Friday, May 28, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 114 (5/28) -- Neil Gaiman Presents the Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards Comics Anthology

Philippine Week continues today -- still through the generosity of Charles Tan, who sent all of these books to me in his role as the Philippine comics/SFF world's greatest international booster -- with one of the two anthologies that collecting the winning works of the first three years of the Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards. (This one has the comics; a companion book -- Neil Gaiman Presents The Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards Prose Anthology -- collects the stories. I have a copy of the latter, and hope to get to it soon.)

It's very difficult to say anything definitive about a prize anthology, since it's made up of the best works (according to whoever decided that prize) out of a universe that the reviewer won't know well. In this particular case, all I have to go from are the stories in this volume -- I have no idea what else was in contention (good or bad, interesting or derivative, in English or Tagalog) or how the judges decided. (I've been part of judging panels for awards a couple of times now, and what a panel settles on as #1 often can be a work that none of the individuals on that panel would have picked first separately.) So the first thing to say is that there's an incredible variety of stories in here, with lots of craft and ability on display, and that many of them really impressed me -- and that a different set of stories would likely really impress someone else.

So: this award has been running for three years now, with what seems to be the same team of judges for all three years -- Gerry Alanguilan, creator of Elmer and a lot of other Philippine comics as well as an inker for American comics; Arnold Arre, creator of the graphic novel Martial Law Babies, among several others, who has also done work for American firms; Jaime Daez, Managing Director of Fully Booked, the bookstore chain that sponsors the award and publishes the anthologies; and Lenil Francis Yu, a fan-favorite penciler of superhero comics and others. Arre also provides the cover, which brings together motifs from many of the winning stories.

In the first year, 1st place went to "The Sad Mad Incredible But True Adventures of Hika Girl" by Clara Lala Gallardo and Maria Gallardo, a fantastical story of sibiling rivalry with a flat neo-primitivist art style that reminded me of '60s posters at times. Second was "Splat!" by Manuel Abrera (whose book 12 I looked at yesterday), a wordless story about creation and the terror of the blank page. And two stories tied for third place: Rommel Joson's "Dusk,"a moody, shadowy vignette; and "Defiant: The Battle of Mactan" by Juan Paolo Ferrer and Chester Ocampo, a confidently straightforward retelling of a battle against the first wave of Spanish invaders.

The book also contains six other stories -- presumably honorable mentions? it doesn't explain their inclusion -- from this first year's competition, from creators including Avid Liongoren, Leonard John C. Banaag, and Nino A. Vergara. I found most of these to be too heavily narrated -- weighed down with too many captions trying too hard to establish a mood or give all the details of a story -- as if the creators were trying to fit twice as much story into the pages they had. But their art is amazing -- and amazingly varied, with each of these having a very different look and feel.

The second year, oddly, didn't have a first place winner. The second place award went to Andrew Drilon's "Lines and Spaces,"a visually inventive tribute to Alex Nino. Third place was again split between two stories: Heubert Khan Michael's "Absolution," a gorgeously chiaroscuro, but awfully obvious, tale of religious redemption; and Jerald Dorado's "Afterlife," a complicated (and also over-narrated and -condensed) science fiction story of the far future. Two more stories from this year's competition fill out the middle of the book.

And the end of the book features the winners of the third year...which again had no first place winner. (Perhaps the first place is like being the King of Gondor?) Second place went to Genevieve Go's "Douglas," a slice of life enlivened by an expressionistic style. And third place went this year to "(Love) At Last Sight" by Heubert Khan Michael (the first repeat winner), a complicated and slightly rushed supernatural tale. Six more stories fill up this section, including one -- Manuel Abrera's "I See," which would later be published in a slightly different (and more polished) form as "8" in 12 -- that I would have voted for the first place slot without any hesitation.

All in all, Comics Anthology is a big mixed bag, like all anthologies. Some stories will appeal more to some readers; others to different audiences. But as a carefully curated snapshot of a world of comics that I knew very little about -- and I bet most American readers know equally little -- it's a real eye-opener. And the contest that it grew out of sounds like a great thing: spurred by the visit of Neil Gaiman to the Philippines a few years back, and on its way to help build a stronger SFF/comics market and community there.
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index
Listening to: Richard McGraw - My Life
via FoxyTunes


Charles said...

"Six more stories fill up this section, including one -- Manuel Abrera's "I See," which would later be published in a slightly different (and more polished) form as "8" in 12 -- that I would have voted for the first place slot without any hesitation."

Interestingly enough, "I See" did win first place, but it got disqualified, hence the lack of a 1st place winner during the 3rd awards.

Gerry Alanguilan said...

Yes, unfortunately we had to disqualify "I See", which was collectively our only unanimous #1 among the judges. There is a stipulation in the contest rules that entries must not have seen publication. Since it came out, albeit slightly altered, in "12" before the conclusion of the competition, we've had to take it out, much to our disappointment. We included the entry in the book nevertheless to recognize our appreciation for it.

Let me just say thank you for the attention you are giving Philippine comics. It's much appreciated! And of course, thanks to you to Charles.

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