Trese and The Mysteries of The Manila Underworld
Posted by Yuri Mangahas March 16, 2020

“When the sun sets in the city of Manila, don’t you dare make a wrong turn and end up in that dimly-lit side of the metro, where aswang run the most-wanted kidnapping rings, where kapre are the kingpins of crime, and engkantos slip through the cracks and steal your most precious possessions. When crime takes a turn for the weird, the police call Alexandra Trese.”

The lines above pretty much summarize what Trese is all about. From its independent comic book origins to its ascent as an iconic part of Pinoy pop culture, Trese has definitely cemented herself as the face of local komiks.

She Walks By Night

Cover jacket of Trese’s fourth volume, “Last Seen After Midnight.” (Source: Trese Facebook Page)

Helmed by the duo of writer Budjette Tan and artist Kajo Baldisimo, Trese is a horror/crime series that follows the adventures of Alexandra Trese, a mysterious detective who deals with crimes of supernatural origin within Manila. Flanked by her trusted bartender, Hank Sparrow, and her masked bodyguards, the Kambal, Trese steps in to protect the streets of the city whenever the police can’t deal with malevolent threats.

What makes Trese unique is that it employs Filipino folktales, mythology, urban legends, and actual Manila locations along with familiar occultist noir, police procedural elements, and a moody black-and-white aesthetic. With these factors in mind, Trese gained a huge following and easily became the de facto standard of noir tales in the Philippine literary scene.


From Ashcan to Graphic Novels

The first three volumes of Trese. (Source: Trese Facebook Page)

Contrary to people’s knowledge, Trese was actually created out of whim. Budjette was challenged by Kajo to create a comic book in a short span of 20 days. While it looked improbable, Budjette rose up to the challenge and produced a full script for Kajo to illustrate. Thus, Trese was born. The first issue, At the Intersection of Balete and 13th Street, was released in photocopy form under the banner of Budjette’s Alamat Comics imprint.

The series’ issues were initially released individually until Visprint took Trese under its banner and published the chapters through a collected graphic novel format. Trese was supposed to last for only 13 issues, but the team of Budjette and Kajo decided to explore the story further and incorporate a serialized progression to the series. The result is Mass Murders, Trese’s third compiled volume and first major story arc. The arc saw Trese revisit her origins while dealing with a deadly enemy that could threaten both worlds.


Writing The Series

A panel from Trese’s special story in the Manila Noir anthology book, “Thirteen Stations.” (Source: Trese Facebook Page)

Budjette produced full scripts for the first four books of Trese, but he shifted to a different writing style to accommodate the increasing load from their advertising jobs. “For Trese Books 1 to 4, I always gave Kajo a full-script. With Book 5 and 6, we shifted to a semi-Marvel style. Since our workload is now heavier, there’s not much time to do a full script. So, I’d send Kajo a plot of what the new book is about and then send him general descriptions of the action on the page,” Budjette said in an interview with FlipGeeks.

Kajo admitted that while Budjette’s scripts aren’t as detailed as before, it allowed him to unleash more freedom on the panels.

“For Book 6, we opted to try the old Marvel style so Budj’s script for this is not as detailed but still retains the important notes and directions that point very clearly where the page and the story need to go.”


Onward to The Future

Budjette and Kajo launched an Indiegogo campaign to publish the very first global issue of Trese. (Source: Trese Indiegogo campaign page)

With a goal of reaching out to a larger audience, the duo campaigned in Indiegogo to release an updated global edition of Case 1. The book contained revamped panels, bonus pages, and journal entries from the three-book compilation Book of Murders. Sandman author Neil Gaiman, impressed with the series, even campaigned for the release of the global edition.

Trese’s immense popularity eventually led Netflix to produce an animated version of the iconic series. Animation director and storyboard artist Jay Oliva will helm the show in collaboration with BASE ENtertainment.

“I wanted to push the horror, supernatural side so I’m going full-on dark. It’s based on mythology stories from Manila. ‘TRESE is still in production and is very close and dear to me,” Oliva noted.

Truly, with the series’ plethora of triumphs, Budjette and Kajo have redefined the idea of local comic books. From its ashcan origins to its imminent animated debut, who knows what the future has in store for Manila’s dark protector.

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