- Posted by Johanna on March 14, 2010 at 6:21 pm
- Category: Graphic Novel Reviews
- CREDITS: written by J. Torres; art by Elbert Or
- PUBLISHER: Oni Press; $14.95 US
Lola: A Ghost Story is more and different from what its title suggests. The Lola is not a slinky showgirl but Tagalog for “grandmother”. And the core of the tale is not ghosts but how seeing them affects a young boy’s coming of age.
Jesse and his parents have returned to their family home in the Philippines upon his Lola’s passing. He’d rather be back in Canada, where it’s cooler and less rural and his relatives don’t talk about the ability to see ghosts as if it were a special gift. Jesse’s the one who’s inherited his Lola’s rumored prophetic vision, but he won’t tell anyone, because he doesn’t want the ability.
Jesse’s cousin Maritess figures out that he’s seeing more than she does, and her jealousy serves to provide a different viewpoint on the ghosts. The folktales sprinkled into the story, family legends about Lola’s ability, do the same, along with reminding the reader of what a rich and different culture we’re reading about.
The sepia-toned art is lovely in its simplicity. It evokes the feeling of a family album or a folktale, echoing the themes of the story. Jesse’s round face, mostly hidden behind heavy hair, symbolizes his attempt to duck out of his fate, to not be noticed as special. Or’s skill is on display when you notice how expressive his characters are, even with dot eyes and simple shapes making up their anatomy. Just wonderful cartooning, supporting a story that combines questions of faith and truth and heritage.
An uncle’s drunken grief illustrates how there are all kinds of ways to be embarrassed by your kinfolk. When Maritess and Jesse are reminiscing about their dead cousin Jonjon, drowned as a boy, Maritess recalls a legend the family had often heard about how Lola got her hump. Jesse responds, “You and your dad tell some crazy stories. Like Lola used to.” Maritess answers, “They’re not stories. They’re real,” summing up the conflict of the tale. In Canada, no one believes Jesse even when he tried to say what he saw. In the Philippines, everyone expects him to welcome the visions and share them. Neither choice is comfortable for him.
The open ending allows the reader to make their own judgment on what Jesse has learned and what decision he’ll make about his abilities. I’d been putting off reading this because I had the wrong impression from its title and description of horrors inside. I’m glad I finally gave it a chance, because I found a much more complex story than I expected, one that I’m left thinking about. (The publisher provided an online review copy.)