Francisco V. Coching has always loomed larger than life in the mind's eye. We've never met Coching until February Tuesday. And before our meeting we had always imagined him to be imbued with the traits of his comics-hero creations: stalwart, agile, intelligent, handsome, virtuous, in short, all man, and always a winner.
His notable creations such as Hagibis, Barbaro, El Indio, Bertong Balutan, Don Cobarde, El Negro and many others, all had one thing in common: they were heroes in the strict sense of the word, the belonged to the same mold as Beowulf, Sigried, Galahad, Roland, Theseus, Hercules, Samson. They had another thing in common: They were all heroes with problems, and Coching gave life to these creations long before "heroes with problems" trend became fashionable abroad, specifically in the U.S.
The Coching hero was an underdog, fighting for the justness of his cause and he did so without appearing to take himself too seriously (and thus preventing his becoming a caricature), going through tribulations that would break ordinary men. Andin the end he emerged a better man, with integrity intact, his goals accomplished: a kingdom has been saved or a heroine rescued, perhaps a horde of invaders has been repelled or a mistake rectified and the rightful heir to a throne has assumed kingship, or a villain justly hanged, impaled with a spear or encarcerated for life, or perhaps a menace has been reduced to cinders.
The hero would then ride off with the heroine, or perhaps hold hands together and face a better tomorrow, or go off to wherever immortal comic book characters go after the last panel has been drawn and the last balloon had been inked.
Then Coching, author and artist, suddenly stopped comics work in 1973. After 53 novels (most of which he pencilled, inked and lettered himself, and most of which, incidentally, were successfully adapted to film) the artist-author was suddenly nowhere to be seen. It as if a fountain of creativity had stopped giving forth its precious liquid, and exhausted itself and gone dry. People, and we mean people from all walks of life asked: "What happened to Coching?"
There were speculations. Was he sick? Is he dead? Save for a handful, nobody knew the answers. Gradually the questions ceased to be asked. Coching was just simply gone, period. Why, no one knew. Where, no one seemed to care anymore.
The artist who had worked in Coching's time also dropped out of the scene at about this period, one by one. It was as if an age had ended, and the precursor to its ending was the disappearance of its very brilliant star in the Philippine comics firmament. Some retired. A few, as in the case of Redondo, Alcala, Niño, and de Zuñiga, found greener pastures in the lucrative comics industry abroad and are now devoting energies to the seemingly insatiable international market that has developed a taste for the Filipino drawing style. This "exodus" of talent from the local scene resulted in the dearth of quality artists.
Nature abhors a vaccum, as does the comics industry. And the departure of the old guard signalled the advent of younger artists who were waiting in the wings, to take their turn, and they proceeded to dominate the comics landscape.
The question about whatever became of Coching, as mentioned, was not being asked anymore. If a question even remotely related to Coching was being asked, it was; "Is Coching still relevant?". Because, having dominated the field, the new generation of artists has also appeared to ahve successfully convinced the comics fan through the constant exposure of their work to the appeciators, that their art is the 'now' art, and that Coching and his ilk are gone and never will return, thank God. They aver that Coching's drawing style is the style of the "present", and perhaps the future as well, a style that is characterized by a lot of penwork and what appears to be an abstract, absent-minded disregard for artistic disciplines such as correct anatomy, realistic perspectives, proportion, composition, and general draughtsmanship, not to mention cleanliness, of the finished strip. The "loose" style, it is called. Coching, many illustrators say, would be out of the step with the times where he to re-appear now. Would he really be? To learn the answer, we decided to seek the man out.