Book: The Dam Keeper

"The Dam Keeper"

Life in Sunrise Valley is tranquil, but beyond its borders lies certain death. A dangerous black fog looms outside the village, but its inhabitants are kept safe by an ingenious machine known as the dam. Pig’s father built the dam and taught him how to maintain it. And then this brilliant inventor did the unthinkable: he walked into the fog and was never seen again.

Now Pig is the dam keeper. Except for his best friend, Fox, and the town bully, Hippo, few are aware of his tireless efforts. But a new threat is on the horizon–a tidal wave of black fog is descending on Sunrise Valley. Now Pig, Fox, and Hippo must face the greatest danger imaginable: the world on the other side of the dam.

I picked this book up because I thought the artwork was cute. I’ve never heard of The Dam Keeper before an artist I follow on Tumblr reblogged it, so I was not aware that it stemmed off an Oscar-nominated animated short film–and that it won awards from the San Francisco International Film Festival and the New York International Children’s Film Festival.

But even without knowledge of the short film, The Dam Keeper‘s synopsis quickly catches its readers on pertinent information. You wouldn’t need to have seen the short.

The Dam Keeper sets off by establishing the world Pig exists in. We find out who he is, who the other characters are in this story, and then we find out what pushes him to live life. The book tackles the complex issue of loss and surviving, but it does so in a way that it’s very easy to follow.

I don’t know if this is being marketed as a children’s book. What I do know is that it doesn’t look down on its readers. It trusts you enough to not feed you every little detail, while making sure that you know where each character is coming from.

What I liked the best about the book though is how the character of Pig wears his emotions for all to see. There’s sadness in the words he speaks. And, props to the artists who drew the book, they drew Pig’s sadness and resilience beautifully.

This is a beautiful book, and I don’t think there is anything I can write that would give justice to just how beautiful it is. So instead, I will say this: find a copy. Buy it. Read it. And see for yourself how masterful The Dam Keeper is.

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Book: Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tabon (Graphic Novel)

"Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tabon (Graphic Novel)"

Akala ni Janus, pangkaraniwang laro lang ang TALA Online.

Sunod-sunod ang pagbabago sa buhay niya matapos ang kahindik-hindik na pangyayari sa RPG tournament na sinalihan niya.

Pero nang matuklasan niya ang tunay na kaugnayan ng larong ito sa alamat ng Tiyanak ng Tabon, wala na siyang magawa kundi ipagpatuloy ang paglalaro!

[English Translation: Janus thought TALA Online was just an ordinary game. But after the horrifying events of an RPG tournament he joined, his life was never the same again. Now privy to the truth behind the game and its connection to the Demon Spawn of Tabon, he has no choice but to continue playing!]

That’s not a perfect translation, but neither is Janus Silang’s first foray into the world of comics.

On the plus side, the graphic novel iteration of Janus Silang at ang Tiyanak ng Tabon does cut out a lot of unnecessary exposition, and the really lengthy first act of the novel isn’t dragged out in comics form. On the not so good side? This version also cuts out a lot of the stuff from the source material that I feel were important.

Let’s be clear, I have no idea what went on behind the scenes to produce this comic book. I don’t know what decisions were made, and why they thought it was a good idea to condense a very exposition-heavy book into one very short graphic novel. So I’m judging this based solely on what I have in hand… Which is a really bad interpretation of the first Janus Silang novel.

I mean, just look at the inconsistency of the art. You have the wonderfully detailed world of TALA Online–and then you have the very bland pages of Janus’s life. I get symbolism, I do. But when things in Janus’s life started becoming crazy, shouldn’t that reflect as well on the art?

Never mind the fact that Janus doesn’t look like a teenager. Nor the fact that all the children look the same. (Heck, aside from a select few, almost all the characters look the same as well.) The biggest problem of the book is this:

It’s not friendly to those who are not familiar to the Janus Silang novels. None of the characters feel real. Your main protagonist lost all personality and doesn’t even develop. And the exposition suddenly cuts out and you’re supposed to glean information from art that, let’s be honest, doesn’t really convey its message very well. Had I not read the original material, I would have been lost as to what was happening, who were the good guys, and why the protagonist was so easy to persuade about things.

