National Artist for Visual Arts (2014)
(January 29, 1919 – September 1, 1998)
Acknowledged as the “Dean of Filipino Illustrators” and son of noted Tagalog novelist and comics illustrator Gregorio Coching, Francisco Coching was a master storyteller ― in images and in print. His illustrations and novels were products of that happy combination of fertile imagination, a love of storytelling, and fine draftsmanship. He synthesized images and stories informing Philippine folk and popular imagination of culture. His career spanned four decades.
Starting his career in 1934, he was a central force in the formation of the popular art form of comics. He was a part of the golden age of Filipino comics in the ’50s and ’60s. Until his early retirement in 1973, Coching mesmerized the comics-reading public as well as his fellow artists, cartoonists, and writers.
The source of his imagery can be traced to the Philippine culture from the 19th century to the 1960s. His works reflected the dynamics brought about by the racial and class conflict in Philippine colonial society in the 19th century, a theme that continued to be dealt with for a long time in Philippine cinema. He valorized the indigenous, untrammeled Filipino in Lapu-Lapu and Sagisag ng Lahing Pilipino, and created the types that affirm the native sense of self in his Malay heroes of stunning physique. His women are beautiful and gentle, but at the same time can be warrior-like, as in Marabini (Marahas na Binibini) or the strong seductive, modern women of his comics in the 50s and 60s.
There are myths and fantasy, too, featuring the grotesque characters, vampire bats, shriveled witches, as in Haring Ulopong. Yet, Coching grounded his works too in the experience of war during the Japanese occupation, he was a guerilla of the Kamagong Unit, Las Pinas branch of the ROTC hunters in the Philippines. He also drew from the popular post-war culture of the 50s, as seen in Movie Fan. At this point, his settings and characters became more urbane, and the narratives he weaved scanned the changing times and mores, as in Pusakal, Talipandas, Gigolo, and Maldita.
In his characters and storylines, Coching brings to popular consciousness the issues concerning race and identity. He also discussed in his works the concept of the hero, which resonate through the characters on his comics like in Dimasalang and El Vibora.
He also left a lasting influence on the succeeding generations of younger cartoonists such as Larry Alcala, Ben Infante, and Nestor Redondo. The comics as popular art also helped forge the practice and consciousness as a national language.