Of all the high profile komiks that debuted at last October's Komikon, only 12 by Manix Abrera would be accepted as a citizen of alt nation. Virtually all of the other major works launched at the convention still cater to a mainstream audience by updating traditional popular genres. While 12 would not look out of place as a webcomic or an indie publication, everything about the book made a strong impression among the locals: From its unusually high price point for a Filipino book, to the fact that it was composed of 12 completely wordless stories. It also helps that Manix is the son of a veteran editorial cartoonist and the creator of his own newspaper strip. The book has since been the recipient of not a few superlatives.
12 could be characterized as a collected series of formal experiments in which Manix is expanding on conventional gag strip vocabulary. To facilitate this, he's eliminated text and reduced his figures to generic blobs, similar to those used by other indie cartoonists. Some of them feel like an extended gag strip: Two people coming to blows over who gets to ride an escalator in #3. The Schulz-like unrequited love in #2. Some subvert genre storytelling conventions, such as the frustrated serial killer in #5, or the lab accident origins of superheroes in #6. Then there are the characters experiencing spiritual epiphanies in #1, #8, and #11, which contain the most involved fantasy sequences. But the most entertaining are the tales of frustrated goals and desires found in #4, #7, #9, #10 and #12. Actually, in all the stories the characters are being thwarted in some way. Trapped in a perpetually mute state, most communicate through some form of violence. Sometimes this involves some form of self-immolation, usually found in the epiphany stories. But most of the time the violence is directed against an external element. In #10, a student taking an exam sends a tiny avatar to literally pick apart someone else's brain. But first it must do battle with the would-be victim's avatar.
This kind of humor that breaks down the barrier between social niceties and the cruelties of the real world may not be unprecedented to the comics medium, but it's still relatively new to the komiks scene. Because the lack of text and the homogenous visual approach, Manix leans a lot on his pacing and ability to illustrate universally recognized emotions in order to drive the story. He's certainly a brilliant artist. Some strips simply put the characters through absurd situations. While in others the reader is meant to sympathize with the characters in sometimes interesting ways. In #8, a lost girl sacrifices both her eyes to try to find her mother, with tragic results. And in #4 the POV switches midway from the person trying to kill a cockroach to that of the cockroach struggling to survive. There's a directness in the approach that's easily accessible to the average reader.
12 may, or may not, live up to the hype of being a postmodern masterpiece. But it's a bravura performance from a young but formidable talent. Because of its book format and bookstore distribution, it's in a unique position of introducing to an audience familiar with his past work a very different komiks experience. Of the new projects that came out of Komikon, 12 is the most important from the standpoint of the evolution of the komiks medium.