Noli Me Tangere‘s Maria Clara is the idealized image of a Filipina. Full of finesse, grace, and dignified beauty, she is top-of-mind when it comes to how a young lady should act, carry herself in public, and interact with men.
But her feminine demeanor has been used for so long, often to disgrace fellow Filipinas with that “magdamit Maria Clara upang hindi mabastos” line. This has led many to reconsider: Does Maria Clara still embody what it’s like to be a modern Filipina?
One thing is for sure, Maria Clara is an icon and a role model, as resilient she was in the pages of Jose Rizal’s classic work. But if you’re wondering how our favorite gal, complete with her Filipiniana and fan, will do in our time, then this comic book is for you.
Writer and illustrator Marian Hukom developed a story that continues Maria Clara’s life out of the books and into the busy and modern Philippines with Nagmamahal, Maria Clara comic series. In a conversation with Manila Bulletin Lifestyle, the 23-year-old comic book artist shares how she sees Maria Clara then, and how we—men and women1-should learn from her and be better.
How did you first get the idea for Nagmamahal, Maria Clara? What inspired you to do it?
Nagmamahal, Maria Clara was actually my college thesis! My thesis partner, Riza Malolos, and I did research on the Maria Clara archetype, which is the model Filipinas follow. To be meek, obedient, and dress appropriately. Although we’re both from ‘conservative’ communities, we were the opposite of that (haha!) We hated how the model was pushed onto us and we wanted to abolish it through our thesis. So yeah, basically our inspiration was our shared grievances. But research made us realize Maria Clara is a product of her time. Rizal literally meant for her to represent the Philippines under Spanish colonization, which is yes, desirable, but weak. Generations overlooked her tragic fate and passed her on as tradition with lack of thought. So this created a chasm between conservatives and liberals. To the point they bash each other’s lifestyle.
Maria Clara did have shining qualities such as her dedication to her values. So instead of abolishing the model, we decided to make a new one. A model that could represent both the liberal and conservative Filipina, but focusing on dedication and heart. Women should follow any belief they want. As long as they do it from the heart without stepping on anybody. We’ve evolved from the old Maria Clara archetype and should leave it in the past, as a stepping stone to learn from.
How long did you work on it?
For the thesis, we worked on it for about a year or so. Our outputs were mainly two short films and the comic was just an add-on with the same concept. But I decided to sell it in the comic circuit too and it surprisingly got good reception! So I continued it as a series and until now, I’m still working on it. It’s on its fourth issue with the fifth one on the way. I got to go to women-oriented fairs, connect with feminist organizations, and learn a lot through the comic. So I’m glad I continued it after college!
What inspired you to pursue an artistic route in comics?
I originally did writing first and drawing was just a hobby. I liked writing stories and even aimed to be a journalist! But I got a scholarship at Benilde and MMA was the most appealing course available to me. So I took it and got to hone my illustration skills more. Then I combined it with my writing which resulted in my comics! Being able to do my two favorite things at the same time, writing and drawing, was so much fun so I kept doing it. I made my art pages, started posting, printed actual books, and now I’m here!
Your Instagram page is so fun with your modern illustrations playing with Philippine culture. Is that always part of your aesthetic?
I had to do a lot of research on Nagmamahal, Maria Clara which included looking at vintage Filipiniana attire, re-reading Noli Me Tangere, and searching for reference photos of old Filipino barrios. I even did field days where I traveled to Intramuros, the National Museums, and more. I eventually fell in love with history, especially the baro’t saya! I get so immersed in making the details to the point it’s excessive (haha!). So yeah, those weren’t really part of my aesthetic at first. But I do like incorporating my experiences in every piece I do, which is usually the typical Filipino culture so I get how that reflected in my art.
What do you wish to impart with your readers through the story of Nagmamahal, Maria Clara?
Like my thesis concept, I just want women everywhere, even Maria Clara, to be free to [live] their beliefs, lifestyle, and choices. Instead of tearing each other down for our differences, we should celebrate it. As long as it doesn’t hurt anybody and we’re true to our heart.
Do you have other stories our readers can check out?
Aside from Nagmamahal, Maria Clara, my first comic Palaso is also out for reading. You can actually read both at Penlab, a comics platform featuring local komiks and creators. There’s so much good work there so I recommend checking it out!
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