THE LOCAL graphic fiction industry has taken a bold step with SIGLO: Freedom (Kestrel Studios, Comic Ventures, 2003), a collection of short graphic stories exploring the country’s notion of freedom.

Edited by five-time Palanca award winner Dean Francis Alfar and Comic Ventures founder Vin Simbulan, SIGLO shows the potential of a neglected tradition and how it evolved into a serious venture. With 10 of the country’s best graphic artists and writers at its disposal, this collection proves that Filipino comic books are no longer the Funny and Wakasan Comics they used to be, but something the creators can claim as literature.

Revolution

With the superior quality of the current graphic fiction releases, readers and critics can no longer classify them as “escapist fiction.” In fact, with the seriousness of their themes, recent graphic titles, like National Book Awards winners Trip to Tagaytay and Mythology Class, are now classified as “literary.”
“It’s so literary, it would easily be considered pretentious if it didn’t work. But work, it does,” said poet-critic Ruel de Vera in his review of SIGLO in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

However, the creators would rather not label their work. “If a reader or a critic categorizes an attempt like this as ‘literary’, then that is their privileged reading of SIGLO—a valid opinion, but only one among many other possible readings,” Alfar said.

Elbert Or, creator of graphic fiction title Two Color Truth Theatre, would rather leave literary critique to the readers. “The question of literary merit is something we leave to critics and readers. Our concern is and always has been to be able to tell stories as best as we can, stories with a certain relevance, and maybe gravity, stories that are hopefully different from everything else out there.”

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Still, it cannot be denied that SIGLO hits the mark by pushing the limits of local graphic fiction tradition by delving on a theme not commonly tackled in the genre. Represented in each of the 10 stories are experiences and battles for freedom, with each selection remaining loyal to the creator’s style and vision.

There are no flying superheroes wearing their underwear over their trousers in this collection, no fighting robots and laser cannons, no futuristic and unrealistic backdrops. There is only freedom in its real, rough-edged form.

Liberation

The stories in SIGLO are set against the colorful backdrop of our country. The traditions, legends, situations, and some of the characters are borrowed from the rich library of Philippine history that even the dates and locations of the stories have historical basis.

“There is a significance to the dates and settings. We aimed to create stories that were situated in a particular milieu, which entailed a degree of historical consistency, but our works are fictional,” Alfar stressed.

The mood of the selection varies from story to story. In Panay, 1925 (written by Kestrel Studios editor in chief Nikki Alfar and illustrated by Angel Ace creator Marco Dimaano), the creators translate the story of Hacinta Entrencherado, the wife of Panay’s Florencio Entrencherado who declared himself “Emperor of the Philippines” and led an abortive revolutionary movement. Here, she struggles to survive in a society where women are required by the norms to remain as plain housewives.

Pasig, 1998, another piece by Dimaano, describes the generation’s version of escapism: shopping malls and video games. Dimaano remained faithful to his Manga-influenced style, making the already light pieces more engaging.

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Another light story is Honoel Ibardoloza’s Negros Occidental, 1978. Here, the Palanca award winner for Short Story for Children describes the friendship of a poor boy and a privileged boy during the turbulent times of Martial Law.

SIGLO also dwelled on the issues more popular to the general audience. International illustrator Gerry Alanguilan (San Dig, 1944) tells a violent tale of a Japanese captain and a traitor who both met a tragic demise. Meanwhile, independent comic book maker Jason Banico (Cebu, 1935) presented the vaudeville and guerilla radio as conflicting mediums of entertainment.

Two-time National Book Awards winner Arnold Arre (Baguio, 1966) describes the state of an emerging art—komiks—and uses it as backdrop for his tale. The art in his story, a departure from his usual style in his earlier works, is reminiscent of the earlier komiks, making the readers feel as if they are transported back into the 60’s

Perhaps the last story, Likha Making Contest winner Andrew Drilon’s Manila, 2004, is the fitting resolution to the collection; presenting a man’s imprisonment with today’s several distractions and society’s numerous complications.

SIGLO: Freedom is a bold attempt to discuss a serious matter using a medium known as “light” and “escapist.” With an interesting concept and surprising depth, SIGLO is the bright promise to local graphic fiction supporters that the industry is still to blossom. Chuck D. Smith

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