I was at the Manila International Book Fair 2022 (MIBF), rummaging through the stalls for my next great reads. The MIBF is the largest and the longest running book fair in the country. And since this was the first on-site fair in three years, Filipino bookworms went all out to get their sought-after titles at discounted prices.
Beyond the huge selection of books, I think some of the highlights of every MIBF are the book launches and signings where people get to meet their favorite authors, creators, and publishers. In my four days at this year’s fair, I was fortunate to meet some of the awesome people in the book world—from the big names and pillars to the new and emerging ones.
Among these awesome people is visual artist and animator Kevin Eric Raymundo, more popularly known as Tarantadong Kalbo (TK). With his simple yet witty illustrations, Tarantadong Kalbo has become one of the most recognizable art we see online in the past years. TK comic strips have also been compiled into several print volumes by Komiket Inc., with Volume 1 having won the Best Graphic Literature at the recent 39th National Book Awards. Thus, sa wala nang paligoy-ligoy pa, here is why Filipinos should read Tarantadong Kalbo 1 (2020) by Kevin Eric Raymundo.
Tarantadong Kalbo is such a treat to follow and read because it evokes nostalgia and is highly relatable. Its content, art, and humor capture people’s psyche with its usual inclusion of pop culture references as well as the culture and habits of Filipinos. Many of TK’s comic strips depict our shared experiences through the years that can make you say: “O, hindi lang pala ako gumagawa n’yan” or “Akala ko ako lang nakaramdam or nakaisip n’yan.” In that sense, it somehow reinforces our imagined communities where we share the same sentiments with others and feel that we are part of a group.
This is also the case when we talk about what might be the worst year of our lives: 2020. Tarantadong Kalbo 1 collates and encapsulates our experiences during the lockdown. It portrays our anxieties and the things we did to kill boredom while in quarantine. It also shows how we faced life amid restrictions and uncertainties. Furthermore, it has some candid and funny takes on how farcical our leaders were in handling the pandemic and how they have mishandled—and still mishandling—our lives almost three years on. With that, Tarantadong Kalbo 1 seemingly serves as a diary or “resibo” of our pandemic lives. It’s nostalgic, enraging, and funny all at the same time.
Substantial and entertaining
Being a comic strip that usually consists of two to four panels, Tarantadong Kalbo is a light read. It only takes less than 10 seconds to consume and appreciate a strip. And that’s good, especially for people who don’t have that much time to read or those who are not into reading in the first place. I think that’s where comics like Tarantadong Kalbo can come in: It can act as a conduit to encourage more people into the habit of reading.
But let’s make it clear that comics may be “light read” and short but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have substance. Like many other comics, Tarantadong Kalbo certainly doesn’t lack in that department. In fact sometimes, it’s even “meatier”—or in our vernacular, “mas malaman”—than other mediums. Just imagine only having a page with four panels to send the message across to your readers. That involves a lot of skill and artistry. Coupled with satire, comics can be an entertaining and powerful medium not only for storytelling but also for commentary.
Comics is political
What I like the most about Tarantadong Kalbo is that it’s fearless when it comes to discussing pressing social issues. This reminds us that we do not exist in a vacuum and we have our responsibility to be aware of what’s happening around us. Well, some may say that we shouldn’t politicize everything; comics should only entertain; artists should just focus on their craft and not meddle with politics; and so on. But how can we not care about things that directly affect our lives? How can we turn a blind eye to all the injustices, impunity, corruption, and incompetence, and not demand accountability?
Thus, I admire artists like Tarantadong Kalbo who use their platforms to arouse and raise consciousness on the social realities that we live in. They are not afraid to speak out and initiate conversations through their art. Think about it: how can we solve something we don’t talk about? How can we assert our dignity, rights, and freedom if we keep silent and let the few and the powerful trample upon them?
The role of art
Making art such as comics is an exercise of our humanity—it’s an exercise of freedom. We always associate art with self expression. And that’s right! But while we view it more as a solitary and personal endeavor, it’s also social and relational in nature because we have the power to create not only for ourselves but also for those who consume our art.
We should remember that creating is a gift that everyone has. It doesn’t matter if you’re an aspiring komikero, an amateur singer, a professional photographer, or an art enthusiast. The power lies in us, and I hope that we cultivate our potential and talents in order for us to instill hope and inspire action to better ourselves and our society.
Supporting our local creative industry
Tarantadong Kalbo is only one of the many talented creators and artists here in the country. We have tons of them and it makes me happy that they are gaining much more traction, thanks as to comic readers and reviewers. (Special shout-out to @komikninja who also writes about comics here on Bookbed!) I hope that more and more Filipinos support our local creative industry because they deserve to be read and appreciated, and our stories deserve to be enjoyed by us as well. (Related: “Why Filipinos Should Read: Philippine Arts and Literature”)
So, the next time we visit bookstores, fairs, or conventions, let’s keep buying their books and merch. Let’s read and celebrate them! This is how we cultivate and harness more talents and encourage more people to create and contribute positively not only to our local creative industry but to the society at large. Magbasa at lumikha upang lumaya, at gaya ng paalala ni Tarantadong Kalbo: Matutong sumulong sa kabila ng pangamba.
Happy holidays and wishing everyone a better year in 2023! ☁️