Class: A Touch of Filipino Class, Written and Wonderfully Illustrated
by Richard Ramos
(Aug 1999 - www.localvibe.com)
Writer and artist Arnold Arre takes us through familiar places with a not-so-normal story, about growing up, about being what we are, and about what is most important to us: belief. Mythical creatures, anyone?
When I first heard of Alamat Comic's Mythology Class, my first thought was that it would be like a who's who of mythical creatures from Philippine culture ... which, in my mind, had already been heavily tackled by other illustrators and writers. So it was much to my surprise and pleasure to see that the writer/artist Arnold Arre combined classic mythology with a modern setting and storyline to produce what is arguably one of the best offerings in the local comic book world.
The setting is modern-day Manila, with extensive use of actual places such as schools and Universities. A group of people, made up of students, get a mysterious flyer for them to attend a special class (non-credit, I believe) on mythology. It turns out that the class isn't just about mythology...it involves "fantastic" creatures themselves, and they are at the very crux of events which involve the balance of cosmic forces. There are side stories, of course, concerning the real players behind the scenes, as well as the introduction of miscreant villains who, while they are technically harmless, pose no less of a threat as the other major villains.
Without giving anything away, I would say that Arre's illustrative effort is worth the P130 (sold at various comic book shops) that one has to shell out for the comic book. The line art is crisp, featuring a painted cover that is easily at par with most comic books from the States. The inside art is in black and white, which may be a bit of a surprise to those who are used to colored illustrations. However, the art is made for black and white, so there should be no problem getting used to it. The cartoonish style of the characters at first seem incongruous to the cluttered style of the backgrounds, but the way the characters are illustrated perfectly mirrors their feelings and personalities.
The story itself isn't just a straightforward O. Henry-ish affair. While the main story is going on, there are many subplots, specially among the characters, like the mind-reader who has a slight problem with focusing, the two group members who were once together in a relationship, and the one who has believed all her life in fairy-tale creatures... all of this mesh almost perfectly with the thrust of the story, giving it a Filipino feel for having more to stories than what is said outright.
But there are some areas for improvement, though. The one thing which I think screams for a second look in the next issue (yes, it is a four-issue mini-series) is the language. In order for it to be more accessible, Arre and the Alamat editors used English as the language. While this is perfectly understandable and necessary if the comic book is to gain wide readership, including, hopefully, abroad, certain scenes sometimes sound awkward because of the inherent problems of translating what could have been Filipino dialogue in a Filipino setting to English sensibilities. However, in the overall look, it is quite acceptable, since the story is not cramped by the language translation. To their credit, some of the dialogue remains in Filipino to fully express the feeling of the moment, but I'm sure the editors and Arre will be able to come up with a much better job next time, now that the first issue has come out.
The comic book is a refreshing change from all the other Western-oriented titles out there, and its method of storytelling is something uniquely Filipino, as well as its content. In these days when the younger generation is looking for something to be called Filipino that they can claim as their own, Mythology class goes the distance and gives them what they need: a good story and a good subject to identify themselves with.
In the end, it is also the impact of the comic book on the personal level that gets to me. I remember most one scene in the whole comic book. The lead character, who has just practically failed her preliminary thesis defense on the subject of mythological Filipino creatures, suddenly comes face to face with one of those very same creatures that she has written about. All she can do is stand there and smile, and Arre masterfully shows her face as one of pure joy and affirmation. For me, that is what this comic book does: it is a joy to read, and an affirmation that we don't have to look elsewhere for a good not-just-for-kids comic book, when we have it right here ... in Mythology Class. Come and join the Class, and perhaps we can all see what has just been glimpsed or heard of.
Richard Ramos is a retired comic book collector; however after this article, he is seriously thinking of getting back to spending a lot of money on good comic books.