October 8. Saturday was not as promising as I had expected. It rained, so I holed up at home doing things that needed to be done: cleaned the house, did the laundry even on a rainy day, ironed the clothes, read a couple of books, continued working on a couple of drafts. When the whole routine shifted to the dreary, an interesting thought came into mind: the book launching of Last Seen After Midnight, the fourth Trese book by Budjette Tan and KaJo Baldisimo at Bestsellers, Robinson’s Galleria.
(I actually haven’t read the series yet, the first being Trese: Murder on Balete Drive [followed by Unreported Murders, Mass Murders, and then Last Seen After Midnight], but people I know who are into graphic novels keep egging me to, so that afternoon I deduce the launching of the latest book would be a perfect start to get into the world of Alexandra Trese).
I did the usual practice of attending such event: I bought all four books (it would be a shame for a freshman to buy the fourth one without the first three, right?), attended the interview portion of the artist (KaJo) and the author (Budj), listened to the question-and-answer portion, lined up to have my books signed (of which, I unexpectedly met Peachy Paderna, lining up as well with his “boy”). And I find the men behind the comics humble, just saying.
Back home, I read the first two sets, and now here is a little hail of first impressions:
- KaJo Baldisimo’s artwork is really good, polished to say the least. It has been a long time that I have seen black and white rendered so gorgeously and original. Though I notice a slight change of look or feel or whatever that is between the first case (the stories are told in episodic/procedural cases) of Murder on Balete Drive to the last case of Unreported Murders, the drawings portray Manila as a character that is both familiar and strange, and that alone merits a two-thumbs-up. Monochrome, this time, is sexy (though I’ve seen in Rogue magazine last year an excerpt of a Trese story in full color, and it is just as striking).
- Budjette Tan’s periodic stories often leave me wanting for more, as if this and that should be stretched and be mined for more, say, thrills and twists. But I guess this is the maximalist in me talking. This kind of telling has its plus-side though: you can read the tales in no particular order.
- As a practicing fiction writer, I read as much varied materials as I can to widen my scope, and I find Tan’s mythic, folkloric creatures crossing the modern world nothing new. But ‘nothing new’ does not necessarily mean it is bad. Also, this is not to say Tan’s concept is unoriginal. Nothing new could be saved by the rendition of small but refreshing takes of the proverbial (who would’ve thought of St. Elmo’s Fire coming out of a cellular phone as weapon/ally?), and Tan succeeded in giving that in his Trese books. And comparing short fiction to graphic fiction seems unfair, so I’m ending this discussion right now.
- The Kambals, the mandatory sidekicks, are funny, which I think serve as a perfect contrast to the protagonist’s grim disposition. And during the book launch, I’ve overheard from my seatmates that they have an interesting turn in the third installment, so I am excited to flip open Mass Murders soon.
- I know it is too early to demand this, after reading only two books, but I wish the underlying narrative of Trese (I know there is! It always has! It should!) would dive deeper into the Philippine mythology. After all, there is more to our horror stories than aswangs, tiyanaks and manananggals. And I hope Baldisimo’s and Tan’s publishers would grant them more lifeblood (e.g. budget) to continue Trese since there are legends that could be a wealthy source of stories, too.
- In three words: I enjoyed Trese.