RIOT OF JOY By Ramon De Veyra Updated December 28, 2008 12:00 AM
We should be grateful that Arnold Arre is prolific.
Best known for his graphic novels, Arre sometimes works on four projects at a time. He likes to keep different pans in the creative fire but thankfully one of them has been deemed ready to serve to his hungry, nay, starving fans: Martial Law Babies.
The book concerns a group of friends born under Martial Law who come of age during the ‘90s. The tale is told mostly through the eyes of Allan, a young man in the advertising field who reflects back on “simpler” times as he surveys the shambolic wreckage that he and his friends have become.
The story jumps back and forth through time, with memories unfurling in Allan’s mind’s eye. The big picture emerges gradually as key formative scenes in their lives are replayed out for further inspection. This narrative device also allows Arre to showcase his range, with art styles changing as befits the scene. Of particular note are his depictions of his characters’ lives as children, with their big-eyed wonder and flights of fancy (see “Carol’s Dreams,” which closes most chapters). A kind of faux-realism sets in as they get older, a subtle cue to the harsher climate.
Generally Arre’s art style is more cartoon-y, more dynamic than his previous outing Ang Mundo ni Andong Agimat. His characters’ faces are allowed to be more expressive, with some nods to Charles Schulz and Bill Watterson. He has an interesting way of separating foreground characters from background settings, which is reminiscent of Andi Watson’s work.
Story-wise, Martial Law Babies continues to mine the threads of Arre’s interests: love, friendship, loyalty, dreams, responsibility — in other words, the guts of what it means to be alive. He has taken great care and effort to ground his story in the details of its places and periods, and yet these details are never alienating for those born in later decades.
Arre’s comic timing has, if anything, improved, with characters flawed, well-drawn (in both senses), believable. He has a taste for melodrama that he shares with Will Eisner. Best of all, he continues to be excited by the possibilities of his chosen medium, and this is on full display.
Martial Law Babies is an exultant gem of a book, lush without being indulgent. It rewards rereading and poses questions to its audience, questions that span generations and may, perhaps, be best answered with actions rather than words.
Martial Law Babies should be available in major bookstores but can most conveniently be purchased through its website at http://martiallawbabies.com, using credit card or bank deposit. The book will be shipped to your home.
The website also digs deeper into the making of the book, with a generous section on elements that informed or inspired the book, as well as a piquant gallery of ‘70s- and ‘80s-era photos that were submitted by fans and friends, and to which new readers are encouraged to contribute.