Monday, May 24, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 110 (5/24) -- Where Bold Stars Go to Die by Esmena and Alanguilan

The time is long past when even the most dilligent reader could keep up to date on any even moderately broad field. There's no one fully informed on "the modern novel," or even a commercial genre such as mystery or science fiction -- sure, there are people who read a lot of it, and read carefully in it, but even they find that there's much more that they don't manage to read than they do. The situation gets even worse when we take off our local blinders -- I used to have a decent sense of everything that was being published in the speculative fiction field in the US, but a slightly fuzzier sense of Canada and the UK, some guesses and suppositions about Australia and New Zealand, but only scattered random facts about the entire rest of the world. But that doesn't mean we should abandon everything outside of the narrow area of specialization that we can cover completely -- though there are a lot of blogs and websites (and magazines and readers and conventions) that have given up and settled for doing exactly that. Even if we can't know the whole world of things that might be interesting, it's so much more fun to dive in and see what we can find.

In that spirit, this week is Philippine Week here in the land of Book-A-day. Due to the incredible good graces of Charles Tan -- the Philippine SFF/comics community's secret weapon and ambassador to the rest of the world -- I've seen a stack of Philippine comics and SFF novels/anthologies over the past few years. Last year, I reviewed a number of those comics in one post at ComicMix. This year, I wanted to do something different, so, for the next few days (I'm hoping for a whole week, but it should be at least the five days of this working week) I'll have a new review of a Philippine comics or SFF project here.

I'm starting with Where Bold Stars Go To Die, a short graphic novel published last year in the Philippines by Komikero Publishing, written by Gerry Alanguilan and illustrated by Arlanzandro C. Esmena. Bold Stars has 32 pages of story in a 56-page package; the rest includes script pages, an afterword, pin-ups from a variety of other Philippine artists (Arnold Arre, Carlo Pagylayan, Philip Tan, Lenil Francis Yu, etc.) and the usual other pages required to turn a story into a book. There's no price on the copy I have, but I imagine this is difficult to find unless you're in the Philippines to begin with anyway.

Daniel is a young man -- still in some kind of school, maybe college, who has become obsessed with the forgotten "bold star" Anna. (A "bold star" is a Philippine term that doesn't translate precisely into North American. As far as I can tell, a bold star is not quite a porn star -- they're women who posed nude or semi-nude for magazines and appeared in what seem to be soft-core movies. So they're somewhere in the pin-up/scream queen/nudie cuties zone -- their physical beauty is the point, but their job wasn't to actually have sex.) Daniel spends far too much of his time rhythmically admiring the movies and magazines of Anna that he's managed to find an accumulate, to the detriment of everything else in his life.

And then, one day, he closes his eyes afterward, and opens them somewhere else. He's in a pastoral landscape, populated only by bold stars, or their spirits -- the eternally-young, beautiful, undressed manifestations of lust and desire that remain as long as there are still people (oh, all right: men) in the real world still thinking about and lusting after them. And of course Anna is there. But of course he can't stay there long.

Where Bold Stars Go to Die is a bold story itself, diving headlong into the thorny questions of representation and the male gaze and taking what would be a very politically incorrect stance on them on this side of the Pacific. But, on the other hand, it could be argued that this story takes place entirely in Danny's head -- the other characters are thus not actually people, but just the images he uses for his own pleasure. Still, I don't think many self-identified feminists will be comfortable with Bold Stars -- but, then, they wouldn't be all that fond of actual bold stars, either.

Bold Stars is a thoughtful character piece, a closely viewed portrait of sexual obsession viewed from an original angle -- Danny's obsessed with a woman who doesn't now exist, and possibly never really existed. He's only interested in the image, not the reality, but he's desperate for the image. Esmena's images are equally lush and detailed to match the writing, in a style reminiscent of other Philippine masters like Alfredo Alcala and featuring a lot of appropriately gorgeous women. It may be only a short book, but Bold Stars is a fully-formed story, and a surprising one.
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index
Listening to: Jesus Makes The Shotgun Sound - Do Not The Clothes Make The Man!?!?!
via FoxyTunes

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