the eve of Independence Day, and I thought it was a fitting occasion to read and review “Maktan 1521” by Tepai Pascual.
I spotted it on a bookstore shelf a few months back and thought the cover was kick-ass (yes, I judge books by the cover). I enjoy reading historical fiction, and the Battle of Mactan is a memorable chapter in history for me — back in college, historian Ambeth Ocampo gave us an exam wherein we had to tell the story of the Battle of Mactan from the point of view of a fish!) — and I thought I’d enjoy this graphic novel.
“Maktan 1521” is an epic reimagining of the Filipino hero Lapu-lapu and the Battle of Mactan. The graphic novel opens with the Spanish expedition led by Ferdinand Magellan closing in on the island, extending an overture of friendship, which the people of Mactan reject.
Sawili, son of Lapu-lapu, datu of one of the balangays on Maktan, watches in horror as the Spaniards retaliate, pillaging the villages on the island with their superior armor and weaponry. The fierce Lapu-lapu refuses to give in to the Spaniards, and rallies his people in a battle to defend their land.
I enjoyed the story that Pascual has woven into what we know of the Battle of Mactan, fleshing out the characters in a way that pays homage to the valiant people who fought in what would later be known as the first organized uprising against Spanish colonization. I admire the sentiment that went into this work (which happens to be her undergrad thesis!) — stories like these need to be told and retold, especially for future generations.
While sparsely worded, the visual narrative fills in the gaps. The panels are mostly rectangular, but the story is buoyed along by the clever use of lines, giving you a sense of constant motion. The characters could have used a little more differentiation (especially since they were all similarly attired on both sides and strongly resembled one another), but I loved the rich texture and the amazing detail: the tattoos, the drape of the fabric, the hair in motion, the glint of steel in the weapons and the armor. I’d love to see the plates for this graphic novel; I think they’d be breathtaking in real life.
What marred the reading experience for me, however, is the quality of the physical book. First, even without seeing the actual artwork, I could tell that the inks were way too dark, which is just unfortunate for an illustrator so talented in chiaroscuro. There are a lot of dark panels (especially moonlit scenes) in this book that made me feel like I was straining my eyes to make out certain details, like the identity of the character, or what was happening in the scene. A lot of confusion would have been avoided if the colors were correct. There were also several parts in the book where the registration was off, causing some blurring .
Another gripe is the binding (and I do apologize for the rant, but I really feel strongly about this). Less than halfway through the book, and I wasn’t even laying the book flat on its spine, an entire third of the book fell out — pages 8 to 50 — and I had to start reading the book three-quarters open to prevent more pages from falling out. It’s just disappointing because it’s not a cheap book at P400, and I was happy to spend that amount in support of Philippine literature, but I would have wanted the book to last through
at least one several readings, especially for something I would love to recommend to other readers. Several of my Visprint books (my signed Trese books and my signed ZsaZsa Zaturnnah) have suffered the same fate, and I wish they’d have improved the quality of their binding over the years. It’s a disservice to the creators whose works deserve to be read and reread, and a disservice to the readers who choose to spend hard-earned money on Filipino books.
I’d fork over good money for a better edition, or even a digital edition.
Maktan 1521 (based on content, not print values), 4/5 stars
P400 at National Book Store