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Marvelous maiden voyage

By Ruel S. De Vera

Last updated 18:53:00 11/20/2007

MANILA, Philippines―There is a fine tradition of realistic fiction in Filipino literature,? Neil Gaiman explains. ?We wanted to encourage unrealistic fiction.? Those words, appearing in ?The Sandman? author?s Foreword, exemplify the dark heart, and considerable soul of ?Expeditions: The Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards Vol. 1―Comics? (Fully Booked, 2007, 110 pages) and ?Expeditions: The Philippine Graphic Fiction Awards Vol. 1―Prose? (Fully Booked, 2007, 190 pages). And any reader will recall that Gaiman had no idea what awaited him in the Philippines: ?What I knew of the Philippines could have been written on the wing of a small butterfly.?

Boasting a terrific cover by ?New Avengers? artist Leinil Francis Yu and helped by a healthy heaping of horror, these books shine with potent talents.

Seeking out new talent in both fiction and comic-book work, the awards were first handed out last year and these books feature the winners in the two categories as well as the honorable mentions. The winners―and, by extension, the selections in these collections―were chosen by the formidable judges: Gregorio Brillantes, Peque Gallaga and Tony Perez for Prose; Arnold Arre, Dean Francis Alfar and Fully Booked?s Jaime Daez for Comics.

The stories in the Prose volume are just superlative, gathering the chosen stories of science fiction, fantasy or horror. While some may be abrupt or uneven, all are well-written and imaginative, polished with a quality echoing the words of Ian Casocot, one of the first-prize winners in his story ?A Strange Map of Time.? He writes: ?There was no vocabulary to seize possession of the sudden unknown that engulfed him.? Casocot?s tale is a time-lost meditation on words and destiny, employing folkloric elements from the Negros islands.

The other first-prize winner is Michael A.R. Co?s ?The God Equation,? a gripping, gritty and tense account revolving around an actual angel sent to eliminate a Filipino mathematician who may have found proof of God?s existence in an equation.

The second-prize winner, ?The Great Philippine Space Mission? by Philbert Ortiz Dy, is a rousing romp, with the Earth in danger and the only people who can save everyone is a Filipino scientist and Kris Aquino, the Kris Aquino.

See, Eric Bautista has invented a metaphysical engine, powered by chismis (gossip), hence, Aquino becomes the most potent source of energy in the world. ?Atha? by Michaela Atienza, a plaintive reflection on the wages of one man?s madness and genius, is the third-prize winner.

Like the winning pieces, the other stories mix Filipino and foreign elements with aplomb and are surprisingly contemporary. Authored by Kim Marquez, Ma. Cecilia Estrada, Yvette Natalie Tan, Ma. Ana Micaela G. Chua and Wincy Ong, they feature everything from a manananggal who wants to become an artista to white cockroaches with a secret.

Dark comics

If anything, the Comics volume is actually darker than its Prose sibling and is laced with more horror content. The pieces have finishes that range from professional to spotty, and their styles run from distinctively innovative to somewhat derivative, all with a dream-like texture that can be either sweet or nightmarish. Though the 12-page pieces are in black-and-white, the taller and wider format evens it out.

Chances are, readers would have yet to read anything like the deserving first-prize winner, ?The Sad, Mad, Incredible But True Adventures of Hika Girl? by Clara Lala Gallardo and Maria Gallardo, a bedtime story done up in Uglydoll finery.

Mind-blowing would be the best description for the second-prize winner, the wordless ?Splat!? by Manuel ?Manix? Abrera, like a spot cartoon on speed, kinetic and witty.

The two third-prize winners are a study in extremes. Like a cautionary tale for children and their toys, ?Dusk? by Rommel Joson is a moody, creepy tale of shadows while ?Defiant: The Battle of Mactan? by Juan Paolo Ferrer and Chester Ocampo is a vividly anim-flavored, action-oriented and heavily fictionalized take on Magellan?s last stand.

Pungently seasoned with strong Filipino flavor, the other pieces, by Vergel Nino A. Vergara, Benjor Catindig, Joonee Garcia, Anna Pallon, Adele Raya, Frances Alcaraz, Alvin B. Yapan, Leonard John C. Banaag and Avid Liongoren, uncover prophecies fulfilled and promises kept in the twilight corners.

Gaiman has thrown his support behind this competition and, with the second iteration kicking off this month, it becomes Neil Gaiman?s gift that keeps giving, a yearly habit of celebrating talent and imagination, whether you are a fan of genre stories or not.

Whether the words and images bow to your particular taste or not, whether they are miracle drug or mere placebo to you, whether it is the Escape key or the Enter key, there is no denying how both volumes of ?Expeditions? are a testament to the remarkable promise and power of Filipino creativity in fiction and comics, the hurricane of words and images birthed from the fierce flapping of an unleashed butterfly?s wings.

Both books are available in hardcover and paperback; they will be launched on Nov. 25, 3 p.m., at the Fully Booked High Street courtyard in Bonifacio High Street, Taguig. The launch coincides with the awarding of the winners of the 2nd Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards.


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