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The Philippines has a rich history of comics, or komiks, as they are called there. Post World War II, it enjoyed a boom in homegrown creations, fuelled by comics left behind by American soldiers. Later, star artists such as Gerry Alanguilan and Leinil Yu would make it big on the US scene. Now there is a new wave of creators trying to find their own visual and narrative styles.

The Friendzone and The Other Half, two short comics written in English, are part of a series of horror comics called Shiver, Jangle, And Spin, written by Noel Pascual with art by Mervin Malonzo, and are available only online, in e-book format.

Both stories draw heavily on Filipino myth and tradition as well as the conventions of body horror to deliver an unsettling final package.

In The Friendzone, drawn in colour, Pascual mines one of the oldest themes in humanity: boy loves girl while girl considers him just a friend. Presumably cavemen were scribbling similar sentiments on their cave walls. But Pascual has a fresh new twist in this urban fable. What if the boy gets a love charm from the friendly neighbourhood witch? Such a caper will be perfectly familiar to Indians who patronize aamils or babas.

The art by Malonzo is utterly enchanting; painterly compositions create a lush world where the interior of the imagination blends seamlessly with the external landscape. One horrific sequence plays out like if Flemish painter Hieronymus Bosch and Canadian film-maker David Cronenberg collaborated on a zoology textbook.

The Other Half, with art in colour, has a conventional framing device: A bunch of children alone at home amuse themselves by telling each other scary stories. Here the superlative art elevates the story from a simple “creature feature"; the brushstrokes create a dense labyrinth that the eye cannot escape, as beautiful as it is deadly.

The creature is the Manananggal, or the one who separates, from Filipino lore. It is so over the top that I have to provide a description recounted by one of the children: it is a woman who splits into two, with the upper half spouting batwings and trailing intestines, flying around looking for pregnant women. Once it locates prey, it sends in its incredibly thin tongue, which sucks out the foetus from the womb like it was a milkshake. The legs and lower torso are the Achilles’ Heel, if you will; destroy them and the Manananggal can’t live to fly another day.

Malonzo cleverly illustrates this sequence in crude, scratchy lines, which look like a child’s drawing. The effect heightens the monster’s grotesqueness in a way that a polished rendering would not.

These two comics are an accomplished effort. The geographic and linguistic diversity—7,000 islands and 180 languages—coupled with colonial influences make one look at the Filipino scene to see what lessons can be learnt and applied here in India.

The Friendzone and The Other Half, priced around $2-3 ( 125-175), are available on websites such as Flipreads.com, Buqo.ph and Gumroad.com.

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