The age of the Internet finally allowed Mang Roni to know what his readers thought of what he created back then.
Culture Spotlight

At 80, Funny Komiks cartoonist Roni Santiago is still working and making people laugh

Mang Roni tells ANCX that he enjoys good comedy from the likes of Babalu and Dolphy. “Mahilig akong manood ng comedy, at naiinis ako sa mga komedyanteng hindi nakakatawa.”   
RHIA GRANA | Nov 22 2020

Matsutsu, Haring Matsungit’s right-hand man, is looking mighty cool in his red cape and red boots. He picks up a newspaper from a newsstand and murmurs to himself: “Nakow, delikado pala ang makagat ng asong ulol!” 

He plays the scenario in his head. “Ayon dito, ang unggoy daw na nakagat ng asong ulol ay nauulol din, bubula ang bibig at magiging abnormal ang kilos. At ang unggoy na nakagat ng unggoy na ulol ay mauulol din hanggang sa ito’y mamatay.”

Bothered by what he read, the caped ape continues to walk until he sees what looks like a rabid dog making its way out of the palace. “Naku, malamang may nakagat na yun…” Matsutsu thinks.

Meanwhile, Bardagol, the king’s nephew, a kid in a hefty man’s body, is brushing his teeth when he notices his pet beetle is missing. He immediately dashes out of the palace washroom to find it, his mouth still covered with foam. 

And that was when the stupidly suspicious Matsutsu sees him.

S-si Bardagol, bumubula ang bibig!” he observes.

Matsustsu quickly runs away from Bardagol, rushing out of a palace door that, alas, opens to stairs. “TOG! BLAG!”

These few minutes’ worth of fun is part of the July 16, 1993 issue of Pilipino Funny Komiks, or more popularly known as Funny Komiks.

To many Filipino children who grew up in the 80s and 90s, Funny Komiks was a big favorite, along with the Bazooka Bubblegums and Scribbler ballpens. It’s how many of them got into reading, and how they got over the long summer breaks from school. It’s where they met Niknok, the precocious little boy always getting into trouble with his Lola Potsay. It’s where they met Matsutsu and Bardagol. 

There are a few Funny Komiks pages on Facebook, dedicated to the old reading pastime. A blog called planetopdieyps.thecomicseries.com carries some of the episodes of “Planet Opdi Eyps” which was created by veteran cartoonist Roni Santiago. Mang Roni is also popular for Mr. & Mrs which was also in Funny Komiks, as well as Baltic & Co.and Kuyug which were published in Manila Bulletin. According to the cartoonist, Funny Komiks started out in 1978, published by Islas Filipinas Publishing Co., Inc. It lasted until 2005, briefly returned in 2008 but only for a short period.

A self-portrait of the veteran cartoonist

Born cartoonist

Mang Roni is now 80 and still works as editor of the Manila Bulletin’s comics section. 

In his advanced age and even with grey hair, Mang Roni gives off a youthful vibe. Not to mention his memory is still quite sharp. “Nauna pa akong matutong mag-drawing kesa magsulat ng pangalan ko,” he tells this writer over a video call. Behind him is a computer which stands on what I presume to be his work area. 

As a kid, he was particularly drawn to the work of Walt Disney. In fact, Mang Roni still keeps some of his Mickey Mouse comic book series up to now. He says cartoonists are born, not made. “[Cartoonists] only go to art schools to sharpen their skills, but to begin with, they already have gifts,” he explains. 

Joining the school paper in high school at Arellano University, and later in college at FEATI University, where he took up B.S. Architecture, further nurtured Mang Roni’s talent. His father, a lawyer, wanted his only son (the cartoonist only had sisters) to follow in his footsteps. But Roni didn’t want to take up law. “Ang ginawa ko, nag-enroll ako sa Architecture. Nagalit sa akin ang father ko, hindi ako pinaaral. Sabi sa akin, ‘Gusto mo yan, ikaw ang mag-finance sa sarili mo,’” he recalls his dad’s order. 

So he worked as a cartoonist to send himself to college. A classmate encouraged him to contribute comics strips to Manila Bulletin. His first comic strip had no dialogue. It was called “Lolo Kato.” He later on also contributed to Daily Mirror, one of the newspapers of The Manila Times

Coming up with the jokes entails hard work, especially since he had to do a complete story—that’s why they called it “tapusan”—every week.

Journey with Funny Komiks

Santiago later on met the famous cartoonist Larry Alcala, via the Samahang Kartunista ng Pilipinas of which the latter was then president. “Sabi niya, ‘Roni, bakit hindi ka mag-contribute sa isang comics magazine?’” Santiago remembers his then new friend telling him. He told Alcala he didn’t know how to create content for a komiks magazine, but Alcala insisted, “Kaya mo yun!” 

Santiago gave it a try, anyway. He thought of doing a spoof of the famous novel-turned-film franchise Planet of the Apes. “Isang planeta sya na ang mga nandoon ay puro apes. Isang kaharian na merong hari, merong alalay,” he says, beginning to describe the plot and his cast of characters. There was Haring Matsungit—named as such because he’s always grumpy; his assistant Matsutsu, who’s usually the supplier of the punchline; his supportive wife Reyna Orang; and his nephew/adopted son, the childish and charming Bardagol. That it was set in medieval times added interest to the story. 

The Funny Komiks editor liked the concept right away. The only comment he got was that it was wordy, something Mang Roni didn’t mind correcting. The challenging part, he says, was having to create frames good for three magazine pages. “You have to show the different angles, unlike in comics strips na isang anggulo lang, kasi tatlong frames lang yun. Sometimes, you have to show the background or the setting,” he says. 

Coming up with the jokes was hard work, too, especially since he had to do a complete story—that’s why they called it “tapusan”—every week. “So every issue, meron kang punchline,” he says. 

Saan nyo po nakuha yung pagka-komikero nyo?” I ask.

Hindi ako komikero,” he replies. “Writer ako ng comedy.” He says he’d rather write comedy than be the comedian. But he is a fan of Babalu and Dolphy. “Mahilig akong manood ng comedy, at naiinis ako sa mga komedyanteng hindi nakakatawa.” 

For Mang Roni, comedy is serious business. 

Back in the 80s, Mang Roni had no way of knowing if he was funny. Or whether the readers were actually enjoying the content the cartoonists were creating. “Hindi mo malalaman ang feedback ng mambabasa kasi wala namang social media noon,” he says. So cartoonists simply followed the lead of their editors and what they think their kid patrons would like. 

But the mere fact that Planet Opdi Eyps lasted for over a decade says a lot. And with Mang Roni still happily around in the age of the Internet at least gave him the chance to finally know what his readers thought of what he created back then. “Yung ibang readers ng Funny Komiks ay professionals na ngayon—lawyers, engineers,” he proudly says. 

What saddens him is that he—like his other contemporaries—was not able to keep the original copies of their work. They were thrown away once they were photographed and printed. Good thing some fans have saved their copies of the komiks and have posted them online, keeping his works accessible to today’s generation and the generations to come.