A review of 'Ang Ilog: Book One'
Not everybody can write. Not every writer can write fiction and not every writer can write non-fiction. It’s a very select few who can weave their way between the worlds based on actual events and facts, then switch it up to a world of creatures and circumstances that are mostly borne from their own minds.
Eikon Komiks’ “Ang Ilog: Book One” is writer Rick Olivares’ first attempt to toe that line.
Olivares, perhaps most famously known for his popular sports blog Bleachers Brew, as well as several articles written covering basketball, football, and baseball for many publications, including ABS-CBNnews.com, is a lifelong comics fan. His love for the visual medium has, in previous years, been allowed to manifest itself through reviews he has written or podcasts and YouTube videos he has participated in. But for the longest time, he has had a yearning to write and publish stories from within himself.
Teaming with artist Rey Asturias, Olivares explains in the foreword to “Ang Ilog” of how the story originated in childhood visits to his grandparents in Tarlac. These trips ignited his love for American comics even as he traversed the nearby San Rafael River, imagining himself a local Tom Sawyer or Huckleberry Finn.
The story of “Ang Ilog: Book One” is set in the early 20th century and revolves around young Pablo, a boy who is forced to be the man of the house when his father mysteriously disappears. Needing to take care of his sick mother, Pablo is forced to traverse the same path his father took down the river in order to sell vegetables and fruits. Though he has heard of dangerous hoodlums as well as river spirits that he may encounter, Pablo know there is no other way if his mother is going to get any better.
Rendered in black and white on both standard and oversized paper formats, “Ang Ilog” is a worthy first attempt in the comics medium by Olivares. Rather than do a set of traditional number of panels per page, Asturias instead flows from one scene to another, unencumbered by the panels. There are hardly any speech balloons in the comic as Olivares went for more exposition via dialogue boxes to explain scenes and what Pablo is thinking.
It’s also interesting that Olivares chose to release “Ang Ilog” in both English and Filipino editions, giving his prospective audience a choice while also increasing the chances of gaining a wider audience altogether. It’s a risk, and there are admittedly grammatical errors in both editions, but the mere fact that he took the risk is admirable.
Overall, “Book One” features a lot of exposition as the characters and scenarios are established. Asturias’ art is very “old school,” calling to mind old “komiks” that we associate with Carlo J. Caparas, Francisco B. Coching, and the days of “Wakasan” from yesteryear. In that sense, his style is best for Olivares’ story of days long gone.
Even as “Book One” neared its conclusion, there’s an overwhelming sense of dread in the air as Pablo comes into contact with a few ladies, allowing Olivares to add a little humor in what is mostly a very serious book. This truly is a different writing style that he has found published for the first time in comics form. Gone are the numbers and statistics that go hand-in-hand with any basketball analysis, as are the emotions and flowery analogies that passionate sports fans like Olivares can easily place in any essay.
Instead, we have here a coming of age story that is steeped in the Mark Twain tradition mentioned earlier. Consciously or subconsciously, there are also traces of "Stand By Me" in “Ang Ilog,” and this early phase of Pablo’s quest has a little of Homer’s “The Odyssey” as well.
This writer has been informed by the author that “Ang Ilog: Book Two” promises action at a breakneck pace and a bigger cast of characters interacting with Pablo. It’s something to look forward to, hopefully by early 2015.
In the meantime, “Ang Ilog: Book One” will be formally launched this November 15 at Komikon X, the 10th annual Philippine Komiks Convention, at the Bayanihan Center in Pasig. Grab yourself a copy and say hi to Rick Olivares while you’re at it!