The brave taste of ‘Isaw’
By Ruel S. De Vera

Isaw Atbp. # 1
By Vincent Michael Simbulan, Arnold Arre, Marco Dimaano and Carlo Vergara
Quest Ventures, Pasig
2001, 56 pages

GRANTED, it takes guts, pun intended, to name an anthology after street food derived from chicken intestines. But Quest Ventures’ "Isaw, Atbp.," is in reality a labor of love from some of the best talents in the Philippine comic book industry. This mishmash of story, art and poetry speaks volumes about the kind of thoughtful, poignant and realistic stories that the comic book can produce.

The book itself appears unassuming, with its quaint, red-orange cover art. It features the same coated black-and-white pages that previous Quest titles have featured. But "Isaw, Atbp." is the next step in logical progression of the Quest Ventures line after the futuristic road trip "A Trip to Tagaytay" and the ultra-realistic confrontation "One Night in Purgatory." And it's both brave and heartfelt at the same time.

"Isaw, Atbp." contains three stories that stand alone, but are also intertwined somehow. The stories are sandwiched by edgy poetry from Dean Francis Alfar, Nikki Alfar, Emrys Capati, Vincent Michael Simbulan and Tobie Abad. The real, uh, meat of "Isaw, Atbp.," however, are the three stories.

The first story, "Flat," is a reflection on the natural atrophy that occurs within a romantic relationship through time. Written by Simbulan and featuring the evocative art of award-winning Arnold Arre (of "Tagaytay" and "The Mythology Class"), "Flat" is a tale told at different speeds, and thus different levels of sadness and anticipation.

It is fascinating to see Arre illustrating purely modern and realistic subjects for once, but his characters remain imbued with the kind of distinctive personality he is known for. The story is told with obvious self-assurance, and while others might find it a tad sentimental, the dialogue is witty and the flashbacks provide a painful counterpoint to what is really happening in "Flat."

The third story, also written by Simbulan, is by far the most ambitious of the three. "He Said, She Said" is an up-close study on the relationship of a gay father and his young daughter, seen from different perspectives.

Making full use of the muscular art of "Purgatory’s" Carl Vergara, "He Said, She Said" clearly shifts from one view to another, from one time to another with ease. There is a searing intensity involved in this story, particularly between the adults, even the missing mother. But the star of this tale is the cute kid Elysa. She is the dramatic center of this tale (together with Mr. Bubbles, of course) and radiates the innocence and redemption the story aims for.


Most accomplished and experimental is the middle story, "Sampaguita Girl."
Written (in a fashion) and illustrated by Marco Dimaano (the manga-influenced "Angel Ace"), "Sampagutia Girl" is a wordless survey of the world that a simple sampaguita girl lives in. It is a harrowing, strange world where the unnamed urchin encounters death, danger, pollution, hunger and ultimately, her dreams, all in the same street corner. Dimaano’s gorgeous art and perfect pacing show that he has truly gone beyond the conventions and limitations of manga art, and can now harness it to tell beautiful, haunting tales like this one, huge cartoonish eyes or not.

Already entertaining many with his work on the continuing "Angel Ace" series, Dimaano offers up a virtuoso performance with "Sampaguita Girl."

A caveat: "Isaw, Atbp.," like the Quest Ventures titles before it, discusses sensitive topics frankly and decisively. Taken individually or as a whole, the stories of "Isaw, Atbp." are clearly meant for open, adventurous readers. Similarly, this anthology is not for comic book zombies who are looking for spandex-clothed mutants, ad nauseum.

What they will find is a brave, satisfying compilation of stories that further explores the storytelling frontier that is the comic book form. "Isaw, Atbp.," shows that Philippine comic book titles are edging more and more into the real world. With its great art and self-aware storytelling, "Isaw, Atbp.," is an intellectual, enjoyable stop on that continuing journey.

Available at Comic Quest branches.