I feel like Anino Comics and Adarna House dropped the ball on this one. They shouldn’t have hurried this release because the source novel isn’t even old yet. They shouldn’t have limited the entirety of the first novel in just one comic book. And given the chance to reach a new audience with a different medium, they should have adapted the story to fit the new form of the story.

Is it too late to ask Adarna House to take back this graphic novel version and have them redo it? Properly, this time?

Book: Kingsman, the Secret Service

"Kingsman"

Around the globe, pop-culture celebrities are being abducted, and no one knows why. Jack London–superspy–is on the case.

But Jack has problems of his own: a deadbeat sister and her out-of-control son. Young Eggsy has fallen in with the wrong crowd, and his life is circling the drain. Only Jack stands between his nephew and a jail cell. But seeing something of himself in Eggsy, Jack offers him one last chance for a future–in spy school. Out of his element, surrounded by the best and the brightest, are Eggsy’s street smarts enough for him to make it as a secret agent? Does he have what it takes to help his uncle find the celebrities and save the world?

Confession: I only picked this up because I thoroughly enjoyed watching the film version–which while pretty different, still retains the main plot of the graphic novel. That said, I still don’t think I can pick a version I liked better.

The graphic novel, oddly enough, feels more realistic than the film. You can see how Eggsy would have a tougher time at spy school–while in and out of the academy. And he feels a little more grounded. And I really liked how Eggsy actually has a lot of classmates in spy school who ends up doing something, who aren’t just personality-less drones to fill up space like in the film. I also appreciated that most of the action aren’t very clean without feeling like it’s only there for the purpose of shock value.

What I didn’t really like though was how there was a lack of strong women in the graphic novel. That’s one of the things I liked about the film–how there was a strong female counterpoint to Eggsy–who wasn’t a love interest.

The film, which is again strange, is more visual than the graphic novel though. There’s a certain romanticism to espionage too, that isn’t as felt in the graphic novel.

Where the film trumps the graphic novel though is in how Uncle Jack dies. He might’ve gone out with a bang in the graphic novel, but the film had him explode. Not literally.

So, yeah, I really don’t know which version I liked best–but I liked both well enough that I have nothing bad to say about Kingsman.

In fact, I’m looking forward to seeing more adventures from Eggsy once the sequel comes out in theaters.

Book: iZombie

"iZombie"

Gwen Dylan’s got a dead-end job and a best friend who’s barely there. The dude she hangs out with is kind of a dog, her town’s social scene sucks the life right out of you, and it seems like any time she meets an eligible guy, his job gets in the way.

But Gwen’s not the girl she used to be.

She’s a zombie.

Her best friend Ellie is a ghost. Her buddy Scott is a were-terrier. Her town’s a feeding ground for a pack of beautiful but bitchy vampires. Her new crush belongs to a centuries-old secret society of monster-hunters. And her dead-end job? Digging graves by day…and digging them up for a snack at night.

See, Gwen’s got to eat at least one brain a month or she turns into a shambling monster straight out of a midnight movie. But every brain she eats contains a lifetime of memories–and her latest meal came with a side order of unsolved murder.

Now Gwen and her friends have to find the killer before they, too, fall victim to a fate worse than un-death…

It took a year, and a television adaptation, to get me to decide that I do want to read iZombie. And after another month of waiting (because I had to order through Amazon)… I devoured the whole series in one sitting.

iZombie, the graphic novel series, is exceptional. And I can’t believe I waited so long before I read it. It’s very different to the witty television series that Rob Thomas created off the material though. Because once you’ve read the books and watched the series? You would know that they are two completely separate beings. Two very amazing things. But we’re here to talk about the graphic novels. And I must say:

I absolutely hate the fact that there are no more stories about Gwen, Ellie, and Spot. The three are such fun characters that, from the get go, you know you’re going to enjoy hanging out with them–and that you’re going to root for them to survive the craziness the series immediately promises.

And iZombie really doesn’t hold back on the crazy.

From zombies who have lived for thousands of years, spirits who become trapped in the bodies of animals, vampires who have a no-kill policy, and a legendary hero that comes back to life–the series has them all. And the best part? You don’t even question them, because they’re part of the fabric that creators Chris Roberson and Michael Allred weaves beginning in their first issue.

