’s certainly come a long way since keeping her Ravelo blood a secret in art school. But if the wide reach of Lolo’s other creations is any indication, Maisha’s just getting started. Ravelo’s legacy of art-for-all remains intact, and it’s being written by the likes of Maisha, children of komiks by blood or by bond. The story’s not over, and the rest of us would be wise to read on.
Photos by Kitkat Pajaro
THE NATIONAL COMMISSION FOR CULTURE AND THE ARTS IS LOCATED AT 633 GENERAL LUNA ST, MANILA, 1002 METRO MANILA.