Aug 11, 2010

Lola: A Ghost Story by J. Torres and Ernest Or

Lola: A Ghost Story by J. Torres and Ernest Or

Lola: A Ghost Story is a Filipino graphic novel about a Canadian-raised boy, Jesse, who returns to his family’s homeland when his maternal grandmother passes away. Jesse’s memories and feelings about his Lola (the Tagalog word for “Grandmother”) are complex: it’s not, he tells us, that he dislikes her. But the strange stories she used to tell have always scared him, as does an odd memory of being a baby and having Lola try to drown him. Because of all this, Jesse secretly dreads returning to her house.

But most troubling of all is the fact that Jesse is beginning to sense some truth in the family myths surrounding Lola. He grew up with strange stories about how Lola had prophetic visions and could see beings from another world, and now he’s beginning to experience some of the same things himself. His younger cousins tells him that she envies him, as she always wished to be the heir of Lola’s gift herself – but Jesse is not convinced.

Lola: A Ghost Story is a quiet and gentle book that mixes ghosts, an immigrant tale, a coming-of-age story, and Filipino folklore. The lovely sepia artwork only adds to this graphic novel’s mild, nostalgic feel. I suppose the supernatural elements qualify it as horror, but in the same sense that films like The Orphanage or The Others are horror: they’re not really frightening per se; they’re more about using fantastic and metaphorical elements to explore memory, our relationship with the past, and the effects of grief and loss.

Lola: A Ghost Story by J. Torres and Ernest Or

One of my favourite things about Lola was that it allowed me a glimpse into Filipino culture and traditional folklore. Lola’s old house in the countryside is peopled by kapres, manananggals and tiyanaks. But fascinating though they seem to me, hearing stories about these beings and about Lola’s encounters with them makes Jesse extremely uncomfortable. It’s easy to see his discomfort as a symbol of his increasing distance from his cultural heritage – Jesse himself, after all, didn’t grow up in the Philippines surrounded by these stories, and as he tells us at the beginning of the book, the older he gets, the less his visits to the country his parents still call home appeal to him. But his ability to see the supernatural world which Lola always partially inhabited is still there – it’s part of who he is, and it won’t go away no matter how much he assimilates into a different culture.

Lola: A Ghost Story is a short book, and I should probably warn you that it’s the comics’ equivalent of a short story or novelette, rather than a full novel. This doesn’t detract from its quality, but it does affect the extent to which these themes can be explored. Also, the book has a very ambiguous ending that will probably not satisfy every reader. It can either be ready very negatively or as a further symbol of Jesse’s struggle to accept and cease to fear his cultural heritage. The optimistic in me leans towards the second option, but I actually like the fact that you can’t tell for sure.

Lola: A Ghost Story by J. Torres and Ernest Or


Lola: A Ghost Story by J. Torres and Ernest Or


Reviewed at:
Comics Worth Reading

(Have I missed yours?)


Many thanks to everyone who entered my Fire & Hemlock giveaway last week. I can’t tell you how much I wish I could get you all a copy of the book. But I can’t, so the decision fell to random.org, and the winner is Iris at Iris on Books. Congratulations, Iris! Just e-mail me your address and I’ll send the book your way as soon as possible.

26 comments:

  1. I won?! Wow! Thank you so much! I feel a little guilty now for robbing someone else of the chance to win it.

    Lola sounds interesting. I have a feeling that I could ask you for some kind of "introductory list to graphic novels" sometime?

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  2. I adore ambiguous endings; it adds a level of depth to a work that I love. (I suppose this is why I'm a bit ticked off at Lev Grossman; he's writing a sequel to The Magicians, which destroys its ambigious ending.)

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  3. I prefer open endings that allow my imagination to fill in the blanks...to imagine the possibilities. I'm going to see if my library has this book. I have absolutely fallen in love with graphic novels this year. I can't get enough of them.

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  4. I think the fact that this book deals with Filipino myths is something that really draws me to it. I love myths and stories from other cultures and I know very little, practically or otherwise, about the Philippines. Great review, Nymeth! It sounds like this is a book I would love!

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  5. I'm so sad. This sounds wonderful but isn't available at my library or at my B&N so I could go read it in-store. :( I'm trying very hard not to BUY anything right not.

