Thursday, May 27, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 113 (5/27) -- 12 by Manix Abrera

Philippine Week continues today, as I review books from a country I know very little about -- other than the fact that they make some damn good comics! As before, I saw these books entirely because of the outreach efforts of Charles Tan, the secret weapon of the Philippine SFF/comics world.

The most universal comics are wordless, by definition. They don't need to be translated, and can be read across nearly all borders -- as long as the reader has the general sense of how comics work (and can figure out if this particular piece reads left-to-right or the reverse), she can get as much out of a wordless strip as anyone else in the world.

And a book of wordless strips can be paradoxically close and far from the reader at the same time -- like this book, for example. As far as I can tell, it's titled simply 12, and is by a cartoonist credited here as Manix Abrera (though he has a couple of strips in an anthology I've seen under the name Manuel Abrera, making me suspect "Manix" is a nickname for or derivative of Manuel). Nearly all of the words -- few as they are -- in this book are in Tagalog, aside from legal notices on the copyright page and the two words "Silent Comics" on the back cover. The strips themselves, all twelve of them, are purely wordless -- they are silent comics. So I can "read" these stories perfectly well, but not a word of the short introduction and afterword (author bio?). All I know about Manix Abrera is that he made these stories.

But that's plenty, since these are great stories, full of the terror and wonder of existence. Each one is a small shard of surrealistic life -- a girl attaches her eyes to a balloon, to see above a crowd and find her mother; a young woman falls in love with a famous man, and creates her own version of him through pure will; two men fight over who will go first on an an escalator; a group of scientists get superpowers by not dissecting a frog -- darkly illuminating a world with both pain and sorrow, hope and love...but much more of the former than the latter.

Abrera has a simplistic style here, reminiscent of a dozen webcomics (Raymondo Person, Cyanide & Happiness, and particularly the doughy people of Perry Bible Fellowship) -- those dot eyes and wide mouths turn his characters into everymen and -women, and their troubles become our own. Sometimes those troubles are funnier than tragic, as with a man leaving a poker game to relieve himself on a tree that turns out to be occupied, but more often are both darker and more resonant than that, like the O. Henryish story that ends the volume, in which a young man and his mother have very different ideas of what to do with his conjoined twin. The stories in 12 are sad in the way that all lives are sad in the end, because in the end all lives are about death.

This is a lovely, touching, funny, shocking, and utterly true collection of stories, from a creator I hope to see much more from in the future. And it would be great to see some North American art-comics house -- a Top Shelf or D&Q, a Fantagraphics or NBM -- pick this up and bring it to an audience over here. (Like the great Trese books -- I reviewed the third yesterday -- this was published by Visprint in the Philippines. I don't know who's running that company, but whoever it is has excellent taste.)
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index
Listening to: My Brightest Diamond - Gone Away
via FoxyTunes


Michael Buntag said...

Of the books you've reviewed so far, this is the one I'm most curious to hear the reaction from non-Filipino readers, as I had the most positive reaction when I first read it.

Alquanna said...

Hi - saw this blog post via a link on the Kikomachine comics fanpage on Facebook (at!/kikomachinekomix), and I found it pretty strange that no one has so far posted comments here especially in regards to your request for an author's bio (unless someone sent an email already). :)

Manix's more popular for his Kikomachine comics strip published daily in the Philippine Daily Inquirer; however it's in Filipino and is pretty text heavy, so you need someone to translate it into English without losing the punchline.

Here's an article about his works -

Thank you for reviewing this - I come from a writing organization based in the same university where Manix graduated from (we had invited him for a forum once), and it's really touching that good Filipino comics are slowly getting recognized overseas. :D

Post a Comment