Sunday, May 9, 2021

The graphic word: poetry as comic book art

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Poetry is the primal root of all tales and prayers, all writing, really. It is first in the poem that humans attempted to capture their thoughts and questions, give these queries and postulations imagery and life—all, perhaps, to find the answers they seek within the text they splice into the poem.

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Combine the concept above with: What kid doesn’t enjoy comic books? Don’t pictures tell stories without words? All our fanciful thoughts begin as images and we can draw them as art, as well as speak them in words.

Put together, poetry and comic book-style art, you get something like spoken word artist and poet Kooky Tuason collaborated with illustrator Froilan Calayag and visual artist Diko to come up with the slim tomes titled “Eye of the Grey” and “The House on Road No. 10.”

We all know about graphic novels (thanks, mostly, to Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series by Vertigo Comics). Tuason, Calayag and Diko see that idea of writing novels with pictures and raise it to a higher bar: They created workGs of dark beauty, where the illustrations are as multi-layered and subtly-voiced as the poems they illuminate with images that open the dimensions of thought that the words lay out starkly in couplets on each page.

The effect is stunning, if brief, and you just want to go back to the top of each comic book and start again. It’s like being a kid again, on the playground scampering back up the ladder of that slide that makes you scream in happy terror. You know where your feet will land, just how far you’re going to go—but the thrill and delight are only intensified by the repetition.

Tuason calls “Eye of the Grey” a “love story.” She says it is “about being and becoming. Tuason is the mind and heart behind the Bigkas Pilipinas spoken word radio program on the FM band over 88.3, the webcast Thinking Man’s Classroom talk show, and the spoken word “Romancing Venus” album series.

Knowing this, it is not surprising that Tuason’s latest outing is one that juxtaposes comic book art and poetry. If you sit with her over a hot cuppa java, the first 10 minutes of conversation will land you in poetry—one way or another.

Calayag is known for his cartoony, surrealist figures and creatures. He has held solo exhibitions at West Gallery, Pablo at the Fort, the Total Gallery of the Alliance Francaise de Manille, The big and Small Art Co., Cultural Center of the Philippines and Secretfresh Gallery.

“The House on Road No. 10” is published by Agos Books.

Diko, who goes by one name, completed his visual arts degree in New Zealand, where he also lives.

Both books are worth several reads—for their artwork as well as the words of Bigkas Pilipinas’ sultry Venus herself. The combination of both elements is heady, powerful, just like that double-shot of espresso that gets you going in the morning. G

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