to the Moon
by Luis Joaquin M. Katigbak
(1/31/2001 - Legmanila.com)
There are at least three reasons to be happy about the publication of Arnold Arre's new book, Trip to Tagaytay. First, it is the finest work yet by one of our most talented comics creators. (Arre's previous opus, the four-part Mythology Class, garnered a National Book Award from the Manila Critics Circle last year). Second, it is also a rare example of Philippine science fiction. We'll get to the third reason later.
Trip to Tagaytay is a 44-page black-and-white volume -- a short story in comics form, set in a future Philippines replete with flying cars and multimedia wrist-devices. In this vision of the future, Aga Muhlach is the aging President, the Eraserheads are on a Reunion Tour that spans the stars, and Philippine Spacelines is offering a 50% discount on Moontravel. We follow the musings of a young man as he journeys through the city, headed for the Grand Liwayway Station, where he plans to take the "cheapest train out," since "they just opened the Tagaytay Ocean Tunnel connecting to Cebu." All the while, he is composing a missive addressed to his love, who is living on a faraway Orbital Space Station.
Trip features Arre's most mature writing and artwork to date. While Mythology Class was certainly a most laudable effort, it suffered from the occasional bit of awkward dialogue or ungainly exposition, as well as a rushed quality to some of the drawing. There are no such problems here -- the artwork is amazing. Buildings and vehicles and machines and rooms are rendered in jaw-dropping detail, and the people are drawn in a simple yet very expressive fashion. (Readers who pore over the background details will be rewarded by such touches as a billboard with an ad for a movie entitled "Minahal," starring "Tex Santos and Alicia Corgi, with Claudine Baretto as Lola Tessa.") The writing is clean, effective, and engaging; never obscure nor overly dramatic.
Comics afficionados will no doubt enjoy playing the game of spot-the-influence while poring over the artwork of Trip. Some, enthralled by the details and textures, might be reminded of the work of Jean "Moebius" Giraud, while others, noting the way the figures and faces are drawn, might be put in mind of Katsuhiro Otomo's Akira, or even Love and Rockets by the Hernandez Brothers. In the end, though, Arre can lay claim to an attractive, recognizable style that is truly his own.
The central attraction of Trip is its vision of a late 21st century Metro Manila. "It's a tough job, predicting the evolution of technology," writes James Gleick in his book, Faster, "but somebody's got to do it." Arre proves himself up to the task, with a rendition of a future Manila that is far from a gleaming idyllic Utopia. In this city, high-tech and squalor exist side by side, much as they do today. Makati has become a vast squatter's area. A flying car hovers above a plodding carabao. Food can be bought by flashing your wrist-computer at an electronic eye, and yet the streets are still crammed with vendors and their makeshift stalls. But it is not just the look of the future that Arre has conjured; he has come up with an outline of an entire future history, involving massive outbreaks of drug use, major natural disasters, and space colonization.
It is important to note that this kind of 'hard' science fiction is very rarely attempted here. Writers such as Eric Gamalinda (in the "Quasci-fi" section of his collection, Peripheral Vision) and Jessica Zafra (in her story, "Ten Thousand Easters at the Vatican") have used the trappings of science fiction to great effect, in works of scathing satire and unsettling imagery, and yet one can safely assume that they do not consider their future-scenarios all that plausible. On the other hand, you have Gregorio Brillantes, who (in his story, "The Apollo Centennial,") envisions the Philippines in the year 2069 as being, well, essentially the same ? implying, perhaps, something about the static nature of certain elements of Philippine society. Arre combines that notion with the technological daydreaming of more conventional sci-fi to come up with a hybrid that is exciting, interesting, and feels real ? Not unlike a Philippine version of a Philip K. Dick Dystopia. It is a world, however, that while dark and cynical in many ways, is still capable of cradling wonder (albeit, in a twist of delicious irony, the corporate-sponsored kind), and friendship, and love.
Which brings us to the third reason why I was happy to have read Trip to Tagaytay. At its core, it is a simple story, a heartfelt love letter, touching and sincere without being cloying -- which, when you think about it, may be a harder thing to pull off than convincing Philippine sci-fi.
I read Trip while jammed into the cramped back seat of a Fairview-bound bus sputtering along EDSA, and despite my surroundings, when I reached the last few pages, I was still sufficiently affected by the main character's longing to feel a lump rise in my throat. (Of course, maybe I'm just a sentimental fool). There are those who might feel it is too short, that after 44 pages all we have seen is the setting, that there is not enough story there to merit our attention. I understand these concerns, but I, for one, felt that this Trip was well worth taking.
Trip to Tagaytay by Arnold Arre is available for P130 at Comics Quest branches.
About the Author
Luis' first collection of stories, entitled Happy Endings, may be found at leading bookstores or at the UP Press, in Diliman. He may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org