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  6. Congratulations Iris on the win!! This book sounds interesting Ana, great review.

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  7. This sounds (and looks!) like a gorgeous little graphic novel. I've never read a GN, actually, but I should try one. Excellent review!

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  8. I need to get hold of this. One of my dad's best friends when I was a kid was from the Philippines and I remember some of his stories.

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  9. I would want to read this even if I hadn't read your intriguing review, just because of the pictures--the third in particular, with that strong, high-contrast composition.

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  10. I think I like ambiguous endings more in graphic novels than in conventional novels - and I think it's because the visual element in graphics offers an immediacy that is more "real-life." And real life "endings" are always ambiguous, aren't they? There is always more life to live, more story to come.

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  11. This sounds so wonderful. I don't think I've ever read any Filipino books either. And the illustrations are gorgeous. Yep..onto the list.

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  12. Sometimes does open endings can really make a story stand out more in one's mind right? You'll think about it and wonder how things turned out.

    I'll be adding this one to my growing list. I really enjoy graphic novels and realize I haven't read as many this year.

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  13. Want. Now. Oh my, but this sounds so good!

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  14. After finally reading my first graphic novel last month (Persepolis) I've been looking for another one to try. This one sounds wonderful. And I love the sepia-toned artwork too!

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  15. I love the sound of the blend of different genres. The artwork seems to really suit the style and tale from your description. Nothing wrong with an ambiguous ending :)

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  16. I love reading about other cultures, and this graphic novel sounds good to me! And oh, I do love an ambiguous ending, sometimes the story works best that way. ;)

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  17. This sounds interesting. I love reading about other cultures and I just read my first graphic novel so now I'm gathering more ideas on what to try next. This sounds like one to look for. Thanks for the review!

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  18. Although I’m not a big fan of comic books, I do like ambiguous ending every now and then- they can be refreshingly original :) Thank you for the great review!

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  19. This sounds like a graphic novel(la) that would really appeal to me! I'll be sure to look for it. I love that it features folklore!

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  20. This sounds excellent...a little like American Born Chinese in a loose sort of way.

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  21. I love folklore but I actually don't know that much about Filipino culture. I'm not to fond of ambiguous endings usually though...

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  22. Iris: Don't feel bad! You had as much right to win as anyone else :P Amazon tells me the book has been shipped, and I hope you get it soon! And yes, I'd be thrilled to give you a list of GN recommendations sometime.

    Clare: Yes, I completely agree. That reminds me of why I resented the very existence of the Final Fantasy Advent Children film. It ruined the ambiguity at the end of FFVII :P

    Sandy: Hearing that makes me incredibly happy :D

    Zibilee: The myths and cultural details really added a lot to it!

    Amanda: Aww, that's too bad :(

    Amy: It was an excellent (if quick!) read :)

    Emidy: You should definitely try one sometime!

    Kathy, isn't their folklore great?

    Trapunto: Yes! It's a wonderful image.

    Mumsy: I hadn't thought about it that way before, but that makes sense! And yes, nothing in real life ends neatly. Although in this case... argh, I can't say more :P

    Chris: You should read both this and Tresse :P

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  23. this does sound very interesting. I'm trying to look into more graphic novels. You should check out Stitches if you haven't already...it's a graphic novel memoir.

    -Lauren

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  24. Iliana: You're absolutely right. I know I'll be wondering about this particular ending for a very long time.

    Debi: It is!

    Helen: Isn't the art beautiful? And it makes me happy to hear you're getting into the comics medium :) If you want a few recommendations just let me know!

    Rhinoa: Yes, it did mix several genres very nicely - and the art fit the story perfectly!

    Melody: So do I. The cultural details really made this stand out.

    Lua: They really can!

    Aarti: I definitely think you'd enjoy it :)

    J.T. Oldfield: It does deal with some of the same themes, but yes, in a looser and more subtle sort of way.

    Jen: I don't know very much about it either, but everything I'd read to date about Filipino folklore has been fascinating.

    Naida: Isn't it beautiful?

    Lauren: I haven't, but it's definitely on my list. I think I've yet to see a single bad review of it!

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  25. Check out how a page from the graphic novel was produced: http://jonasdiego.blogspot.com/2010/01/inking-lola-ghost-story.html

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Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.