The Homecoming

It feels great to be back! (Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash)

Hi! Long time no see. This homecoming feels great. How have you been? Do people still blog? Do people still read blogs? Why is the blue sky? Naniiiii?

When I wrote this blog post back in 2021, I thought I’d be out for only a month or so. I didn’t expect to take more than a year off (and for the second time), so… oops. 😉

The first time out, it was because I was busy and became overwhelmed by life. This time around, I’m severely depressed and anxious, handling major life issues, and battling SSCD. Oh, and we’re still in an active COVID-19 pandemic. Just in case you forgot.

I also moved homes:

But wait, there’s more! I also:

  • Started Very Online, my newsletter on being online 24/7 in the 2020s; subscribe here!
  • Restarted my MFA book manuscript/thesis, and
  • Am slowly returning to work. Message me here if you want to work with me!

All of ~ * T H I S * ~ meant that I had zero energy left for reading:

I feel like this update is a proper homecoming, though. I’m comfortable here on my little blog and I’ll always love it, even if I take long breaks between posts. And I’m finding pleasure in reading again, which is always a great thing.

So let’s ‘start’ 2023 with my thoughts on the latest volumes of three beloved graphic novel series:

  • Tarantadong Kalbo Volume 2, Kevin Eric Raymundo
  • Saga Volume 10, Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples
  • Sex Criminals Volume Five: Five-Fingered Discount and Sex Criminals Volume Six: Six Criminals, Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky

Aside from their format, they have a few more things in common.

They look real familiar

These three series aren’t strangers to this blog. In a sense, they’re doing a homecoming on here, too.

I wrote about TK‘s first collection in 2021, mid-pandemic and as Raymundo was becoming known for his prolific output and activism. Seeing that many funny and true komiks at a super stressful time gave me (and everyone else) that needed relief.

Wait, what?

Here is solid proof that I’ve been gone for a while: Tarantadong Kalbo already has a third volume.

I also seem to have this habit of reading Saga and Sex Criminals volumes at around the same time:

  • I talked about Saga volumes 1-4 in 2015, then reviewed Sex Criminals Volume One a few months later.
  • Then it was time for Saga 5 and 6 + Sex Criminals 2 in 2017.
  • I read Saga 7 and Sex Criminals 3 and 4 also in 2017, but I didn’t write about them here.
  • I was quiet about Saga 8 altogether, but wrote a few paragraphs on Saga 9 in 2018.

Like me, Saga and Sex Criminals went silent for an extended period too. The latter took two years between volumes 5 and 6 instead of the usual year. But unlike TK and Saga, this would be the last ‘homecoming’ for Sex Criminals. I learned that Fraction and Zdarsky were ending this series only during/after reading volumes 5 and 6. Man, I was not ready for two-year-old news. 🤣️

Saga is a more extreme case, though. Back in 2018, series creators Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples decided to take a long break from the series and do other things. It’s natural for anyone to want a breather or a change of pace. And at that time, both of them were busy with other projects. For starters, Vaughn’s Y: The Last Man TV adaptation premiered on Hulu in 2021, then got canned after one season.

Vaughn and Staples thought they’d be gone for a year, tops. We all thought so, too. They ended up being gone for four long years.

I, like everyone else, missed seeing new volumes and updates from them. But I get it.

They’re still on their game

Despite everybody taking some time off, I’m so happy to see that some things haven’t changed.

If you’ve already read TK 1, expect the same quick output and trademark humor with a bite in volume 2. Raymundo still posts his komiks online every day, with the best ones included in his previous collection and this one. If there’s anyone we never have to worry about in terms of having past material to pull from, it’s him.

Raymundo’s one-page panels and ‘commercials’ or intermissions also remain reliable for delivery and punchlines. If anything, his style seems to be more confident and lived-in now, like it’s effortless and natural. If TK 1 seemed like he was still testing the waters, TK 2 shows him as more comfortable and driven. And this is all despite him being attacked by trolls online for his content and choices.

Saga 10 picks up some time after the events of 9, where we saw the deaths of Prince Robot IV, Doff, and… Marko.

We’re back in space with Alana. She’s now a drug dealer and allied with Bombazine, a new character helping her with both business and childcare. And that extra person is much-needed; Alana is now in charge of both Hazel (her 10-year-old protagonist/narrator daughter) and Squire, Prince Robot IV’s orphan son.

Reading Saga 10 was like reboarding a spaceship and finding that everyone’s in pain but all quiet about it. Alana still makes bad decisions with the best of intentions and the worst available choices. And Hazel and Squire are growing up and learning hard and permanent lessons as real kids do, and in a world that seldom makes sense.

It was also great to meet new characters, along with previous characters we haven’t seen in some time (Klara!!!). Her brief return makes me curious about what happened to our main people’s other allies, like Ghüs and Petrichor. Where are they??? And Bombazine seems too much of an important character down the line to be dismissed before the volume ends. You don’t put a character on the cover and then send him off after a few issues. I’m sure we’ll see him again.

And I can’t rave enough about Staples’ art for Saga. It has always been stellar. But the pirates’ ship – a literal skull and crossbones, with a bone piercing one eye socket – is something else. It is truly gorgeous, and 100% deserves its own spread:

I mean… (And if only I could lay my volume out flat!!!)

