"His cartoon live on."
I was having a leisurely Sunday conversation on Facetime with a U.S.-based Filipino friend, a member of the diaspora, when he suddenly mentioned the name ‘Nonoy Marcelo.’
Our conversation wasn’t about art; it was about current events and the power of social commentary. I said, “How odd you should mention him, because I heard he’s being nominated for National Artist.” My friend grunted in approval. “It’s well-deserved,” he said.
What it also is, is long overdue. Marcelo passed away on Oct. 22, 2002, leaving behind a substantial and unforgettable body of work that resonates in the memories of his contemporaries and sparks the imaginations of those discovering him for the first time.
Severino “Nonoy” Santos Marcelo was born in Malabon on Jan. 22, 1939, to David Marcelo, a war hero and an assistant dean of Far Eastern University (FEU) and Rita Santos, an FEU English professor. He graduated with an AB English degree in FEU where he was the cartoonist for the school’s paper The Advocate. It was there that he created the beatnik cartoon character Ptyk and Blidit the frog, a denizen of a Tolkien-like place inhabited mostly by cantankerous and highly political mice. Alfredo Roces, a former dean of FEU, was his model for Tisoy.
He is best known, though, for creating the savvy little rodent Ikabod Bubwit who starred in his comic strip ‘Ikabod.’ It was this friend of mine that turned me on to Ikabod when we were teens, and it was the humor in it that first drew us in – when Marcelo referred to pesos as ‘kesos’ and Quezon City as ‘Keso City,’ all within a Philippines thinly disguised as ‘Dagalandia.’
Later, it was Marcelo’s social commentary that we began to appreciate. The cartoonist scored the issues of the day and took potshots at prominent personalities. Somehow the humor threw the seriousness of the situations he described into sharper relief.
So iconic was Ikabod that the character was immortalized in a postage stamp issued by the Philippine Postal Corporation (Philpost) in 2019.
Marcelo also developed ‘Tisoy’ in 1963, which lampooned Filipino lifestyles. His characters Aling Otik, her grandson Kinse and his cat Myawok, among others, romped through the comic strip as well as two films and a television series.
The artist was versatile as well – in his varied career, he was also an animation and sound director in films and a scriptwriter for films and television. What many may not know is that he taught at the Fine Arts Department of the University of the Philippines for a couple of years. He was also the only Asian artist featured in Time Magazine in its cover story, “Mighty Pens,” an article about political cartoonists.
He received many local and international awards, among them the Catholic Mass Media Award for best comic strip in 1986 for ‘Ikabod’ and in 1988 for both ‘Ikabod’ and ‘Aling Otik.’ In 1999, Marcelo received the Parangal Sentenyal sa Sining at Kultura of the Cultural Center of the Philippines' Centennial Honors for the Arts and in 2002, the Patnubay Award for Visual Arts given by the City of Manila.
Marcelo’s achievements are many and I cannot enumerate them all here without sounding like a CV. What’s important to note is that last Monday (Dec. 14), he was nominated for a posthumous National Artist award by Dr. Edward Chua of the Asian Development Foundation College, a well-known school in Tacloban City, Leyte, that has produced a multitude of board-certified professionals.
Although Marcelo has been dead for more than 18 years, his cartoons live on. Next year, the FEU Library will produce a documentary of his life spearheaded by Atty. Gianna Montinola, Senior Vice-President for Corporate Affairs, and Raquel Baquiran, Dean of the College of Fine Arts and Architecture.
The documentary will show Nonoy Marcelo’s artworks created from age nine to the time of his death and interviews of people who knew him.
The artworks to be exhibited are from the Saul Hofileña Jr. Archives — the ‘lungga files,’ as Gab Marcelo, the artist’s grandson notes, since they came from the apartment of Marcelo at U.P. Bliss Project, Quezon City.
Upon Marcelo’s death, Krip Yuson wrote in his Philippine Star column:
“His manic sense of mirth will stay with us for all time. He has lauded everyman, especially the Filipino in all his inadvertent disguises, by exposing the funny bone within every stereotype, or behind every motive, even as a stiff halo over a beleaguered if saintly head. Nonoy invented and reinvented a mousetrap for the “soul” like no other.
“I propose therefore that he be rewarded his due, by this strong republic no less. And no less than the National Artist should be conferred on him, as soon as possible—no more formal nominations to meet whatever deadline, no more discussions or argumentation.
“Everyone would agree that Severino “Nonoy” Marcelo deserves it, had long deserved it, except that it wasn’t in his nature to seek it out. Like Groucho Marx, he would have disrespected any institution that deigned to ask him in, let alone honored him. Now that his back is turned, let’s surprise him. Even then, I suspect, we can never have the last laugh.” ***
*** Where are the missing PhilHealth billions? FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO