Sometime in October to November of 2005, the first issue of the comic title Trese was released as photocopied sheets with a staple through the middle Four years later, the first two batches of Trese stories are being sold as books titled: Murder on Balete Drive and Unreported Murders—you can find them in the Graphic Novel section of Fully Booked, as well as in the Philippine Fiction Section of Powerbooks and National Bookstore You can also find them at your friendly neighborhood comic bookstores.
Trese is Alexandra Trese, who along with her sidekicks known as The Kambal, investigates crimes with a supernatural bent Every time the police encounter something unusual and otherworldly at the scene of a crime—they call on her and out she comes with her trademark bob, V-shaped bangs and dark trenchcoat ready with the wherewithal to get to the bottom of it.
Yet here’s something very real about Trese—the characters, cases, streets and capture a Manila that’s gritty, strange, mysterious and oddly familiar to many of us.
There’s the story of the young Tikbalang colt with a penchant for drag racing, a village where everything seems perfect—except for the rather strange price you pay for electricity, there’s the story of a love that literally burns and the one about the dwende who can make you famous movie star And there’s my favorite—a little tribute to another comic book character created by one Mars Ravelo.
I caught up with writer Budjette Tan who had just emailed the script for issue to his artist partner Kajo Baldisimo and asked him, where did you get those notions about the power of mermaid bones?
Tan explains: “I first became aware of the mystical properties of salt when I read Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum I later read about salt can be used in protection spells and binding spells.
When I got the idea of someone murdering the White Lady of Balete Drive, I thought that the murderer would probably trap or bind her using salt.
Then I thought, salt is expected thing to use in such a spell I needed it to be more powerful—it needed to be saltier Maybe the murderer used sea salt? Or something from the sea? Something rare? Something from a mermaid? A mermaid! Mermaid bones would definitely be very salty and contain powerful mystical properties Well, it made sense to me.”
I asked, do you think it’s harder to come across urban legends now than say, 25 years ago?
Tan opines: “It does seem that way When we were kids, we seemed to hear more urban legends: like the White Lady of Balete Drive, the Snake under the Mall, the guy with the AIDS-infected-syringe stalking the malls, the manananggal seen during election time Maybe we had more urban legends because we didn’t have quick ways of verifying such news.
I remember getting a text from my mom, asking me if the news she got via text was true Someone spread around that at 11pm that night, a deadly radiation wave was going to hit the earth and will spread around via mobile phone signals I googled that so-called news alert and found out it was a text-hoax that started all the way from Malaysia three years ago.
Maybe the next generation’s urban legends will be technology based It just needs to be more believable, but at the same time, unverifiable.”
In an often crazy and absurd city like Manila, with 11 million souls pounding its grimy streets, I’m pretty sure within the endless stretches of tightly packed buildings, behind secret passageways and unmarked doors, a slew of strange things are going on Alexandra Trese is going to have her hands full for a long time.