If Saga 10 was like mounting a homecoming on a ship in the thick of muted grief, Sex Criminals 5 and 6 were like returning to a club full of drunk partygoers who now have to sober up real quick before a big fight erupts outside. Fraction and Zdarsky keep the pace quick; you can read each volume in around an hour. The jokes come one after the other (hah!). And there are hidden details and gags on sex and popular culture all over the panels and backgrounds.

At the same time, there is an underlying dread in there, especially throughout volume 5. You know something big is in store long before it happens.

They handle the tough stuff well

Sex Criminals is easy to love because it’s reliably hilarious and light. But it also gets dark, and Fraction and Zdarsky adeptly use this darkness to take on important and ‘taboo’ aspects of life. Examples include:

  • Suzie’s childhood trauma related to her mother’s alcoholism, and her inability to remember her late father’s face;
  • Jon’s ‘obsessive destructive disorder’;
  • Proper SOGIE representation
  • The interplay of love, control, cruelty, consent, and human connections beyond sex and lust.

We were all hooked on the initial weird concept of this series. But we all know that’s not why we stuck with it through six volumes. 👍️

And I love how 5 and 6 turned out, even with the unexpected structure and ending. You can love people 100% and still not have them be your endgame. ‘Bad’ people can switch sides and become ‘good’ if they want to be so and want to make amends. And there is no shame in being who you are and in the directions you take through your lifetime.

This specific line hit me hard, too:

Never feeling new joy is too high a price to pay for never feeling new pain.

Suzie Dickson, Sex Criminals: Volume Six: Six Criminals, Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky

The most striking aspect of Saga 10 is its depiction of grief as both suppressed over long periods and devastating when it finally bursts. I’m thankful Vaughan and Staples didn’t show Alana finding out about Marko’s murder at that exact moment. Instead, Gwendolyn tells The Will that Marko and Alana’s translator rings (that Marko stole from Gwen) share a ‘bond’, and that she would’ve felt him die through her ring. The family’s actions afterward and over time – such as Alana returning to Endwife to have her wings cut off, and Hazel finally mourning her father in the last few pages – mimic real life, where grief occurs in trickles than in dramatic deluges.

This page made me tear up – the first of several times throughout this volume.

Grief is also used as a weapon by others. You can see this during Klara’s return; she found out about her son’s death from a past enemy looking for leverage.

For others, grief is a trophy, seen in the panels where The Will totes Marko’s skull everywhere. This is jarring and abhorrent to us, the readers, and erases any hope of redemption for the struggling assassin. But the reality is we have no control over what happens to our bodies after death, and over what monstrous people will do with it. Seeing Marko’s skull disintegrated on Landfall to bring him “back to stardust” was so fucking satisfying.

As for TK 2, it has longer comics panels on here that were a real joy to read. This also shows that Raymundo can go beyond simple one-page, social-media-sharable, “haha” panels if and when he wants to.

The best case for this is the informative and sobering ‘Inuman Sessions: Historical Distortion’, which take up pages 180-195. The framing device was a simple alcohol-fueled gathering due to a breakup. But these panels also show how easily Filipinos forget our history and (supposedly) lifelong lessons. We are also frequent victims of bad actors who take advantage of this national amnesia and willful ignorance.

Me and my own bad memory

There is one major downside to me waiting years between volumes of any graphic-novel series: I forget big chunks of what came before. These could include characters, inside jokes, and even entire storylines.

Like my own amnesia related to Marvel 1602 and Kilometer Zero: Personal Essays, I struggled to recall secondary characters in Sex Criminals 5 and 6. Alix, Dewey, Rachelle, Dr. Glass, Robert, and Todd completely slipped my mind, and I couldn’t place them when I saw them again.

And I even forgot about Sexual Gary.

This amnesia wasn’t as bad when I was reading Saga 10. But I know there are references to prior volumes and story arcs that went over my head because it’s been so long since I read them.

I should do a reread of these two series. 🤔️

My situation with Tarantadong Kalbo is a bit different. As I said, we get new online content from Raymundo every day on social media. I see them all the time as his original posts or as reposts by friends and contacts. The result was I had that sense of déjà vu quite often throughout TK 2. Either I already saw many of these comics, or I could swear they were already printed back in Volume 1. I have to recheck that volume for exact duplicates, but all that déjà vu lessened the intended impact of these komiks on me.

I don’t know if I should cut down on my social media usage or read just the printed volumes. Both modes of TK content consumption are enjoyable in their own right.

I have another theory for my confusion aside from the passage of time and life. 2020-2022 was a massive blur of depression, anxiety, and disability for me. Hence, I can’t always remember the back stories or related news headlines for some of the TK panels. I’ll need a refresher course, but I also say this:

Where to get these graphic novels

You can buy Tarantadong Kalbo Volume 2 through Komiket or Raymundo’s own online store (also run by Komiket, I think).

I bought my physical copy of Saga Volume 10 at Fully Booked in Greenbelt 5, Makati City, Philippines. You can also buy digital copies over at Amazon/comiXology and Book Depository and your standard comics/graphic novel suki.

I acquired digital copies of Sex Criminals 5 and 6 through Humble Bundle’s “Image Comics 30th Anniversary: The ’10s!” bundle. But you can buy print copies on Amazon/comiXology, Book Depository, and your favorite comics retailers.