Taal Volcano Monster vs. Evil Space Paru-Paro
School Run #1
As I noted in my post on the last Komikon, There's no shortage of young talent self-publishing their own mini-comics. They're entirely reliant on good word-of-mouth to generate sales at conventions and the comic stores willing to stock them. The Web is an essential part of their self-promotional efforts. Most will use a free blog service or a DeviantArt gallery. But there's so far no critical mass of creators who've taken the vital next step and produced fully featured websites running under a proprietary domain. There's still a lot of hesitancy to devote more of the time and money needed for creating a larger body of webcomics. So a lot of indie activity is still aimed at finding readers for their homemade black and white aschans. Philippine comics may not be dead. But outside of the medium's devotees, not too many know about it.
One indie komiks artist to recently emerge is Macoy Tang, whose mini Ang Maskot (The Mascot) garnered critical acclaim last year. Macoy draws in a stripped down, big-headed, cartoony style, that looks suitable for children's book illustration. It's an appropriate style, as his comics use humor to tap into the collective memory of a generation of Filipinos who wasted their time watching too much TV. He tweaks popular genres by placing them within a Filipino context.
Taal Volcano Monster vs. Evil Space Paru-Paro is a fond tribute to Japan's classic kaiju films. But this comic's Godzilla-like character doesn't live at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean or on Monster Island. Instead it lives within the caverns deep below Taal Volcano, a popular national landmark. And it doesn't surface to attack humanity because of nuclear weapons testing. Rather, it's disturbed by the noise pollution due to the increase in tourism to the area. Monsters need their sleep too. So it ascends to the surface (via a giant elevator) and incinerates the tourists with its "lava breath". After a little bickering, the army and navy agree that the air force should get to die first at the hands of the Taal Volcano Monster.
At a modest twenty pages, Taal Volcano Monster isn't so much a story as an extended gag strip. A Mothra stand-in shows-up for no good reason other than that's what happens in the movies. And the requisite knock-down drag-out battle takes place. Both monsters are drawn to look like cuddly plush toys, while the humans are mostly just tiny stick figures. Mass destruction rarely looked so cute.
While entertaining in it's own right, it's too slight to stand on its own as a professionally printed work. But as part of the newly published Sulyap anthology, it's a much better value.
On the other hand, School Run is a longer and more ambitious project. An ongoing series that's on its third issue, it's set in a near-future Philippines infested by zombies. No explanation is given as to what bought them into existence, though it's implied that the cause is viral in nature. The twist is that humanity has come to take them for granted, like at the end of Shaun of the Dead. People may live behind fortified houses and drive around in heavily armored vehicles. But that doesn't stop them from carrying on like they normally do. The zombies are blown in like the typhoons that regularly batter the country. As with any real-world inclement weather, they've just become another part of everyday life.
Unfortunately, the weather bureau underestimates the severity of one ultra-powerful "intertropical zombie convergence zone". People commuting to work and school are caught off guard and the death toll climbs to the millions. The story focuses on a group of elementary school students traveling by bus when the zombies reach Manila. Their driver is killed in the usual gruesome manner. And the first issue's cliffhanger ending raises questions on who will be around in the next installment. They may be kids, but if the comic follows the formula, the cast will get whittled down to just a few of the more resourceful and stronger characters. The smart money is on the thoughtful little girl who senses that something is amiss from the very beginning. But the other characters have yet to establish any emotional connection with the reader.
The first issue isn't particularly graphic by the genre's standards, although the possibility of baby-faced munchkins dying horribly one by one might disturb some readers. But that didn't stopped The Drifting Classroom. The departure from the usual horror movie casting is what's intriguing about the comic. So as perverse as this sounds, I'll be disappointed if no blood is spilled in the future.