The best Filipino comics of 2018

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Comics, the most humble form of media, can express the topical with both urgency and contemplation.

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — The American cartoonist Chris Ware called comics “a working class art form” and an “art of the people.” In the Philippines in 2018, a quick glance at this art form tells us that the Filipino people are angry and sad. The government’s war on drugs is the most visible subject matter in many of the graphic novels, zines, floppies, and mini-comics, in genres as varied as superhero, romance, slice-of-life, and fantasy. A collective moan can be heard, often a cry for justice, because comics — the most humble form of media, cheaper and faster to make than movies, but not as cheap and fast as the Instagram story — can express the topical with both urgency and contemplation, and the Filipino comics artist — typically someone with a day job who creates personal projects on the side — is one of us.

On extrajudicial killings, the point of view taken is of the person on the street, such as the farmers-turned-lovers-turned-factory-workers-turned-drug-war-victims in the breathtaking “Liryo” by Magtira Paolo, the rockstar-turned-rehab-patient in the colorful, myth-infused “Carnal: Banahaw” by Bambi Eloriaga-Amago, Roland Amago, and BK Peña, the hired gunman in the tense “Takeout” by Mikey Jimenez and Borg Sinaban, and the young shabu user who may also be a superhero in the opening installment of the exciting “Boy Bakal” by Francis Ardan. These are honorable mentions in a year filled with notable works. The graphic novel at the top of this list amply represents these other books’ concerns, and then some.

Death is not the only thing that brings sadness. So too does the hardship of just living life, weighed down by traffic, lack of money, and unrest. Lizette Daluz brings her wistful and wispy style to urban malaise in “Talumpati,” the year’s best example of this general anxiety. Sometimes, artists and writers directly tackle the topic of nationhood, such as in “Ako Ang Bayan,” an all-ages primer on democracy boldly designed by fan favorite Manix Abrera with words by P.D. Guinto. It contains an inspiring foldout featuring a large caped superhuman made out entirely of tiny humans. An art form of the people, indeed.

Here are the Top 10 Filipino Comics of 2018

10. “Stay: 21 Comic Stories” by Angelo R. Lacuesta

In the outro for his book, Lacuesta recounts the seed for this careful curation of satire, sci-fi, horror, family-driven stories, and re-telling of folktales: following a brush with mortality, images of the stories he had yet to tell, and not the words for these stories, flashed before his eyes. While the graphic arts are new waters for the fictionist, this is also a different experience for the loyal readers of his fiction and essays. If I were to pick four among the list, I'd say the following are the best intro for comics readers into the world of Lacuesta's fiction: “The Boy Who Lived in Fear” (with Noel Pascual), “Third Class” (with Randy Valiente), “Sustainable Strategies” (with Chocnut-San), and “Death March” (with Rommel Joson). — JP

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9. “Princess Buttercup and the MP” by Andrew Villar

Every now and then, we get struck cupid-like by a comic book romance that is at once familiar to the genre and bristling with freshness. Villar takes us on a nostalgic look through a bygone Metro Manila complete with an ‘80s pop soundtrack, following the blossoming affections between two high school students who meet in military training, attend balls, and watch movies. I fell in love with them, and renewed my vow to comics as a time capsule for ultra-specific, honest emotion of the sweet kind. — JC

Visit the publisher on Facebook for inquiries.

8. “Darahug #1: Ang Mananabang Ng Santa Maria” by Kael Molo

Set in Visayas with bits of Waray dialogue, this horror tome is taut and chilling. A pregnant woman travels to a remote town, and we can’t say more, because in outline, the story is simple and direct, but the gray tone imagery that Molo conjures sears the eyeballs, creepy one moment, shocking the next. — JC

Contact the author on Twitter for inquiries.

