Meläg is a graphic novel that was initially released in the Philippines. The book, from cartoonist Bong Redila, received critical acclaim and won multiple awards in the Southeast Asian country. Fantagraphics is now bringing it to wider audiences with an international release this week under the new name Meläg: Town of Fables.
The main setting is the fairy tale titular place where humans and odd beasts coexist and magic is a common occurrence. Rather than a running narrative throughout, Meläg is a collection of several one-off comics including tales about a late-night train trip, a flying house, and a dumpster genie.
Redila captures childlike wonderment and imagination in each installment. He skillfully interweaves the fantastical with the humble in the every day lives of the town’s citizens. At its heart, the book highlights the human condition, and uses the fantasy aspects to create a whimsical feeling of innocence. There is often an unexpected yet grounding twist in the end. Whether it’s a curious raised eyebrow towards an impoverished child’s one wish or the bittersweetness of a father/daughter dance at a wedding, they all surprisingly pull at your emotions. The creator’s notes at the end of each short provide interesting insight while also adding a personal touch.
The real standouts of Meläg: Town of Fables are all the visuals. Redila’s artistic storytelling is on full display, being able to captivate the reader with minimal text. It’s easy to be immersed in the world he creates with such great attention to detail. From the textured sky to each individual wood grain on a bench, he invests time and care to develop a lived-in environment. In addition, the cartoony, ugly cuteness of the character designs delivers a darker tone and edge.
One other fun component of the graphic novel is watching Redila grow as an illustrator. The different issues were released periodically over the years beginning in the early 2000s, but they weren’t collected until 2017. The looks of each tale become more refined and polished, especially in the line weight of his inks, but they still retain his unique style.
There is also something to say about the cultural relevance of the book. Redila draws upon European and African influences for the aesthetic, but also incorporates many components from his birth country (he now resides in Miami). The Filipino element, other than the translations, isn’t over the top but subtle, from the choice of footwear to the architecture of the homes. It goes a long way to normalize the life there.
Meläg: Town of Fables is an enchanting collection of shorts from Bong Redila that uses the fantastical to feature our own humanity.
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