I feel ashamed to admit that the last time I read a Filipino piece of literature was probably in college for school work. But outside school and up until recently, I have not read anything from a Filipino writer, especially writers from this era. I thought most of them were shallow and not anything unique enough to pique my interest.
It was not until a few months ago when I participated in an art fair that I was introduced to many talented local independent comic artists and ‘zine makers. From then on, I got into various comics like Manix Abrera’s Kikomachine titles, Budjette Tan and Kajo Baldisimo’s Trese series, and Hulyen’s UGH! comics.
Today’s Local Alternative Media Scene
Independent ‘zines and comics have been gaining popularity in recent years with many platforms and events like BLTX, Zine Orgy in UP Los Baños, Munzinelupa, and Komiket among many others. Independent ‘zines and comics resonate with this generation’s sentiments and opinions for their brash approach to stories.
Marian Hukom, a young local comic artist, says that being a young female comic artist is great as the scene is flourishing, but it also feels different considering the country’s current environment.
“We’re able to create visual content that can influence media and actual people. Comics can now expand to online as well. With this ability, we can respond with our panels and be responsible — but still create content from the heart, social and political climate aside.”
Your Friendly Neighborhood Maria Clara
Marian is the author and illustrator behind Nagmamahal, Maria Clara, one of the most creative and interesting comics I’ve read. The premise of the story revolves around Maria Clara, the popular character in Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere, who somehow finds herself living in the present time. She tries to navigate life with the help of friends she makes along the way and with her high regard for upholding “delikadesa.”
Maria Clara, in the comics, is definitely not the helpless and tormented soul that most of us were familiar with in our high school readings. Marian’s comic highlights the literary figure’s other characteristics that we only had glimpses of, mostly from her cinematic portrayals.
I got curious and wanted to know more about the inspiration behind this refreshing perspective of Maria Clara so I asked Marian and her thesis partner Sian Riza Malolos who both came up with the idea for Nagmamahal, Maria Clara.
The Duality of Being Conservative and Liberal
According to Marian and Riza, they initially disliked the idea of “Maria Clara” being a symbol of a conservative and traditional Filipina.
“I just couldn’t bear the stigma this tradition brings and how negatively it could pull down women,” says Marian, “We originally wanted to abolish the Maria Clara tradition, but transitioned to creating a new model – a model that could represent both the liberal and conservative Filipina, but now, focusing on dedication and heart.”
Riza adds, “As girls who were taught to cross their legs when we sit, to dress ‘appropriately’, and to speak only when addressed, we already had enough of it. Abolishing Maria Clara as a model of Filipinas had become a personal mission to raise awareness to stop blindly following tradition. Who knew our resentment towards [sic] Maria Clara’s character pushed us to love her?”
Lessons of the Past for the Present
For Riza, Maria Clara was a reminder of how women were in the past. “Maria Clara truly was a diamond in the rough. She was a victim. A victim of a society that was cruel and unforgiving. She had no voice. Let her be a reminder of how far we have come as a community. We now have the rights to live freely and to choose our own paths.”
Marian even found through their research that Maria Clara was a reflection of the Philippines under the oppression of the Spaniards.
” . . . Beautiful but colonized, weak and passive. Rizal didn’t mean for her to be a model to future Filipinas. So THAT, we shouldn’t follow. We should leave that to history and step forward in a new light. A modern Maria Clara,” Marian explains.
Marian and Riza’s new version of Maria Clara veers far these characteristics that we all know; Marian and Riza instead focuses on her kindness, understanding, and dedication.
“Nowadays, conservatives bash liberals and vice versa. This is all rooted from the old Maria Clara tradition that enforces an unreasonable mindset in a modern setting. We just want women all over to accept different types and stay true to themselves,” Marian remarks.
“Maria Clara may be seen as weak, but her vulnerability should be seen as an inspiration. To be vulnerable is a sacrifice to live in empathy,” Riza notes.