Nonoy Marcelo 1939-2002
When Hot Manila came out two years ago, what caught every visitor's eye was the Estrada cartoon on the left ear. That was drawn by Nonoy Marcelo, who died on October 22.
At his wake, I saw a mass card that said: "Don't grieve for me, for I am free". OK, Nonoy, how about I grieve for all of us over here instead? Whatever are we going to do without you?
You did something that isn't given to mighty politicos, rich tycoons and chucklehead columnists. You made us laugh. You made us laugh in spite and because of ourselves. We laughed because it was funny. It was funny because it was absurd. It was absurd because it was true.
Nonoy's humor was compulsive, and although it wasn't caustic or bitter there were political stings waiting in the punch lines. When he drew, he drew a bead - it was
always open season on those in power, whether tradpols or security guards abusing their petty authority His most famous strips, Tisoy and Ikabod, are social commentary as surreal slapstick. Mice or men, his characters aren't innocents - they're all trying to get by, working the system. They have envy, avarice, colonial mentality. They have a love of life that understands the need for humor. They're Filipino.
I've been hard put thinking of any memorable quotations Nonoy said, but now I realize he'd said it all in his art. Always in a fever of creation, he sketched everything: paintings, comic strips, animations, editorial cartoons, newspaper illustrations, book covers. He was the most influential cartoonist the country's been blessed with.
He also wrote weird and wonderful columns which bent reality, used tenses from several time zones, and coined words as needed. In his boldly-drawn, ink-smudged world, ugly people were ngetpadoodle, exploding giant firecrackers went yagading! and the alphabet began with the letter "e" (for epol). He popularized the word bubwit, but his kiddie mouse was no Mickey, he was an irreverent scamp in a world of dirty rats.
Nonoy was -- I'm going to have to get used to the past tense - as colorful as his cartoons (which in point of fact were largely a dirty black and white). His trademark character was Ikabod, but I always thought of him as Bos Peter, mayor of Kesong City. Nonoy was small, scruffy, with perpetually unkempt hair that looked like it was late for something and was trying to leave.
Brimming with anarchic energy, he was always working. Nonoy looked active even when seated, so restless it seemed his body could barely contain him. In fact he fought bitterly with it, subjecting it to all sorts of abuses. He kept long nights and early mornings, fuelling up on, among other substances, soda, coffee, fastfood and (until recently) smokes. Artist Bogie Ruiz says that to Nonoy, Jollibee spaghetti was a vegetable because the noodles were made of flour, which was wheat, which had once been a plant, hence a vegetable.
Predictably, his body had the last word. After serving notice, it finally quit in disgust over the gross abuses it had been put through. But it still took diabetes and pneumonia to gang up on Nonoy and drag him away, and even then they had to knock him into a coma first.
Was he 63? He always seemed boyish , naughty, mischievous. Perhaps it was that, and his wit, which attracted women to him. He had -- that damn past tense -- many sides. At the Manila Chronicle, where I had the honor of having my stories carry Marcelo illustrations, I'd hang out at the art department and we'd share a bizarre melange of tapes (Mahler's Titan, Mozart's Rondo in D, Abba in Spanish), while shooting the breeze about politics, Europe (he loved Prague) and history. He could make the crudest of puns -- imagine what he did with Cosi Fan Tutte -- but he was frighteningly well-read and his knowledge of Philippine history was awesome. A few years back he homed in on my set of Blair and Robertson -- Blair and Robertson! Who'd know what that is nowadays? Most people would probably think it was a cigarette. When he got his hands on several volumes to bring home it took more than a year before I could pry them from his grasp.
Thankfully I got the books back before they could sink into the primordial mound which surrounded his work table. Wherever he worked, it always looked like somebody had dropped a small bomb in the room and in the ruins of that explosion (of COURSE it went yagading!) you got the feeling that things were born, grew old and died dusty puzzled lives. That swamp was his cabinet. He'd shove aside sketches, books, styrofoam boxes of food that might have been fast once but was definitely old, and unerringly retrieve what ever it was he wanted to show you.
This June I'd gone to his place and we spent a couple of hours repairing the ravages wrought by a housecleaner who, deranged beyond annoyance, had snapped. She'd gone into his room and simply shovelled as much as she could into big boxes. We had to pick through the containers, matching CDs with cases, restoring the tiny patch of the mound that had been violated.
All the time he kept up the famous banter, a staccato of Taglish punctuated by expressions like naay! and ehek!. I'll have to confess now that most of the time I talked with Nonoy I could barely make out what he said. His conversation's been described as stream of consciousness, but it was more like a script with multiple plot branches, all of them being followed at the same time. What little I could understand was priceless. He was a magnet for the strange and the funny: there was the snake worshiping girlfriend. There was the time in New York when, short of cash, he applied as an assistant to a famous mail-order body builder -- only to find out the aging muscleman was a fag who came on to him.
Like most artists of genius, Nonoy was frequently hard up. The last time I phoned him this year he'd finally been paid by the Manila Times, so he could have his electricity back and use the MP3 player I'd gotten him. I'd burned him two CDs full of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Kraftwerk and Andes flute music. He told me later he'd just stuck the discs into the player and kept the music on while he worked. That was 12 hours of listening. He also revealed how his son had shown him the player could be used to run porn CDs. "Pwede din palang bastos!", he said with that scamp-like look.
When he checked into the hospital for the last time -- stubborn and exasperating varmint that he was, he'd resisted going, driving his friends to despair - he was doing what he loved best: running a political comics section for the Times and putting the finishing touches on a history book of Malabon he'd written and illustrated.
At the hospital he plotted escape, telling his son to knot all the bedsheets together so he could rappel out the window. I bet if he'd succeeded he'd have drawn a cartoon about it.
No typical eulogy remarks would come close to describing Nonoy. Riffling through the standard puffery for such occasions, I find myself impatiently tossing one card after another over my shoulder. Were you a "fine upstanding member of society?" You were an irritant, impudent in your irreverence. How about "a considerate and patient man." Hah.
Were you a "God-fearing member of your community"? If you were, I never noticed. Will the "angels welcome you to Heaven"? If so, they'd better be prepared for long and incomprehensible conversations.
But hold on, here's something that comes close. "He will be missed." Oh yes. Most definitely will you be missed. You bet.