Dealing with a lunatic: A comic book review

Updated: Apr 10, 2018

by Andrea N. Macalino

▶︎ No matter what they say, one can’t help but judge a book by its cover. That’s certainly what makes “Lunatic” (Meganon Comics, 2015) intriguing — the front cover features a hooded woman with a small moon hovering over her hand. The back cover, meanwhile, shows sinister babies wrapped in what seem to be mini-straitjackets.

Sounds crazy, right?

Matters of art It’s undeniable that visual art is essential to the allure of comics. From Arnold Arre’s versatile illustrations to Dave McKean’s surreal figures, comics and graphic novels enrich storytelling by using images in conjunction with words. A tilted frame, a differently-shaped speech balloon, a shift in inking — these all signify various meanings in comics.

The interesting thing about Lunatic is its visual diversity, since each story features art by different creators. That being said, the collection has a weak opening, both in terms of narrative and visual art.

JP Palabon’s “Umbra” seems to fit the theme of the collection perfectly, set as it is in a house that only opens every full moon, but the art (as well as the pacing) seems rushed. As a story that’s about making a deal with the devil, the protagonist comes across as flimsy given a plot premised on the character not even knowing that he’s already struck a deal.

In contrast, the art in “Strings” by Tepai Pascual and Brent Sabas, as well as in “Ghost Parade” by Paolo Herras and Redg Vicente, more competently captures the strange and the sensual. The former implies sinister punishments in disobeying one’s elders, while the latter deals with the aftermath of a nightmare.

Of course, visual style can also correspond to the humor underlying a story. In “Hoodie Fernandez” by Mel Casipit and Kai Castillo, the infamous detective ensemble is parodied. In this sense, the anatomy of its characters (extremely sharp noses, bangs like cliffs) is acceptable; the unexplained superpowers, however (“Paralysis waves initialized!”), are not.

Internal horror Still, two stories succeed at capturing the collection’s theme. “Ghost Parade” communicates not only the irrationality of nightmares, but also the familiar feeling of being transformed by these in the span of a night. The art and the pacing, as executed in the panels, successfully imply how the change that occurs in a nightmare can seep into reality.

Meanwhile, Maika Ezawa and Mel Casipit’s “Contestant” is titled as such because it features a nameless heroine who joins a TV production (“The Noon Time Show”) to earn money. She participates in all sorts of degrading games, only to win a fraction of the cash she needs.

Initially, there’s nothing “lunatic” about “Contestant” at all, since it features no demons, no detective-cum-vigilante. But that’s exactly what frightens in this work. It is, after all, about the despair behind making ends meet. More importantly, it is about having to earn a living repeatedly, like the protagonist who has no other choice than to join “The Noon Time Show” again the next day.

Unfulfilled fears Sadly, “Lunatic” does not have a method to its madness. Of course, it is understandable that the collection is about the irrational, so the reader must suspend disbelief. But one only suspends disbelief because one expects that something more rewarding will replace the stultified incredulity. When nothing takes the place of suspended disbelief, disappointment is inevitable.

In the end one finds that while lunacy is allowed, execution that refuses to delve into this lunacy makes it an effort that’s just far too sane. This “Lunatic,” in that sense, is dilettante at best. ***

Andrea N. Macalino is a fictionist currently finishing her graduate studies in Comparative Literature at the University of the Philippines. This review was previously published in the Sunday Times Magazine, September 2016.