The color palette for this story sets the tone right away: sepia. This beautifully-drawn sepia-toned story follows young Jesse and his family back to the Philippines for the funeral of Jesse’s beloved grandmother — his Lola. “Lola” is the Tagalog word for grandmother, not her proper name. Jesse’s trip to the family gathering is fraught with anxiety, and this comes through in the art by Elbert Or.
Jesse has inherited his grandmother’s ability to see the supernatural that walk our world, whether they are deceased relatives, bogeymen, demons, or people whose lifelines are set on their final path. This, of course, makes Jesse a withdrawn young man, who withdraws unto himself more than he shares the company of others. This choice puts him into contact with his deceased cousin Jon, and the two carry on spirited discussions carried over from Jon’s life into the afterlife.
J Torres delivers a poignant tale of self-discovery here. Jesse’s path is known to Jesse, and this story follows him as he wrestles with how best to use his curse. Or is it a gift, as his cousin suggests? Either way, Jesse is well-written, as are the rest of the cast, including Jon and Jon’s living sister Maritess. This tale could have easily been a tale of gore and oozing ectoplasm, but Torres delivers the story with just the right amount of eeriness.
Or translates Torres’ story masterfully, giving these characters a comforting, cartoonish appearance, right down to the hands only having three fingers. The artwork doesn’t fully commit to a cartoony style, nor does it resemble manga, rather this is a unique looking book, much in the same vein that Paul Smith’s work on “Leave it to Chance” was a departure from his “standard” style. Initially, Or’s art seems like an odd choice for a story bursting with the supernatural but, as I mentioned, it delivers a certain amount of comfort to the tale. These characters are more compelling in their cartooniness, and that helps sell this story.
Or’s artwork might give this story the appearance of being all ages, and it wouldn’t be far off. I’m going to share this story with my twelve-year-old and her nine-year-old sister is welcome to read it to, but I’m not going to rush into the seven-year-old’s room to let her read it. There are a handful of zombie-inspired images, but only a handful. A ride on Disney’s Haunted Mansion certainly offers worse.
Although this story packs a hefty price tag (it is a hardcover, though!) it packs an emotional punch. This is a story that can be comfortably picked up again later, and it will be as timeless then as it is now. The twist at the end of the story offers up subtle hope that maybe there are more stores with Jesse in our future. I certainly hope so. Torres and Or make a good team to deliver a compelling story.