Tuesday, June 07, 2022

After Lambana, a Filipino Graphic Novel

What happens when the human world encounters that of mystical Diwata folk spirits? Human authorities naturally try to regulate them and their magic out of existence. Yet, for one mortal, Diwata magic might hold the only hope for treating his mysterious ailment in After Lambana, written by Eliza Victoria and illustrated by Mervin Malonzo, which goes on-sale today.

Conrad Mendoza de Luna does not know it yet, but there is a significant connection between him and Ignacio. He just knows him as a grateful IT client, who might have sources who might provide underground medication for the so-called “Rose” disease, wherein physical flowers start laying roots, until they bloom through the skin. It is not always fatal, but de Luna’s is located right over his heart.

Magic diseases seem to demand magic cures, but any form of spellcasting is now illegal now that the gateway to the Diwata realm of Lambana has been forcibly closed. Those who were in the mortal world at the time must now live in permanent exile. De Luna will meet several, while following Ignacio through the back alleys and midnight markets of Metro Manila.

After Lambana
starts in a noir vibe, but it slowly unfolds into folk-inspired fantasy. Victoria’s intriguing world-building never feels like mere exposition, because it is so richly archetypal, and yet grounded in the various traditions found throughout the Philippines. She convincingly depicts the culture clash between the materialist mortal world and the magical Diwata realm. It is exactly the sort of vision of an intersection of the human and the fantastical that the film Bright should have realized better (but didn’t).

Malonzo’s style also helps build an atmosphere of mystery. Eschewing hardlines, his city backdrops have a hallucinatory look and vibe. It is easy to get disoriented in this world, the way he renders it.

After Lambana
is a complete and self-contained story (the first outside of serials Malonzo has worked on, thus far), but it is easy to envision how they might return to the world of Lambana, which wouldn’t be unwelcomed. Fans of gritty of the gritty magical realism of Filipino films like Leonor Will Never Die, After Lambana is now on-sale.