I love graphic novels. When I get tired reading 500+ pages of a novel I turn to their graphic counterpart, and I just get lost in the art and the little dialogue bubbles that pop in and out. So far I’ve amassed a few dozen covering the basics of DC and Marvel but I haven’t been true to my roots. Sure I have a few Manix Abrera, Trese, and the classic Culture Crash comics lying around somewhere but I haven’t really spent enough investing in Filipino graphic novels. A few years ago I picked up Elmer by Gerry Alanguilan and I liked the premise and the art but it stopped there. Then Tricia picked up Arnold Arre’s Halina Filipina and I decided to borrow her copy. Browsing the first few pages I was hooked.
Halina Filipina is the story of Crisostomo or Cris and Halina Mitchell, a Filam, and their budding friendship over cultural adventures in and around Manila. Having met years prior in a mall, Cris is smitten by Halina but has never had the guts to ask Halina for her number or go out on a date. During Halina’s second visit to the Philippines, they bump into each other again and begin a budding friendship and romance. Cris takes her out to watch independent films while decrying the sorry state of Philippine media, they bond over unique Filipino delicacies like balut and isaw, while singing a translated Eraserhead’s song “Torpedo”. The classic Eraserhead’s song actually mirrors Cris’ feelings for Halina, his deep infatuation but inability to act and express it makes Cris a lovable character.
Being an underdog in Halina Filipina is what makes Cris a lovable and relatable character. Having gone on numerous dates with Halina he still can’t bring it upon himself to act on his feelings. At the same time he is easily disheartened by the men who enter the story: an obnoxious and pretentious American-educated neighbor, and Halina’s longtime New Yorker boyfriend who is only seen through emails and Halina’s voice messages. The story reads like a typical Filipino love story with all the pa-cute moments and without the hugot (overly sentiment-laden)-filled lines that have dominated most Filipino stories to the point of being word vomits. On the other hand Halina does not represent the typical Filam with her latte runs in Forbes Park or hard party girl of BGC. Rather she is down to earth, simple and is actually independent. Sure she falls for the usual Filipino culture traps like modeling for a local magazine or appearing in a crass noontime show but at the end of it all she is a normal independent woman with her own sets of issues.
But Halina Filipina isn’t just about romance and love it’s also an exposition into Filipino culture. Cris being a writer decries the sorry state of freelance writers forced to write about commercialized local series films that no one cares to read about. He talks about our fascination with celebrities and how they seemingly get away with everything at the expense and inconvenience of others. The part I loved the most was Cris’ criticism of noontime shows where hosts earn millions dole out a few thousand pesos while subjugating the general audience with sexualized antics, nation stereotyping, and slowly dumbing their viewers with stupid jokes and typical one-liners.
On the other hand Halina also exposes readers to the exciting parts of Manila: the food, the language and films. Bonding over isaw and balut whilst a torrential rain submerges the whole of Manila. Laughing over the nuances of the Filipino language with the classic “ba” and its iterations to make a sentence. And finally enjoying Manila through the eyes of classic movies made in the 80’s with subtitles and illogical love triangles.
In the end, Halina Filipina is a graphic novel any comic book collector should have on their shelves. Right now it’s tucked beside Elmer in a sea of Manix Abrera, Trese, and the occasional but still classic Pugad Baboy.
Halina Filipina can be found in major bookstores nationwide.