Our best komiks of 2021

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We asked a few creators and publishers to share the komiks that have also brought meaning to this year in limbo.

2020 was the year that changed everything. And with the rate that things are going, 2022 is beginning to feel a lot similar. So what do we make of the year in between?

In addition to being the year of languishing, the New York Times calls 2021 the year in limbo. “Limbo as in waiting, limbo as in neither here nor there, limbo as in bending over backward in an attempt to move forward beneath a bar that continues to fall lower and lower.” Discomfort and disorientation are what’s expected in liminal spaces such as this. Limbo is a hard game to win after all.

Comics scholarship would call this space the gutter. It’s the negative space that is created once the panels have been laid out on the page. Our eyes often skim through these white gaps as we follow the action from panel to panel. However, in this emptiness, meaning can also be found. What is left out in the panels exists in this space. It is in the gutter that the reader gains agency and uses the implicit to bridge the gap. Here, the story of how we get from point A to point B is crafted and interrogated. The liminal has just as much to tell.

2021 has made it clear that the Filipino komiks community is heading towards an accessible and democratized 2022. With the ongoing limitations on traditional distribution and the absence of physical conventions, Filipino creators and readers continue to adapt, fashioning a space for themselves on the internet. Issues on capital, marketing, and gatekeeping are bypassed through online platforms such as Penlab and And with its second iteration, the Philippine International Comics Online Festival continues to provide education and opportunities for creators and readers even outside of Metro Manila.

Global boundaries are also traversed by the community’s migration towards online spaces. The Lakes International Comic Art Festival and Komiket, along with climate change communications specialists Creative Concern, have banded together to create the 10 Years to Save the World anthology. Backed up by the British Council, the anthology brings together 10 creators from the UK and the Philippines to advocate for an issue of utmost importance and urgency: climate change.

With the impact of Typhoon Odette still lingering in the country’s collective psyche, the commentary in the komiks of Emiliana Kampilan, Kajo Baldisimo and Budjette Tan, Kevin Raymundo, Manix Abrera, and Ren Galeno feels more and more palpable. Emiliana Kampilan’s “We, Malaika. I, The People” brings to light the role that American imperialism plays in climate change. On the other hand, Manix Abrera’s wordless “Sound of Silence” makes full use of the gutter to present the plight of Filipino fishermen from the neglect of corporations and regulating agencies. What ties all of these komiks together is their scathing demand for accountability.

As stated in the anthology’s foreword, “What became clear was that young people were tired of being told how they should change their behavior, while big business and governments failed to take responsibility for the problems they had caused.” 2021 may just be the year in limbo, but this space in between is also a reminder of the limited time we have left to save the planet.

For our 2021 yearender list, we asked a few creators to share the komiks that have also brought meaning to this year in limbo.


The cover of "Strike the Spark" by Maria Maranan. Photo from MARIA MARANAN/PENLAB

“Strike the Spark” by Maria Maranan (Penlab, 2021)

Maria Maranan is a young bright star in Pilipino Komiks. While it's easy to dwell on the dark when writing about the political, Maranan tells vibrant stories of hope against the corrupt systems we live in. “Strike the Spark” is her newest komik, and is a promising introduction to her body of work.

The cover of "Bunso" by Julius Villanueva. Photo from JULIUS VILLANUEVA/PENLAB

“Bunso” by Julius Villanueva (Penlab, 2021)

Telling Filipino stories in Filipino settings is something Julius Villanueva does best — “Bunso” is no exception. In his new serial project, we meet farmers fighting for their livelihood and protesting against political powers. But then a meteor strikes and a superhero you’ve never seen before is born. When it comes to cool shit emerging from dark and utterly real situations, I trust Julius more than anyone else.

The cover of "Sa Wala" by Ren Galeno. Photo from REN GALENO/PENLAB

“Sa Wala” by Ren Galeno (Penlab, 2021)

Good comics prioritize a good story before good artwork. Ren Galeno doesn't need to worry about that because she's pretty good at both. In this preview of her new story, the panelling, solid skillset, and intrigue in the mundane shine through.

MARIAN HUKOM, Illustrator

The cover of “Ang Jowa Kong Crosswise” by Tsambolero. Photo from Tsambolero/FACEBOOK

“Ang Jowa Kong Crosswise” by Tsambolero (Penlab, 2021)

This webcomic — turning into print very soon — is a great read for me. The comic itself doesn’t have a full-blown narrative which makes it easy to digest. I love the steamy and comedic mix it has. The characters are endearing, and of course, the manananggal touch gives their dynamic a whole new meaning.

