I’m not really into action comics or graphic novels, but I have to admit I was really intrigued when I spotted these Trese comics at the Visprint booth at the Manila International Book Fair last September.
I’d already heard about it on some discussion threads over at FFP, so the first book was on my list for the book fair and I bought a copy on the first day. On the 4th day of the book fair, I dropped by the booth again and spotted the author Budgette Tan and artist Kajo Baldisimo signing autographs, so I couldn’t resist getting a signed copy of the second book.
I read both books during the read-a-thon (books 152-153 of 2009, but I’m backlogged with reviews for around 20 books — aieee!) just in time for Halloween, even if the review is a few days late.
Trese is a comics series featuring paranormal detective Alexandra Trese, set in the suburbs of Metro Manila. Alexandra is a bar owner moonlighting as a detective that helps out the local police with baffling crime cases. Alexandra is a paranormal profiler, who employs supernatural creatures (of lower Philippine mythology) to help her solve the cases, which usually involve otherworldly culprits as well.
The first book, Murder at Balete Drive, contains four cases, namely: “At the Intersection of Balete and 13th Street,” “Rules of the Race,” “The Tragic case of Dr. Burgos,” and “Our Secret Constellation.”
The second book, Unreported Murders, contains the next four cases: “A Little Known Murder in Studio 4,” “The Outpost on Kalayaan Street,” “Embrace of the Unwanted,” and “Association Dues of Livewell Village.”
I enjoyed reading the series because of its main selling points. I enjoy reading mysteries, especially those with female detectives, so I instantly loved the idea of Alexandra Trese.
Although I’m not so keen on paranormal fiction, I liked that the book made use of creatures of Philippine lower mythology, a concept that seems to be hot in local publishing these days (the children’s illustrators group I belong to, Ang Ilustrador ng Kabataan [Ang INK] recently released a book on them, Mga Tambay Sa Tabi-Tabi under Anvil Publishing).
As I found out myself while our group was putting together our book, there is much material to be mined in Philippine lower mythology, and Trese makes good use of this material in creating the cases for Alexandra Trese to solve, drawing on familiar mythological creatures such as the white lady, tianak, santelmo, tikbalang, nuno sa punso, and more.
Tying the mystery and paranormal themes together is the local urban setting, in very familiar spots across metro Manila, including one that’s a few blocks (gulp!) away from my house!
I like that the cases can be understood by a foreign reader, but they offer a whole new level of enjoyment for the Filipino reader, as the comics are replete with witty local references and the humor will be lost to those unfamiliar with the urban Filipino culture.
I would like something meatier though, maybe a full-length Trese graphic novel? I finished both books in an hour, and was craving for something longer. I think we can get to know Alexandra Trese more with a full-length story, and a more complex plot would be even more exciting!
I don’t have a trained eye for this type of art but I like the stark and sketchy black and white art that packs a bigger impact for the story. Towards the end of book 2 though, there is a change in the artist’s style, and I have yet to get a copy of the third book to see if this is a permanent shift, and I have to see more of it to decide which style I like best.
My only complaint is probably the print quality. The images could be crisper, I think, if they used a higher resolution (The pixel marks distract me) and if they used glossy paper. I wouldn’t mind paying a higher price for a book with better quality. Also a couple of friends told me the binding was weak, and theirs had loose pages after one reading, so with that advance warning (and the fact that it happened to my own copy of Zsazsa Zaturnnah by Carlo Vergara, also from the same publisher) I OC-ly covered the book in plastic and resorted to reading the books halfway-open.
I’m looking forward to reading book 3, which was launched some time after the book fair. I was looking for it last weekend but I couldn’t find a copy at the bookstores at Glorietta (which bookstores have book 3?!?). Alexandra Trese kicks serious butt, and is a great addition to the local comics scene. I hope they keep the Trese books coming, because I’m definitely a fan.
My copies: Trese books 1 and 2, paperback, P140 each at Visprint (MIBF). Book 2 signed.
My rating: Books 1 and 2, both 4/5 stars