2017: The year in Pinoy comics

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This year’s best works reflect that physical size is nothing compared to the more crucial superlatives: vastness of imagination, depth of insight, and strength of vision.

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Comics got bigger in 2017. That often meant size in the literal sense. D. Borja’s funny web comic “Hunghang Flashbacks” became one of the handsomest full-color packages of the year, subtitled “Hala, Shet! Libro Na!”, while Hulyen’s “Ugh Volume 1” merged her three cult zines and other material into a bible that explains why she’s one of the most recognizable names in comics today. Both are excellent, just two examples of how publishers stood tall, turning webcomics and zines into books, and gathering smaller works into anthologies. The epic tome that sits atop this list is huge by other years’ standards: 12 by 8 inches that spreads horizontally, 132 pages, and weighs 600 grams.

The growth is also commercial. Mervin Malonzo’s already-classic aswang saga “Tabi Po” is the big crossover newsmaker when its T.V. series premiered on Cignal. The biggest announcements are movie-related: the ongoing adaptation of Arnold Arre’s “Mythology Class,” to be directed by Jerrold Tarog, and the actress who will possibly play the new Darna in director Erik Matti’s version. But then, Darna has always been big. (Full disclosure: The author of this article is co-writing the screenplay for “Mythology Class “with Jerrold Tarog.)

While comic conventions are expanding across the country, popping up in provinces like Laguna, Cebu, and others, there’s an upcoming event that proclaims itself to be the biggest. Comic-Con Asia 2018 courted the year’s biggest controversy with Manny Pacquiao’s involvement as “ambassador.” Artists immediately expressed disgust with the Senator’s move to use comics to appear friendly to the youth even as he supports death penalty, anti-LGBT laws, and the war on drugs that has already taken the lives of many young people.

Among those artists who spoke out earliest and loudest was Gerry Alanguilan, perhaps the real ambassador of the year. He created the most iconic image of 2017 with Kevin Ray Valentino: Bakokak, a giant frog, destroying Manila. It’s a comic that doesn’t have much story to offer, but the picture of its brash kaiju mutation mirrors Philippine comics’ own. It also offers the criteria upon which to assess the year’s best works: Physical size is nothing compared to the more crucial superlatives: vastness of imagination, depth of insight, and strength of vision.

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10. “Doorkeeper” by Ethan Chua and Scott Lee Chua with various artists (Summit Books)

A figure called Doorkeeper appears in various vignettes as a manifestation of an individual’s decision-making. Some stories have a tendency to be slight, but spanning an array of milieus drawn by nine different artists, the cumulative effect is a wonderland.

Available in bookstores and newsstands nationwide.

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9. “Sandali” by Mikey Jimenez and Mikey Marchan (Anino Comics)

Does the title pertain to a singular moment? Or is it asking us to wait, as if for happiness? The slices of urban life in this funny-sad collection say both.

Available at Adarna House.

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8. “Emla & Bugan” by Ma-I Saffron Germaine E. Entico (Philippine High School for the Arts)

The surprising trend of the year is the use of the ancient script Baybayin, which appears in several works as dialogue or sounds, sometimes attached with a translation guide. But only one comic commits to it fully as aesthetic — the bold wavy lines achieve a folksy design to tell back-to-back tales of women taking charge of their destinies. Knowing the artist is a student from Philippine High School for the Arts lends this declaration of pure ideals added touching resonance.

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6-7. “Beyond Volume 2” (various artists, Beyond the Box) and “Kabuwanan” (various artists, Haliya Publishing)

Two anthologies by women. Last year’s all-male “Beyond” felt stalled in execution, but this warmer, stranger follow-up is as good as any product-placement project has any right to be, benefitting from the deeply personal voices of its artists addressing the theme of technology. It’s on this list mainly for Hulyen’s masterpiece of surrealism. “Kabuwanan” is the more explicitly feminine work, pondering on lunar mysteries and menstruation. The stories are a delight across the board — the boldest declaration that today’s women in comics are as talented and as vital as they are in spite of womanhood, but also because of it.

“Beyond Volume 2” is available at Fully Booked. “Kabuwanan” is available here.

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4-5. “Keith Busilak” (self-published) and “Ella Arcangel” by Julius Villanueva (Haliya Publishing)

Julius Villanueva’s perfect blend of pop and politics resulted in the creation of two unforgettable characters this year. “Ella Arcangel” is worthy of hopefully many volumes to come: a young, hardened fighter of bad guys in a world where the horrors of folk mythology are entwined with poverty and social injustice. Meanwhile, in a one-off, Keith Busilak is a taxi driver at a time when both his occupation and his faith in a murdering president are rendering him slowly obsolete.

Available here and online through the author's Twitter page.

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3. “Ang Hari Ng Komyut” by Lizette Daluz (Anino Comics)

Everyone knows commuting in Metro Manila is hell, so why is this boy constantly patient and kind? The wispiness of the drawings makes it seem as if his dogged dignity could be blown away any second, so seeing him persist from panel to panel is both tonic for these stressful times and call to empathy.

Available here.

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2. “Boso: A Peep in Pinoy Bomba Comics” compiled by Saturnino Basilla (Saturnino Basilla)

Unearthing these underground, pornographic tales from a repressed past for a new audience is a bold political statement for the right of humans to be humans, as well as a rallying cry for the art and importance of comics. It’s also a lot of dirty fun. The only mistake is that there are reportedly only very few copies going around.

"Boso" is currently out of print. Check the Saturnino Basilla page for updates.

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1. “Dead Balagtas Tomo 1: Ang Sayaw Ng Dagat at Lupa” by Emiliana Kampilan (Anino Comics)

A madly inventive, deeply analytical, emotionally moving, and gorgeously drawn work that is exactly how we want the history of any country to be told: Not as something old and done, but still happening, like tectonic plates and a rushing MRT train in the ocean. The book combines facts of science and past events with urgent fictional melodramas of people unerased of their genders, ethnicities, and social class. This is Philippine comics at its peak.

Available here.