Thursday, December 17, 2009

Local flavor

We always love it whenever the books we read feature local stuff -- folklore, familiar places, and local personalities. Trese, the series of graphic novels by Budjette Tan and KaJO Baldisimo, is a must-read for lovers of Philippine folklore and mythology. The graphic novels work on the premise that, underneath the crazy happenings in Manila, there exists an underworld populated by monsters, ghosts, elementals, and sorcerers, just to name a few.

Trese (literally meaning "13") features Alexandra Trese, a young woman whose services are sought after by the local police whenever they encounter weird cases. Yes, think "X-Files," but the police in the novels are more open to paranormal involvement in the crimes. Each chapter in the graphic novel deals with a particular case, which Alexandra Trese solves with the help of her alliances in the paranormal underworld.

I doubt whether foreign readers who're not that familiar with Philippine culture would truly appreciate the level of complexity of these graphic novels. Tan and Baldisimo rarely provide context to the characters and the scenario, assuming that readers know what they are alluding to. In a way, this is a downside of the graphic novels. Philippine folklore and mythology is rich in unique characters which will truly fascinate the non-Filipino reader. We have the tiyanaks, which are the souls of aborted fetuses; the tikbalangs, half-horse and half-man beings; aswangs, our local grotesque vampires who incidentally don't sparkle in the sun.

Some of the dialogue in Trese can be a bit cheesy and contrived. I guess the creators did not really focus on the language but on the storylines of each chapter. Trese's chapters have an uneven feel to them. Some chapters are just brilliant, engaging, and full of suspense; others lack depth and make you feel that they're simply fillers.

The illustrations, while beautifully rendered, can certainly use more detail. Some of the panels don't really propel the story with their odd perspectives and the ineffective use of the black-and-white contrast. Also, there aren't that much nuances in the way some characters are drawn; most of the supporting characters appear similar with one another. Alexandra also appears to have an androgynous quality sometimes.

Still, the Trese graphic novels are enjoyable. They're perfect reads during lunch, while on the bus, or just about any time when you have a few minutes to spare. And like most novels that make up a series, the first one (Trese: Murder on Balete Drive) is the best one.

Read Trese if:
  1. You're fascinated with Philippine folklore.
  2. You're fed up reading about beautiful and perfect vampires.
  3. You love gore.


Anonymous said...

I had flagged this book for my wishlist after learning about it at Arteseblis' blog. Really seems interesting. This is the only locally written book I'm itching to get my hands on for this year or for early next. Too bad the bookstores here haven't stocked on it.

Btw, I'd like to wish you an early very Merry Christmas and a smashing New Year, Peter! I'm off to my Holiday vacay (Yipee!) so I might not have the time to go online.

Hope you can squeeze in all that boot loot you've got before the year ends. :)

rise said...

I'm quite taken by this series. I think it will be cumbersome for the authors to provide the context for each mythology character. I guess the unacquainted reader will have to go to other sources (wiki) for the background. But the universal appeal is there. I find that there's an evolution to both the story and artwork as you progress from one volume to the next. The best for me is the third installment Mass Murders. There is something there that elevates this graphic above pop culture.

A happy holidays to you, Peter.

Anonymous said...

I had never heard of this book, or even these series. It sounds intriguing, I wonder how easy it is to get here in the UK. I shall look out for it especially!

Charlie said...

I haven't abandoned you, Peter—I've been ill and am now about 92,000 blog entries behind. I hate it when that happens.

I owe you a second apology: I'm one of those typical Americans who knows very little about Filipino culture. I suggest a possible future post: a listing of books about the Philippines and Filipino writers.

UW said...

lol, the bookshelf in National Bookstore had only two copies of this book. good thing I saved up on my birthday money.

Anonymous said...

seems readers from abroad are interested in Trese. It's a pity that Visprint and local bookstores don't really have an efficient book-order system for out-of-the-country orders. the online bookstore, Bookay-Ukay (, though is willing to purchase and ship copies overseas. Trese costs about 4USD if purchased from local bookstores.