Monday, April 17, 2006

siglo: passion review

From the Philippine Daily Inquirer, April 17, 2006

The darkness and light of 'Passion'
By Ruel S. de Vera

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"Siglo: Passion"
Edited by Dean Francis Alfar and Vincent Simbulan
Kestrel IMC, Nautilus Comics and Quest Ventures QC, 2005, 200 pages

AMBITION IS THE MIGHTY scaffolding of literary and visual feat: the greater the height to be scaled, the more substantial the risk, the more abundant the possible reward. And yet that attempt can be breathtaking by itself, a challenge to the void, a call to arms against the mundane.

This is the gap being minded-and crossed -by the comic-book anthology "Siglo." Edited by comic-book veterans Dean Francis Alfar and Vincent Simbulan, the daring, award-winning "Siglo: Freedom" gathered short pieces of what Alfar calls "grafiction" that unfurled varied artistic styles and dissected diverse aspects of the Filipino's experience of liberty.

Two years later, Alfar and Simbulan have spawned the next incarnation in the "Siglo" saga, "Siglo: Passion," an even worthier adventurer in the graphical and literary continuity that is Filipino comic books. The big idea is, as the editors write in the introduction, to expose "the boundless enthusiasm that drives us to be both baneful and divine; to aspire to exalted heights or sink to ignoble depths."

"Siglo: Passion's" cast is prodigious, an assembly of international stars, local stalwarts, award-winners, up-and-coming kid wonders.

Aside from the two editors, there's Nikki Go-Alfar, Lan Medina, Reno Maniquis, Edgar Tadeo, Hiyas de Guzman, Vicente Groyon, Honoel Ibardolaza, Paolo Manalo, Andrew Drilon, Carlo Vergara, Jason Banico, Marco Dimaano, Quark Henares, Antonio Abad, Ma-an Asuncion, Gerry Alanguilan, Jaime Bautista, Michelle Soneja, Cyan Abad-Jugo, Luis Katigbak, Jonas Diego, Joel Chua, Ariel Atienza, Jeremy Arambulo, Angelo Suarez, Rafael Kayanan, Leinil Francis Yu, Josè Illenberger, Jac Ting Lim, Camille Portugal, Oliver Pulumbarit, Wilson Tortosa and Ma. Camille Francisco.

Primary arsenal

Twelve stories array themselves in parade as "Passion's" primary arsenal, each tackling a different decade and location. As always, the stories intend to show off the unique attributes of the writers and artists. "Passion" bookends the stories with Suarez's illustrated poems and a sensational cover by Illenberger, all in all a gorgeous package.

Solid work abounds from all around. There is a dark, dark undercurrent in "Passion" as the storytelling here is quite mature and very sophisticated. Manalo's tale, combined with Drilon's graphic gambits, generates a creepy vibe that is taken even further by Vergara's spooky, meaningful anti-romance. Alanguilan's ghost story is harrowing in its stillness.

Ibardolaza's deceptively bucolic pattern unhinges, because of how it hides and then unleashes the truth in Groyon's story. Go-Alfar's story uses the artists' strengths to craft a lushly rendered journey to unexpected and bittersweet redemption. On the other tangent, Simbulan and Atienza's cozy piece makes wise use of a recipe passed down through the generations.

The book's most hypnotic, most arresting piece is "Manila 2019." In Katigbak's reality-bending exploration through what amounts as romance and obsession at an age where the soul hides behind the oh-so-aptly chosen avatar.

How can you not get into a story that has an oversized guinea pig named Briggs walking around in a dystopian Philippines? It's a well-written parallel to what's happening among the whiz kids of today and what may happen still.

Visual stylings

Just as "Freedom" introduced to a wider audience Or and Drilon, talents who have since established themselves, "Passion" lets readers discover the pleasures of De Guzman's and Arambulo's visual stylings. Just as the first "Siglo" was a black-and-white project, "Siglo: Passion" equips itself for the next mission. While "Freedoom" deployed some of these same talents in black-and-white, "Passion" features full-color coated pages for every story; there are 12 stories instead of the predecessor's 10. Most importantly, "Passion"
continues its permutation of "Siglo"'s purpose as a test bed for grafiction's possibilities in telling the Filipino story.

There are hints of whimsy and compassion, but mostly the unimpeachable inertia of love, all whipped together in a complex comic book bouquet. It's not all melodrama, manga and Manila.

In that sense, "Passion" is very much the more serious older brother of the earlier "Freedom," fulfilling the promise of the "Siglo" evolution, and, as always, setting the bar higher for whatever comes next in the "Siglo" series.

This lovingly produced, high-concept anthology deserves all the superlatives it will snare, for "Siglo: Passion" is an irresistibly dark vision of all that a Filipino comic book can be, when imbued with the right amount of emotion and devotion.

Available from all Comic Quest and Fully Booked branches.


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