But, I feel like getting into the iZombie bandwagon late worked out well for me as a reader because I was able to devour the story in one sitting. I don’t think I would have liked it as much had I been forced to wait for issue after issue–because the crazy that made it so fun to read, spread through time? It would have also infuriated me to no end.

With all that said though, what I really just want to say is: if you haven’t read the iZombie graphic novels yet–go find them. Read them. Enjoy them.

Book: Marvels

"Marvels"

Welcome to New York. Here, burning figures roam the streets, men in brightly colored costumes scale the glass and concrete walls, and creatures from space threaten to devour the world. This is the Marvel Universe, where the ordinary and fantastic interact daily. This is the world of Marvels. Collecting Marvels #0-4, by award-winning creators Kurt Busiek and Alex Ross.

I don’t know when it happened, but I think I’ve fully become a Marvel fan. I mean, I will still like Batman movies and television efforts of the Flash, but when it comes to choosing to purchase a Marvel or a DC comic? A Marvel title would always win. And after reading Marvels, my love for the Marvel universe is all the more underlined.

This was my realization: Marvel knows their market is diverse and accepting of out-of-the-box concepts. And so they welcome diverse and out-of-the-box concepts, and are willing to believe in them. Of course, this is hardly a surprising realization. Marvel, after all, is the company who risked everything to build a film production outfit to make movies they want made. And I love them for it.

Before I dive into Marvels, I want to thank my friend Chris Cantada for recommending the collection. While I love reading comics, I don’t really actively seek them out. So it’s really helpful when a friend recommends a title. Or a reader. You guys can recommend titles to me too. Recommendations are always welcome.

Now, with that out of the way, let’s talk about the collection:

Marvels is the story of superheroes told from the perspective of the ordinary people. Our main character is a photographer who becomes witness to many of the fantastical things that have been happening in and around Manhattan–and has gone through the different stages of being exposed to such things.

Instead of superhero origins, we are thrust into the background with the people who have been living in the boroughs before, during, and after each battle. We are made to be one of them. And it is, pardon the pun, marvelous.

One of the more interesting parts about comics, especially in Marvel, is how each superhero is received differently by the bystanders. You have the X-Men who are despised and reviled; you have Captain America who gets celebrated at every turn; the Fantastic Four are celebrities, while Spider-Man is continuously painted as a bad guy even as he saves New York time and time again. And now, finally, we get a take on the way.

We fear the unknown.

Whenever something out-of-this-world crazy happens in our world, we are aghast. We are afraid. And then we become curious. Now, imagine if that out-of-this-world crazy thing is capable of thought. What if it’s human? Or human-looking? The fear is amplified. Because we know what we’re capable of, as human beings. We know what they can be capable of too. And we know that they can be more because they are more.

Until they become heroes, and then we celebrate them.

But until when do we celebrate the powerful? History has shown that the public makes or breaks a celebrity figure. We are the ones responsible for the Justin Biebers, and the Miley Cyruses, and the Lindsay Lohans. We put them on pedestals and make them feel invincible. We are the ones who make excuses for them when they do something… less than clean-cut. Until such time when we feel we can’t control them anymore. And then we start painting them in a bad light.

This is the thesis of Marvels. Until when is a hero a hero? Who hails them as heroes?

We do.

The power of the super-powered isn’t as powerful as public perception. And the responsibility to be fair and just isn’t in the hands of the Marvels. It’s in ours.

And I applaud Marvels for its clear depiction of this power.

Book: Maktan 1521

"Maktan 1521"

Ano ba itong mga Kastila? Espanya? Kristiyanismo? Bakit tayo ang kailangang magbigay-alay sa kanila? Wala silang karapatan dito sa ating isla dahil atin ito. Itinayo pa ng ating mga ninuno para sa atin at hindi para sa mga dayuhan.

Any kind of history is revisionist; with winners dictating how they are colored, with how they are preserved. How does that line from that one Wicked song go? “It’s all in which label is able to persist.” So if you think about it, historical fiction as a genre actually applies to the history lessons they teach at school. They just drop the ‘fiction’ part.

