The silent screams in Manix Abrera’s “14”

Text by: Kimmy Baraoidan
Photos by: Chris Quintana and Kimmy Baraoidan

Para sa iyo, kasama kong naliligaw sa ulan (For you, who is lost with me in the rain),” wrote Manuel ‘Manix’ Abrera on the second page of “14.” The words were printed in long-form cursive text, punctuated with a smiley face. I closed the glossy-paged book and looked at the cover again, this time more carefully. A nighttime city skyline is at the bottom, being drenched in blue shades of torrential rain.

The Quezon City weather on the afternoon of August 5 was far from a downpour. Not a drop of rain in sight. Not even a light breeze. The air was heavy, warning of impending rain. It was the opening of Abrera’s exhibition at the UP Vargas Museum in Diliman, which featured large digital prints and working studies from his thirteenth book and second silent/wordless comics “14.” Students, professors, fans, and colleagues of Abrera’s were pouring into the museum, eager to see him and his works.

Large digital prints of Manix Abrera illustrations from his latest book, '14' greets attendies of the exhibit opening at the U.P. Vargas Museum. Photo by: Chris Quintana

Large digital prints of Manix Abrera’s illustrations from his latest book, “14,” greet attendees of the exhibit opening at the UP Vargas Museum in Diliman, Quezon City. Photo by: Chris Quintana

“14” has nine stories, each featuring a creature from Philippine folklore. The overarching story that ties these nine together is that a human being, on his way home, gets lost and wanders into the 13th floor of a building, which is a portal leading to a mysterious land of various mythical creatures and beings. There is a storytelling session going on, each creature taking turns narrating their life stories—stories of loss, being lost, longing, and the need to belong. Toward the end, they notice the human being that have wandered into their midst, and compel him to tell his. The human being’s story effortlessly wraps up all the other stories and leaves a sobering thought to ponder on. It is not the usual Manix Abrera comics where he takes the mundane and finds the hilarity in it, topping it with witty punch lines. This book elicits introspection and reflection.

The impetus for making silent comics was a graphic fiction contest that Abrera joined a while back. Entries had to be in English but Abrera was more comfortable using Filipino, so he tried to make wordless comics like the foreign-made ones he had read. He enjoyed the challenge so much that he continued to do it even after the contest. “Natuwa ako sa challenge sa sarili ko, ta’s tinuloy-tuloy ko na s’ya. Ang saya rin kasi halos kahit sino puwedeng makabasa nito at magkaroon ng kani-kaniyang interpretation (I enjoyed the challenge and eventually pursued it. Anybody can read it and have their own interpretations),” said Abrera in an interview with The Alternative.

Peter Wallace, a writer, gets his copy signed by Manix Abrera during the opening of his exhibit at the U.P. Vargas Museum. Photo by: Kimmy Baraoidan

Peter Wallace, a writer, gets his copy signed by Manix Abrera during the opening of Abrera’s exhibit at the UP Vargas Museum in Diliman, Quezon City. Photo by: Kimmy Baraoidan

Abrera’s “14” has done just that, generate various interpretations, as Peter Wallace of the Wallace Business Forum and columnist for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, explains, “…but I’m sure, if you sat and asked 20 different people what the story was, you’d get 20 different stories. But there’d be a very similar thing throughout.” Wallace and Abrera had earlier collaborated on two books, “Why You Need Three Hands” and “The Mechanic’s True Handbook.” Wallace, who was impressed with Abrera’s work, said that Abrera was a very talented, young man. Having gone through the exhibition, Wallace had found it to be a very moving experience—he didn’t expect it to be, as he put it, ‘depressing.’ Wallace continues, “But that’s the reality of many people’s lives, isn’t it? So he’s captured reality there.”

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