7. “In Steady Decline by Sunday Domingo feat. Yaya Precy” by Julius Villanueva

It can be argued that our country has a surplus of nurturers — yayas  who look after merienda pangs and domestic wails. In the case of Villanueva’s aspiring-comic book artist Sunday Domingo, her Yaya Precy pushes her buttons every time she checks in on her, but immediately pulls her ward back in a tight embrace. Yaya offers herself as a constant. We don’t know if Sunday even sees this. Might Yaya Precy have something to say about her own Sundays? What else does a yaya willingly do for her ward? A story both humorous and somber, the intimacy between the two characters is real but often unearned. — JP

Visit the author's Facebook page for inquiries.

6. “Ugh #4” by Julienne Dadivas

Four issues in and the persona of the Catholic schoolgirl cum YA hipster cum bummed artist is still making us LOL with her deadpan vinegar antics. Each joke bites because they are also confessions of anguish. “Totoong tao ba si Hulyen?” asks one comic-con goer in a panel, and the answer is: As real as any human, but also, at this point, a legend. — JC

Contact the author on Twitter for inquiries.

4. “Ligaw-Tingin” (editor Emiliana Kampilan )

5. “Uwian, a wlw anthology” (Cat Gablin comics)

This year, two anthologies on women by women stand tall. One revolves around the concept of glancing, or soaking in the sight of another, while the other is about the idea of what it means to come home to someone. Both push the form to let everyone else in on LGBTQ+ romance and affection, concurrently subverting expectations and showing TLC is the same, and even familiar to anyone with an imagination. These 19 works show how the gaze shifts. Some characters are seeing themselves for the first time, while we readers begin (or continue) to confront our own views. — JP & JC 

Contact Gantala Press for “Ligaw-Tingin” and contact Cat Gablin on Twitter for “Uwian, a wlw anthology.”

3. “The alan and the hunters” by Rob Cham

Viscerally shocking, and ultimately, heartbreaking, this tale of two hunters who meet an alan explores the worst in us. For 2018, Cham offers what reads like a strong retelling of the story of original sin. The minimal dialogue makes it one of the most unnerving comics of the year. Its final pages take us out of Eden and straight into contemplation — once truth is fact-checked, do we yield to our nature of being clannish, or do we choose to do right by those whom our kin wronged? — JP

Contact the author here for inquiries.

2. “Tamodern Times: Super Futuristic Philippines” by Noel Pascual and AJ Bernardo

Pascual and Bernardo have upped the hilarity-ante in “Tamodern Times,” a work that generates pure laughter one page after the next. Pascual’s words taunt and jeer. Bernardo’s clean lines and how the eyes of the characters look are hypnotic. The pair go all out with their take on peace and order, Halloween, what puzzles aliens about nomenclature, and, in a future these two envision, a bodily fluid that outranks oil and gold in value. This comic also has my favorite pun of the year. After a second reading, I realize TT may be their song to men who cry “I am under attack by the #MeToo movement,” and the same song for the rest of the human race who witness the absurdity of real-life laws and policies railroaded by world leaders intent on replacing democracy with fascism. — JP

Contact Noel Pascual and AJ Bernardo on Twitter for inquiries.

1. “Ella Arcangel Tomo Pangalawa: Awit ng Pangil at Kuko” by Julius Villanueva and Mervin Malonzo

A monster-fighting heroine? Sounds ordinary? No, that doesn’t even begin to describe this glorious, layered, sophisticated, passionate, and ultimately moving fantasy-action-adventure that is anything but ordinary, about a girl who uses the powers handed down by her grandmother to help neighbors in their poor town. The myths are rooted in Filipino folklore, but there is precise Filipino-ness in the attitudes and values here, between family, friends, pets, community. The monsters that Ella battles are both supernatural and real-world present-day, including murderous policemen and the toxic masculinity of abusive husbands. The only missing element that keeps this series from becoming the next “Trese” or “Harry Potter” is a large following. Consider this our recommendation that “Ella Arcangel” is a comic book hero generations can love forever. — JC

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