By Angela Casco
It wouldn’t be so difficult for every Pinoy comic book fan to come up with 13 reasons or more to love Trese. It’s a popular piece of creative work, often selling out wherever it’s available. It won the National Book Award for Graphic Literature in 2009 and earned another nomination for the same award in 2015. It was also recognized with the Filipino Readers’ Choice Award for Comics/Graphic Novels in 2013, a testament of the cult following it formed with its captivating horror/crime stories and eye-catching visuals.
First published in 2005, the Budjette Tan-written and Kajo Baldisimo-illustrated Trese tells the story of the titular character, Alexandra Trese, who is a bar owner, police consultant, and peacekeeper between the world above and below in modern times. Typical of the books are one-shots showcasing crimes involving the supernatural (like a hit-and-run at Balete Drive where the victim is the infamous White Lady) that Alexandra is pulled in to solve.
Today, the series has seven well-received books. But how exactly did Trese come about?
TRESE COMES TO LIFE
Budjette’s interest in the supernatural started as a kid growing up in a supposedly haunted house in Quezon City. “I have been surrounded by a lot of people who see things. First and foremost is my mother,” he said. “By the time I grew up and understood what my mom talked about in her stories, though, we already moved out of the house.”
He also learned a thing or two about ESP, telekinesis, and heard more supernatural stories from an uncle. Budjette said he never saw anything related to the supernatural, “at least nothing Hollywood-like such as wind blowing into a room or things floating around.” The closest he ever got into experiencing it was one time during the mid ’90s.
“There were strange things happening in our house. It got to a point where we needed to bring in experts,” he said. These experts were called Spirit Questers, a group organized by an Ateneo professor, Tony Perez. They originally started out as a class where students can try communicating with spirits. Even after the semester ended, though, the group continued its spirit quests. Budjette later joined this group.
“We conducted these quests at our basement and we became the medium to communicate with the spirits in the house,” he said. “One of the questors started to speak and he was speaking on behalf of the creatures that supposedly lived in our house. We found out that there were dwarves living in our house and that there was also a diwata.”
While everything went back to normal in their home, this exposure to the supernatural helped mold Budjette’s interest in the realms of monsters, otherly-worlds, and human encounters with the often unknown and unexplainable.
“I grew up with those stories,” he said. “I eventually found a way to include it in Trese stories that I wrote.”
This comic book series, which include titles such as Murder on Balete Drive, Unreported Murders, Mass Murders, among many others, became Budjette’s outlet as a writer and a way to search for answers to questions.
“In hearing these stories, I wanted to tell my version of the stories,” he said. “I wanted to put closure. When I write stories, this is me trying to find an answer or reimposing an answer on where the White Lady came from and why she is still hanging around Balete Drive.”
Another guiding question Budjette often used in writing Trese stories was from his favorite author, Neil Gaiman, whose comic book Sandman and novel American Gods he read.
In hearing these stories, I wanted to tell my version of the stories. I wanted to put closure. When I write stories, this is me trying to find an answer or reimposing an answer on where the white lady came from and why she is still hanging around Balete Drive.
“In both of those stories, the question he was trying to answer was, ‘Where have the demons and monsters we worshipped and were so scared of in the old days gone now that we live in the modern world?’ That’s what Sandman and American Gods were all about, so for me, I just took that same question and I applied it to the Philippines. Are the people we bump into in the streets of Manila actually kapre, aswang, or tikbalang in disguise? And is this their way of surviving in the great big city?”
On how the comic book series was named Trese, Budjette explains it had no scary roots, but instead, a collaborative one. “It started out [with] my friend Mark Gatela and I back in 1994 or 1995. We used to work for a radio station and one of the shows we developed was about ghost stories set in the city. He was the one who came up with the name Anton Trese.”
Anton Trese was the name of the narrator of the stories in the show and he was voiced by Budjette himself, while he and Mark took turns in writing the stories.
“Anton Trese was just a name. There was no big history behind him,” he said. “I loved the name as it just evoked so much mystery and intrigue. It made me feel like he was a Filipino version of John Constantine from the DC Comics’ Hellblazer, popularly portrayed by Keanu Reeves in the movie. He’s a magician and a detective that helps out and gets into trouble with the demonic forces and other supernatural, magical problems, but in the stories that we wrote, [Anton] never really took action.”
A decade later, he picked up the name again and turned it into a comic book character, first he was as an NBI agent and then, a tabloid reporter investigating the supernatural. “I wrote drafts, but it just didn’t work,” he said.
In 2005, Kaljo sent him a text message and invited him to work on producing monthly comics. At that time, both were working in advertising, which he said involved—and still does to this day—a lot of overtime.
Budjette dug up his old Anton Trese material and sent over a script anyway because of his love for writing stories and doing comics, and Kajo worked on the illustrations during his lunch break. “He would have a sandwich in one hand and he would draw with the other,” Budjette conveys.