Enter Mervin Malonzo’s debut comic book “Tabi Po: Isyu 1“. In our highly syncretic country where the superstitious and the conservative Catholic are found often to be one and the same person, saying “tabi po” in dark paths and eerie places is second nature. Even in Cebuano, we have an equivalent polite utterance. We say “tabi” with a different inflection and drop the “po”. But in addition to the creatures of the sobrenatural order, the work’s title is also a pasintabi to Rizal’s body of work in the Noli and Fili which Malonzo appropriates. More than a pasintabi, I have the inkling it is also in a way, a doffing of the hat from one artist to another. I think it could also be a pasintabi to readers and critics whose sensibilities might be too delicately conservative for this rather violent work. As it is now, the violence in Isyu 1 stems largely from the graphic portrayal of feeding frenzies on flesh. Yet there are many senses to violence, and I have a hunch Tabi Po is laying the groundwork for something beyond gore.
Andrei Medina writes in a review of Tabi Po for GMA News Online:
“I have to admit that the first thing that lured me into the world of “asong buwangs” (as the author fondly calls his creations) was the book’s bewitching art.”
I would agree, but I understand “art” to be more than just the visuals. The narrative itself is also art, and is by itself quite a lure as well. There is also art in the way Tabi Po creates a conversation between genres (or conventions of expectations): komiks and the novel, history (fictional and factual) and the fantastic/lore, the literal and the allegorical, etc. This comic book series is a very busy work. So much is going on beneath the visual swaths of idyllic countryside and rapacious savagery.
Reading the more up-to-date online issues, particularly on Salome’s sex slavery at the hand of the friars, I feel that Mervin Malonzo’s work has a lot more violence in store in terms of social, historical, and religious critique. This is what I’ve earnestly been waiting for, which the release of the print book by Visprint has only made even longer (not that I’m complaining ;D). It is because of the burgeoning possibility of what it could do, where it could take Pinoy komiks as well as our understanding of history, and how it’s going to do it, that I wholly agree with Charles Tan when he says “Tabi Po feels like the future.”