Art from "In His Univers" by Chocnut-san. Photo from CHOCNUT-SAN/PENLAB

“In His Universe” by Chocnut-san (Penlab, 2021)

A bittersweet romance with sentimental dialogue is the way to my heart. The detailed inking adds to the magical kafkaesque premise. Plus, the way the character handles unrequited feelings is so melancholic yet graceful. This makes for a sad but lovely read.

The cover of "Uwian Na" by Shirojiki Mattari. Photo from SHIROJIKI MATTARI/PENLAB

“Uwian Na” by Shirojiki Mattari (Penlab, 2021)

Set in high school and reminiscent of my own wack adolescence — but even wackier. This is another comic without an overarching narrative which makes it more relatable. The comedic skits can be excessive and there's a disconnect with the detailed art, but all of that adds to the comic's juvenile charm. Reading it makes me feel like I'm part of the gang.

The cover of “Na-Reincarnate Ako Bilang Isang Pirated DVD ng Isekai Anime” by Charlie Dealca. Photo from CHARLIE DEALCA/PENLAB

“Na-Reincarnate Ako Bilang Isang Pirated DVD ng Isekai Anime” by Charlie Dealca (Penlab, 2021)

The title itself — a nod to the long titles of recent anime/manga — already reveals the outrageous plot. It definitely does not disappoint. It captures the notion of “weebness” and mixes it with Filipino culture. The Filipino media cameos are also there to keep you entertained throughout the convoluted plot.

The cover of "Wanted Serial Seven" by JP Palabon. Photo from JP PALABON/PENLAB

“Wanted Serial Seven” by JP Palabon (Penlab, 2021)

The series’ simple MS Paint style is contrasted by its chaotic design and violent characters. This gets paired up with dialogue that leaves you laugh-crying with each page. And as the plot progresses, the story becomes even more outrageous and comedic. You definitely have to watch out for the next chapters.


The cover of "Ang Manananggal" by Electromilk. Photo from ELECTROMILK/PENLAB

“Ang Manananggal” by Electromilk (Penlab, 2021)

Komix Serial of 2021. “Ang Manananggal” is a horror story about a Catholic schoolgirl dealing with 2020s young adult mental health anxieties, told as a queer coming-of-age sitcom. It’s amazing to witness Electromilk (stylized as electromilk) delicately balance two different tones and art styles, give equal weight to both the horror and the comedy without teetering to excess gore or sap or falling into the usual trap of genre melange that a lot of this sort of thing find themselves in. The main characters are instantly relatable, their relationships feel genuine and familiar, and the horror is unsettling and claustrophobic. It's really good.

The cover of "Dawwang" by Gantala Press and Nina Martinez. Photo courtesy of GANTALA PRESS

“Dawwang” by Gantala Press and Nina Martinez (Gantala Press and Goethe Institute, 2021)

Komix One Shot of 2021. A short chronicle memorialising the contributions of Cordilleran women in their tribes’ successful protest against the construction of the Chico River Dam back in the martial law years under Ferdinand Marcos. Gantala and Martinez employ a lot of deft komix storytelling techniques to aid the flow of history and information, keeping everything accessible and entertaining (as far as these stories can be). A beautiful and sadly necessary reminder of the provenance of modern day state-sponsored terrorism, the eradication of the indegene for the sake of urban development and national interest, and the invisibility of women as workers and warriors. The information is substantial, the pace is steady, the story is valuable. Available through Gantala Press’s Shopee account.

READ: This comic documents the role of women in the Cordillera people’s movement

“Tumindig” by Tarantadong Kalbo, et al (Tarantadong Kalbo, et al, through social media, 2021)

Komix Crossover of 2021. What began as a typical anti-pasista political cartoon — a caricature of a personified lone raised fist in the middle of a crowd of cowering limp wrists — drawn by webkomix creator Tarantadong Kalbo turned into a weeks-long online protracted skirmish between politically-activated komix creators and pro-administration artists, where each and every cowardly limb in Kalbo’s original drawing was redrawn by various artists into their personal avatars, standing up in the crowd to join Kalbo’s online protest. As a desperate response, one of the more spirited pro-admin artists drew a caricature of Inday Sara killing the protestors using various weapons, notably the Infinity Gauntlet stolen from Thanos, Marvel Universe’s universal butcher and necrophiliac, unwittingly outing himself and his cohorts as deathmongers and nitwits in the process. It was pretty funny. And like any typical comic book crossovers, Tumindig also has shirts and toys! Available for free in social media archives for late July 2021.