Drawing from the rich tradition of post WWII-era Komiks in the Philippines and the contemporary popularity of graphic novels, the upcoming graphic novel will dramatize the experiences of young Filipinos coming of age under Japanese Occupation during WWII. This format will be particularly geared to younger audiences, who readily engage in educational content through a dynamic graphic medium.
The narratives will be inspired by stories recounted by veterans in the oral history interviews and the historic record. The visual storytelling format will allow us to retell fictionalized versions of actual events and bring them to life through illustration. The graphic novel will share lesser-told tales and a variety of perspectives, such as the experiences of USAFFE soldiers, resistance fighters and children, as they fought valiantly in ways both big and small to undermine and ultimately overthrow Japanese occupying forces.
Preliminary Graphic Novel Treatment
Felipa is a young Filipino girl who comes of age during WWII. She and her older brother, Joe, live hardworking yet carefree lives with their parents on a small farm in Luzon.
On December 8, 1941, rumors of war explode into reality with the bombing of Clark Field, setting into motion events that will tear their family apart.
Their father, a former Philippine Scout, re-enlists, as their mother tearfully prepares for the arrival of the Japanese.
News spreads from nearby villages that the Japanese are plundering and burning houses, and they arrive in the night, taking Felipa’s mother away. Brother Joe disappears and is thought to be dead. Felipa is left to fend for herself as the Japanese forces beat and killed many of her fellow villagers, forcing some to become collaborators.
Her brother Joe returns, explaining that he has joined the guerrillas in the jungle. Joe recruits Felipa to act as an informant, sharing information and passing messages. These small acts require her to endanger her life at every turn.
On one journey deep into the jungle, she discovers her mother is still alive. Having escaped the Japanese, she has been working at a resistance newspaper produced in jungle hideouts and distributed by a network of children.
Felipa’s mother shares with her the grim realities of the occupation, including the horrors of the Bataan Death March and other atrocities. Armed with this knowledge, Felipa progresses from a reluctant recruit to an independent young freedom fighter.
In the final months of occupation, she leads a team of guerrillas, spying on the Japanese, sharing intelligence with the Americans, freeing prisoners and destroying Japanese equipment.
When the Americans finally stage their invasion, she acts as a scout for their troops and accepts the surrender of thousands of desperate Japanese soldiers, starving and sick, from their jungle retreats.
Eventually, she is recognized for her efforts and is granted American citizenship. Felipa moves to the United States, but her struggles do not end in America. Following the stories of her family and members of her crew, the difficulties faced by many Filipinos after the war are illustrated. These include frustrated efforts to obtain the recognition, benefits and American citizenship they had been promised. Despite this, Felipa makes a good life for herself as a nurse in this country, having learned much in her days in the field as a guerrilla. Her children, inspired by her story, fight alongside many others for Veterans’ recognition through the decades.
The entire story is recounted to Felipa’s Filipino-American granddaughter in present day America. Key aspects of the Filipino Veterans’ story, including post-war efforts to gain recognition and benefits, are framed in their present-day conversation. Like her grandmother before her, the young granddaughter gains a new awareness and is motivated to act and share the story.
Together with our Ignatz and Eisner award-winning graphic novelist consultant, Box Brown (boxbrown.com), we will identify a graphic novelist to collaborate with subject matter experts such as Colleen Woods, Assistant Professor of History, University of Maryland, and author of the upcoming book Freedom Incorporated: American Imperialism and Philippine Independence in the Age of Decolonization (Cornell University Press, early 2020). We will produce a script based on historical research and stories shared through our oral histories. The graphic novel is expected to be published in print and in digital format for online viewing. We also intend to incorporate illustrations from the novel into other components of the project as appropriate.