By Nancy T. Lu
Picking up a copy of “HULING PTYK Da Art of Nonoy Marcelo” for the first time after running into Pandy Aviado last October 27 led to my discovery that the super talented Filipino cartoonist, my former close colleague at the workplace and friend has been gone for a decade. He passed away at the age of 63 in Manila on October 22, 2002.
My acquaintance with Nonoy dated back to his "Tisoy" and "Plain Folks" days. I appeared in his “Plain Folks” spoofs of office situations a few times and was a guest performer in two episodes of “Tisoy” on TV.
I was very fortunate and privileged to have not just Malabon’s but the entire Philippines’ pride Nonoy Marcelo as regular layout artist for my many published articles in the Sunday Times Magazine (STM) of the Manila Times. His creativity and imagination knew no bounds. I learned so much by just watching this left-handed artist at work. He also constantly amused me with his words. From the beginning I realized that he was a rare and precious find.
Nonoy, who was 29 when I first met him, amazed me by being so fast in coming up with brilliant ideas and tricks in playing with titles, texts and photographs put at his disposal. His designs truly helped stimulate the readers’ interest. I, fresh out of journalism school, was always very impressed and grateful to him for what he happily did for me in between puffs of cigarettes. This artist was a heavy smoker.
Nonoy, ever bohemian in appearance, would show up at the office towards evening with unkempt curly hair said to have been inspired by his idol Bob Dylan. He worked best after nightfall. As he headed straight towards his untidy work corner at the far end of the editorial room, his body language spoke eloquently of his wish to be invisible and free from stares. He was kind of shy.
Nonoy was fond of wearing tight leather pants and boots in those days. But he once surprised everyone at the office by shedding his hippie-style look in favor of formal attire. At the first-ever French Food Festival organized by bon vivant Nora Daza at the original Hyatt in Manila, he put on coat and tie as strictly specified on the invitation card. He even got a haircut and combed his hair. The picture here shows him with cartoonist Liborio "Gat" Gatbonton of the Manila Chronicle.
Nonoy had an insatiable hunger for news, both local and foreign. He was always on top of what was happening in the Philippines and abroad. After all he must turn out regularly without fail comic strips for the Manila Times and editorial cartoons for the Daily Mirror. He remained consistently up-to-date and relevant in his chosen subjects and topics.
Word play was his forte. He was a master at coining words with humor. His original jargon and vocabulary often consisting of reversing syllables came to be adopted by the masses. He turned familiar lines and even lyrics ( for example, a Christmas carol like "Ang Pasko Ay Sumapit") around to make his funny spoof statement.
Early on, his extraordinary talent for social commentary, satire and parody was clear to see. Targets winced at his wit. But his readers had a good laugh. The never-boring guy was an intellectual - he was deep - and his brain went to work with lightning speed, requiring breathless catching up. All burners on this cartoonist's creative oven were always switched on simultaneously. Puns originated from him at whim. Knockout punch lines which were born out of his sharp observation showed his humor. His wit was original and incredible, making people see in him a genius.
In those days, Nonoy liked going out of town and covering news stories just like a true journalist. We once went to Marilao, Bulacan, to check out a cattle rustling story. He later did sketches to go with my story for the Sunday Times Magazine. Ideas for his comic strips were found, too.
When General Raval, the then Philippine Constabulary chief, took Tausog rebel Kamlon home to Jolo, Nonoy joined the STM entourage who went along. During an overnight stay in Cebu City before flying out to Zamboanga City and later onward to Jolo, one of the soldiers in the party notified me that there was a last-minute change of plan and schedule. I must pack up and move in the night, I was told on the phone. Another alert colleague traveling with me noticed that the caller sounded drunk. He also gave the impression that he was calling from a noisy bar. The next day, Nonoy overheard the mischievous fellow talking about his attempt to whisk me away in the night. Like a protective brother, he burned the culprit with his cigarette butt to teach him a lesson. He pretended that it was just an accident.
Actually Nonoy was a flirt who enjoyed making “ligaw” left and right. He knew how to loot a girl’s heart. Wit beyond compare was his weapon. It was the secret of his disarming charm. I once asked him to do me a sketch. This was back in 1969. The entire world had just followed with great excitement astronaut Neil Armstrong’s first walk on the moon. Nonoy quickly made me a drawing of a spaceman moving about in outer space while tied to a satellite capsule, then telling me: “You put me in orbit.”
Nonoy left Manila for Hong Kong with writer Sylvia Mayuga not long after. From Hong Kong, he flew to New York to soak up a heady new experience. He lost a whole suitcase of drawings sent from Hong Kong, he wrote not very long after. Somebody who agreed to be the courier brought it to San Francisco.
Enclosed in one of his letters mailed from the Big Apple was a picture showing him - “mayabang pa rin,” as he put it - next to a “chikot” that was not his. He wrote further that Boy Rodriguez had given him a haircut, “kaya mukha tuloy tagilid.”
He drove a sports car similar to the one he moved around in while working previously in Manila. But a smoking bum slept in it and burned it down, according to him.
Nonoy mailed to me also a postcard, which showed the interior of the Bayanihan Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge in New York. On the wall was his big mural of the Bayanihan dancers. This measured 6 feet by 16 feet in size.
Nonoy was fond of hanging out with the Pinays in New York not just to ward off undeniable homesickness. They fed him well. He did drawings for them in return. Actually he wrote more about the joy of finding plenty of "food for the grey matter" in New York.
At one point, he revealed that he had done cartoons for an illustrated five-volume law book series in New York. The books he described as required reading in American colleges. His children could one day be proud of what their "Tay-tay" did, according to him. He remarked: “At least books are more lasting than say, a contributed cartoon in a newspaper or magazine.”
Bert Pelayo had his newspaper Filipino Reporter in New York then. Nonoy started a magazine with him. He even launched a periodical of his own – The Business Bulletin. This publication was filled strictly with advertisements. The artist had gone capitalistic, but "not 100 percent," he claimed. He just needed to be "realistic."
Emilio Aguilar Cruz, who used to be editor of Daily Mirror, eventually convinced Nonoy to return to the Philippines. Nonoy, once back, saw his colorful career continue to climb. He went into animation. The last time I saw Nonoy was at an animation workshop at Kidlat Tahimik’s place up in Baguio City. I had just returned from a journalism study grant in Paris at that time. I shortly left the Philippines to work for an English-language newspaper in Taiwan.