Panels, dialogue boxes, and visual presentation have always fascinated me. While I love words, the combination of words and pictures, set in panels offers a dynamic reading experience that my usual book cannot compete with. Maybe it’s the succinct story telling that goes into comic books and the visual allusions that made me love comic books. I find that in the graphic novel or comic form, the reader is asked not only to consider the words, but the role of the images in the story telling. In really good comic books I find that the visual aspect not only brings words alive but is also a critical element in completing the story, very much as non-verbal behaviours reveal more in a person than what they say.
At various times in this site, I have featured a few local graphic novels, from those that explore the local mythology, Filipino religious practices, and even heroes steeped in Filipino reality. Needless to say, local graphic novels and comic books have a place in my heart since I discovered it way back in high school via Arnold Arre’s Mythology Class. Today, I feature 3 local comic books from my newly discovered local publication— Meganon Comics.
I love Filipino Comic books, I am quite passionate about it. While I haven’t reached the level of going to comic-cons, I keep an eye out for graphic novels in the bookstores. I discovered Meganon Comics in one of my visits to the local book store. There, lined in their acrylic shelves, were two columns of local comics I have never seen before. As I read synopsis after synopsis I find myself gravitating towards my guilty pleasure—local mythology and the supernatural. Who wouldn’t be curious about angels, demons, conflicted heroes, and creatures that live underneath the veil of reality?
Mark 9 Verse 47
My first Meganon Comics was Mark 9 Verse 47. Now, don’t get turned off by the Biblical reference just yet. The title refers to the biblical verse: “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. Better for you to enter the Kingdom of God with one eye, than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna.” While this is possibly metaphorical in the biblical sense, imagine this taken literally–which is the very premise and struggle of the story.
The synopsis, however, was what sold this story for me. It read:
“And so it is written. For many years, demons have fought their way through the Gates of Hell to infest mankind. The Father and his Archangels have kept them at bay but demons always find their way through the Gate. It’s opening fast and the only one who can close it is the Gatekeepers. Who is the chosen one? No one knows except for one blind man name Visdei”
Gates of Hell, Archangels, a Chosen One and a blind man? How could I not be in? These elements are reminiscent of Constantine, but it would be unfair to claim they are one and the same thing. The story opens with the introduction of Visdei, our blind, seemingly conflicted anti-hero. He isn’t a polished sort of hero, he is dark, rough and conflicted. While his action of saving a woman being harassed on the street seems promising, we soon discover he isn’t too optimistic about humanity. It is this hovering darkness over Visdei that buoys me through the comic. He felt like a battle ground, both desired by the heavens and hell for his ‘seeing’ ability and his mission to find the gate keeper. He walks around carrying a heavy load as if his actions are motivated by a need to seek repentance for a transgression yet to be revealed. He isn’t the most optimistic of heroes, even questioning the worthiness of humanity to be saved, yet he is faithful in his task, not easily lured by Mal- the devil himself.
The artwork is straightforward without much intricacies, but at times unexpectedly powerful. This picture above, in particular is wonderful, that demarcation line of dark and light as Visdei goes through a Matrix/Morpheus scene of choice made me pause and look. The wonderful paneling where wings span through pages and characters move from the shadowy darkness to the light made the whole reading experience worth savoring. The art, for some reason, reminds me of Full-metal alchemist. The characters’ wide faces, more rounded features kept reminding of the said Manga/Anime.
Volume 1 was captivating enough for me to look forward to the succeeding volumes. This volume has just the right amount of characterization, conflict, and complexity that leaves more questions than answers. In my mind, that’s a perfect way of keeping a reader engrossed. I can go on with further analysis of this, but there are two more titles to talk about.
I bought Sumpa the day after I bought Mark 7. I enjoyed Mark 7 that I wanted to see what else this new-to-me comic book publisher had to offer. Sumpa’s synopsis about broken curses, half-human/half-elemental, and pre-colonial god was bound to capture my mythology-loving heart. I had always been curious of the Filipino Mythology, was even happy that our Aswang made its way in an episode of Grimm.
When I read Sumpa, it wasn’t what I expected it to be. I was coming from a background of Arre’s Mythology Class and Tan’s Trese. Sumpa tickled my love of language and words, of pre-colonial beliefs and duality.
Sumpa is our hero in the story, this reluctant half-human/half-elemental who had been destined to break the curse of the native land. He isn’t up for it. He doesn’t seem to have the knight in shining armour complex which makes his name even more interesting. Sumpa in the Filipino language, depending on usage has two meanings. It can mean promise and it could also mean curse. These two meanings situate the entire story. It’s both a personal question, one that touches on our heroes identity, as well as in the fulfillment of a ‘promise’ to break ‘a curse.’ It’s this that creates the tension and what propels the reader to turn the pages.
At first, all can be taken at face value–Sumpa, our not-so-heroic hero and his companion Aliw, a pre-colonial god. Then, towards the end of the story we find that Aliw’s presence isn’t just out of friendship, but the pre-colonial god played a role in putting this save-the-world-burden on Sumpa’s shoulder. I also found interesting how this story seem to imagine how the pre-colonial gods and spirits are surviving in the modern world. The question on the existence of a deity in the absence of believers has been explored in other stories before, but I liked seeing it in the local setting as the author re-imagined the lives of the pre-colonial gods.
The details in the drawings are beautiful and at times possibly arresting. I love the fact that this expounds on very Filipino themes and I’m happy to see folklore making its way into comic books as I have always believed that our local mythology is as rich as those of the Greeks.
Strange Natives: The Boy with Capiz Eyes
Compared to the other two, this was a shorter work and had an actual ending to the story. I am assuming that “Strange Natives” would be tackling different stories for each volume, exploring the idea of Strange Natives.
This particular story is reminiscent of old-wives tales that I grew up listening to, stories that instill fearful lessons to children who would not behave. The synopsis states:
“Who are strange natives? Actors who become presidents, villains rewritten as heroes, and pre-colonial gods who still walk upon the earth. There are as many strangers, as much as there are natives—But only a few stories are written, while the rest will be forgotten. Among these strange natives is Francis, a spoiled little city boy, The boy with capiz eyes.”
The story is fairly straight forward. It starts with a spoiled brat who is sent to his grandmother’s home in the province to learn a few manners. At the beginning he doesn’t heed his grandmother’s warning and finds himself face to face with the unseen inhabitants of our world. While the story isn’t complex, I think it delivers its message. Remember shows like ‘Are you afraid of the dark?’ or even “Eerie Indiana?’ This is what Strange Natives feels like, episodic stories of encounter with the supernatural that teaches the main character a valuable lesson while opening their eyes to the eerie, creepy and strangely exquisite supernatural world.
Of the three, this isn’t my favorite, but I enjoyed it just the same. Reading Strange Natives brought back so many memories of the tales I grew up with, and eventually learned to love. The bit about the black rice was something I remember my elders used to talk about. I was often even warned that should I find myself in the ‘other’ world, never to eat the black rice offered to me as it would keep me in that world.
The artwork here is more expressive than realistic. The lines are rougher and more textured. The panels here are mostly tiny boxes evenly distributed in the page with occasional whole-page-spreads. Not as dynamic as maybe the other two, but then this didn’t involve fight scenes/sequences.
Overall, these three comic books offered a wonderful journey into the dark and the supernatural where the conflicts are not entirely external, but mostly internal. With taking the familiar into the unfamiliar in its storytelling, Meganon Comics has definitely made this reader want more. Nothing makes me happier than finding a new local comic book to love. There’s so much that can be said for each comics, but I could only have enough space, so I hope this gets you reading this and checking out what other stories Meganon Comics has to offer.