'Night' and gay
By Ruel S. de Vera

Inquirer News Service

One Night in Purgatory
Written and illustrated by Carlo Vergara
Alamat Comics and Quest Ventures, Mandaluyong, 2001
56 pages

"FOR MATURE readers," the disclaimer on the comic book's title warns.

Reliable local pioneers Alamat Comics have tackled difficult and sensitive material before, most notably Gerry Alanguilan’s ultraviolent classic of catharsis, "Wasted." But Carlo Vergara's first venture as both writer and artist is a marked departure from Alamat's oeuvre. In "One Night in Purgatory," a co-publication between Alamat and Quest entures, one finds neither death nor costumes, neither mythology nor monster. Just secrets and revelations.

It is indeed remarkable that, for his solo debut in comics, Vergara decided to tackle a real world issue like homosexuality instead of action and mystery.

Illustrated in Vergara's beautiful black-and-white art, "One Night" is a one-shot detailing two friends' search for the truth—and the changes it will have for both of them. The tale begins when openly gay Deio, still in the throes of sadness over his latest lover's departure, receives a call from old friend Casey, who has recently broken up with his girlfriend Janice. The two haven't spoken for quite a while and their subsequent trip about town—a movie, a little game of billiards, a conversation in the car—is heavy with unsaid baggage and uncertainty. Through clipped words and some very helpful flashback sequences, Vergara unravels the closeness that the two used to share, and the tension that tore them apart.

Vergara uses the night out itself as a metaphor for the stuttering truthfulness shared by Deio and Casey. Every time a difficult question comes up, the two lapse into silence—and flashbacks. Reflecting on the relative futility of their respective social lives, Deio asks the obvious: "Did you fall in love with me eventually?" From then on, it becomes a series of feints and parries from Casey-and from Vergara, who skillfully keeps the reader intrigued as to whether or not these two are just best buddies. Even in flashbacks, readers will see what happens one dares ask that fateful question "What do you think would happen if you and I got together? You know... in a relationship?" It is a bracing, surprisingly brave story with an ending clearly not for the overtly judgmental or the easily squeamish, hence the "mature readers" tag.

Sensitive readers, consider yourselves warned. But those who dare read on will find a very thoughtful and personal reflection on the treacherous but hopeful line between deep friendship and something else altogether, an in-between place with no way but out.
While he plots a clever storyline with twists and surprises, Vergara sometimes lets some of the dialogue get too sentimental or hysterical.

Otherwise, the dialogue is often perky and especially witty in places. The ending, while satisfying and sweeping, seems a bit too pat, and is hampered by an important but awkward flashback as well as a whole lot of shouting by the two protagonists. "One Night," in fact, is often at its best when it is at its quietest, when the storytelling and revelations are in stealth mode. And there are a lot of those delicious silences here.

With considerable previous experience as a comic book illustrator, Vergara really does deliver gorgeous art for this book, vividly portraying the similarity and differences between the two friends in both their physical appearances and even their mannerisms. Deio and Casey emerge from the pages as real as the tension between them. He has a distinctively shapely style that plays well in "One Night's" coated black-and-white pages. His art is particularly strong in the wordless tableaus, where Vergara proves you really can tell quite a story without words. One sequence of note is a visit to a billiard hall that playfully brings out subtle and unsubtle differences between the two friends, all without dialogue.

More intriguingly, Vergara paints a portrait of homosexuality and friendship firmly grounded in this new millennium, complete with the artifacts of the present-the right props, even the right expressions of irony. It is, in effect, a visualized short story that transports an ever-controversial topic to a new plane of exposure and thus discussion. It is not an altogether substantial discussion, but instead is effectively a series of vignettes detailing one specific experience. Haunting at times, optimistic at others, "One Night in Purgatory" is an unflinching look at love, friendship and everything in between at a most uncertain time. Whether or not you agree with it, Vergara's "One Night in Purgatory" bravely and firmly makes its choices and tells its secrets-challenging the readers to decide whether or not to do the same.