Kikomachine Komix is a Filipino comic strip series by Manuel “Manix” Abrera that’s been running in the Philippine Daily Inquirer since 2001—that makes the series about seventeen years old. It appears on the newspaper daily from Monday to Saturday, but if you don’t read newspapers, you can buy any one of the twelve compilations of Kikomachine published by Visprint.
The comic strip series centers mainly around the adventures and trials of college life and early adulthood. From those sources, it finds quirky and sometimes super absurdist humor. When it’s not doing that, it delves into the current issues of the time—political or others—sometimes even going as far as to attempt to answer life’s greatest questions, like “Who am I?” and “What is my purpose in this universe?” Then it finds super absurdist humor in that too. There’s rarely a dull moment in Kikomachine Komix, basically. Even when it makes you think or tries to expose a problem in modern society, it makes you laugh.
Kikomachine is special to me because this is the first newspaper comic strip which I genuinely got into, and the first comic to make me laugh. As in, not just amuse me, not just make me smile, it made me laugh in a way that got me a weird look from my mom once. So far I’ve been trying to understand what makes it so special and what kept it solid for over a decade and a half. I don’t think I’ve understood everything yet, but I hope that what I’ve written in this essay can encourage you to go check this incredible read out, or at least leave you with a deeper appreciation for comics.
The newspaper comic strip format can be pretty limiting due to the amount of space you’re given per day/week, so one way Kikomachine works around that is by making space for a whole lot of words. The important visual elements (like the comic’s characters) are pushed down to the bottom half of the panel, letting the words take over half the space of each panel. Sometimes it even takes over three-fourths of the vertical space per panel. That’s a lot.
The good thing about that it gives the comic freedom to extend the time of each panel by adding a truckload of words. Words add time to a panel. A panel with words doesn’t end until you read all the words within these panels, and voicing out these words in your head take time. That’s one of the ways this static medium can convey time.
No wonder why Kikomachine comics rarely feel very fleeting despite them being small on paper. That’s a problem with me personally regarding newspaper dailies. They’re just really fast sometimes, you feel? Like, one second you’ve just started, and in the next moment you’re done reading the thing, and you feel nothing because you passed by that so quickly. No such thing in Kikomachine because you’ll be reading it for a little longer.
This is something I believe only this type of comics can do. Constantly high word density per panel like in Kikomachine won’t be well-received in longer-form comics. I mean, wouldn’t it feel really lazy and bogged-down if all the panels in your hundred-page graphic novel were half-full of just words? Where in the world’s the artwork at? Some people read comics just for that, you know. Plus, wouldn’t it be a very intimidating and exhausting read for the casual viewer too? That book wouldn’t sell very well.
However, it doesn’t feel boring at all in Kikomachine Komiks because each strip is so short and tightly-written that it doesn’t have much room to get boring before the punchline.
More importantly, doing that gives the Filipino language actual space to develop and flourish as needed, which plays exactly into the hands of my next point.
The dialogue of this comic is so relatable. As in, it captures the details of what everyday people would say in real life. Like the anos, the kuwans, the slangs, the many quirky mutations of everyday words (i.e. “olats,” “gelpren,” “labs,” etc.), the English indiscriminately woven into the Tagalog in small bits, the perceived pretentiousness of English in everyday conversation, the Filipino’s knack for cool lines and humor in everyday situations, the conversational Tagalog’s feel and cadence, and the imperfect sentences, among others that I don’t know of yet.
But most importantly, I feel that the dialogue beats with the heart of a Filipino. Reading the dialogue, I always get this feeling like Manix Abrera doesn’t do research or role-play or put on a persona or anything like that while writing the script. He doesn’t need that. I feel that he simply writes the script as if he were just talking. Since the important visual elements are always pushed down, the dialogue’s also got all the space to add in all the needed quirks of the Filipino language, and it does.
Combined with the comic’s very cartoony style and the downplaying of visual elements I mentioned above, what results is a reading experience that feels so natural. Since it recreates the everyday language of everyday Filipinos so well, you don’t have to make voices for these characters or anything like that. You can just breathe life into the lines of these characters using the voices and cadences of the everyday Filipinos around you. You can just read the lines of the comic’s students in the voices of your own classmates, friends, or siblings and cousins in college. Those of the comic’s professors you can vitalize with the voices of your own teachers or professors. Those of the characters’ lolos, lolas, titos, titas and parents, you can fill with those of your own lolos, lolas, titos, titas, and parents. And it’s so lucid and easy because we hear this kind of talk every day, in living our day-to-day lives. It fits so well, like a key custom-made specifically for a lock.
No wonder Manix Abrera's such a rock star around the youth these days.
Of course, what I mentioned up there all depends on how immersed and versed you are in this super breezy kind of Tagalog. I know comics depend on your real-life experiences a lot, but I think this one does even more so. But since we all live and study in the same place, I’m pretty sure all of us can relate to this, even just a little bit. I’m just hoping that at least one of us knows and feels exactly what I mean in this essay.
I think what we can take away from Kikomachine in the end is that conversational language can be just as powerful as scholarly.
School doesn’t reward using the breezy kind of Tagalog that Kikomachine uses, but that doesn’t mean it’s inferior. Its power lies in the fact that this current generation has chosen to speak this language. In simple terms, this is the language of the Filipino youth. Maybe not this school’s youth, but definitely that of the general Philippine youth. Aware or not, they chose to speak this language with friends and family as a sign of intimacy. The youth has colored our culture with this language, and the results are the OPM, Filipino memes, hugot culture, spoken word, art, komiks, and fiction we’ve come to know and love (or hate). And even in the chaotic social landscape of the Philippines today, the youth chooses to fight with this weapon of language in the battlefields of online discussion and raising social awareness.
I know, dude. It sounds super squammy and sagwa sometimes. But by harnessing this language, you also unlock the emotions, the desires, and the trust of millions of Filipinos here and abroad. You could expose to everyone the sins and flaws of the government and end corruption in the Philippines forever. You could woke Filipinos to issues around them like poverty, fake news and depression, inspiring them to take quick action. Or maybe, you could make another long-running comic strip that makes the lousy day better for all its thousands of young readers.
Hi, Kazumi here. Uh, yeah, admittedly this is way more rushed than all my previous works. I usually take care to make my works the best they can be before posting them here. But I think that perfectionism's really hurt my output rate really badly, so I'll try shaking things up for a bit. I hope you won't mind. Translations and images of the source material will be added later on, don't worry. I'll use the negative energy harvested from your reviews to make a hella polished revision of this essay next time around.
I'm also back at it again with that essay for a super niche target audience. I'm sorry if you wanted to be in on this, but lately I'm not really concerned about publishing works for YWS. This place is not the end goal for me at the moment. I'm just posting this here so I can get free feedback. But hey, maybe I might publish something that isn't exclusive to Filipinos only lol. Though if you still choose to review this thing despite not understanding the comic I'm analyzing, then a big highkey thanks to you. All feedback helps me a lot.
If you're a Filipino, please come in and give feedback. If you're a Filipino comic fan, then I urge you even harder. You guys know a lot about the heart of the matter, so your comments are super valuable to me right here.
Thanks for reading so far.