Well, in Tepai Pascual’s Maktan 1521, the artist does not pretend that this version of history is completely accurate–even though it has historical data to back it up. That’s because she has already added elements to the story that is based on speculation–and in trying to make logical sense of what had happened, and how things played out. And I’m glad that artist Pascual didn’t attempt a blow-by-blow account of what had happened. I liked that she gave the story her own spin–Maktan 1521 works because she made the characters relatable. She made them into people–and not just names on the pages of a history book.

This being a graphic novel, I feel like I should write about the art as well. But I’m not an artist, and I won’t pretend to know the first thing about art. For me, as a reader, the art did its job. It got the story’s points across, and that’s all that matters.

I do, however, want to point out that some of the colors are too dark. I don’t know if it’s because of the printing, or if the panels were painted that way. What I do know is that there were sequences that I had to go over a few times to understand what was happening, because the colors were too dark and I didn’t really know what I was supposed to be on the look out for. But hey, maybe it was the printing. Maybe Visprint made the colors too dark and the colors bled.

Whatever the reason, I hope that in future reprints, the art is made a little sharper.

Yes, future reprints. I did say that. Because Maktan 1521 is something I want to succeed. I want it to sell all of its copies, requiring Visprint to have a second printing, and a third one, and a fourth one. Because these are the types of Filipino books that I want to become popular, to become bestsellers, to have more kinds of.

Let’s make Maktan 1521 successful so we can have more books like this… Books with substance.

So, if you’re reading this and you don’t have a copy yet, please go out and buy yourself one.

Support local books with quality and value.

Book: My Midnight, The Graphic Novel

"My Midnight"

Midnight’s sister Dawn went missing when Midnight was still a child. Dawn, it is believed, was abducted by a strange ghostly creature.

A few years later, Midnight and her parents transfer to Candon, a strange little town in the province of Ilocos Sur–strange because vampires, rumors abound, roam the town.

Midnight hates Candon and wants to go back to Manila. But she abruptly changes her mind when she meets Yael, the most gorgeous young man she has met. Midnight instantly knows she is in love while Yael seems determined to stay away from her.

Yael, it seems, isn’t what he appears to be.

I’m taking whatever I said about Dark Side back. At least that had a semblance of an original thought. In comparison to My Midnight, the graphic novelization of Precious Hearts Romance book of the same title, Dark Side can be considered a work of art.

I’m not dissing for dissing’s sake. I want the local publishing industry to flourish. But why must we insult the intelligence of local readers?

My Midnight is localized Twilight. Twilight-lite, at that. Our main character has more powers than Bella Swan, but even less personality. I didn’t know that was even possible. And then there’s leading man Yael. At his worst Edward Cullen was a stalker, Yael trumps him with a split personality. But at least that’s a character trait, right? That’s a personality?

I came in to My Midnight with no expectations. I lowered my standards. You could step on the standards I was going to hold this book down to. And still the book didn’t hold up.

What’s wrong with it? Why don’t we list it down:

Story. Ripping Twilight off would have been fine if the story presented something new. Or, at the very least, improved upon the source material. That didn’t happen. Obviously. The story is all over the place as the writer (or should I say writers, since they’re crediting someone else for the graphic novel?) tries to make this not look like Twilight.

The lack of plot development. We get presented an event. It’s going to happen again. Except, by the third act, they’ve forgotten about it because villain has emerged with a bigger plan. Which leads me to:

Characters. We get introduced to a semi-villain who doesn’t really do anything and becomes an ally without an explanation. And then there’s:

Character development. The utter lack of it. Our hero hates Candon. She leaves town. And then she gets saved by Yael. And then she forgets that she wants to leave the place. Heck, she didn’t even think about her (character-less) parents when she decided she wanted to leave the place.

Structure. Things happen because they need to happen. It’s obvious that someone just wants to push the story along because nothing happens organically. And the bad thing is, unnecessary moments still pop up in the book. Like a bookstore scene where our main character just ogles at Yael.

Seriously.

The whole thing is inane.

I respect Precious Hearts Pages for what they are trying to do for the local publishing industry. But please, get your editors to turn down stories like this. My Midnight will not help the industry.

And don’t tell me that this wasn’t written for the intellectual public. Precious Hearts readers read things in Filipino, not English. If this was intended for them, My Midnight would also be in Filipino. It’s not.

Not that it would’ve done any good.

Now I’m wary of my last Black Ink series to read…