How many of us live on the internet now?
The pandemic has forced us to flee into our homes and into the comfort of our devices. We post about our days, video-call our bosses, tend to our suddenly long-distance relationships, and escape the present that looks so much like yesterday and the day before it, so much that it resists keeping track. Most of all, we tiptoe around a grief so immense that it is easier — and essential — to take days one at a time, and focus on the challenges still in our control. This is how Lizette Daluz’s Kailan begins, on tiptoe, while steadily listing the disruptions wrought by the pandemic to routine and life.
Kailan’s first panel features a character on their device, marking the passage of time in house clothes. The second shows another character on their device, dealing with the unique challenge of working from home while a child loudly plays with the family pet. The successive panels follow this format. The sparseness of the background reflects each characters’ mental isolation. Each one echoes a question (reminiscent of Dylan’s protest song Blowing in the Wind), and each panel is a whole note, mimicking the rhythm of their housebound days. This rhythm presents especially well on platforms like Instagram, where the swipe controls add to the experience of the artwork. Kailan is a comic for social media, cut up into square posts for immediate sharing to a large audience.
Here is art made for the internet.
The internet loves “relatable,” and so Kailan is. But it is more than relatable; it is substantial, as it literally interrogates the circumstances of this crisis.
The internet also loves discourse, with which Kailan engages. However, it is again set apart from other expressions by Daluz’s greatest strength as an artist, and the most striking aspect of her body of work: its quiet grace.
Neither a product of ego-driven outburst nor knee-jerk aggression, the anger and impatience in this work has a contained quality. The single use of yellow suggests observation, not heightened emotion. Even the mounting frustration, as shown by the yellow turning orange, then finally red, is in muted tones. The gentleness of the linework, and the style of the characters’ eyes, also exude calm. Though tension builds by the sixth panel, this visual approach suggests that clear-headed anger, driven by the energy of intent, is potent and formidable.
More, the shift in emphasis from the personal to the collective experience shows a compassion at the heart of the work. This is an anger that seeks to create, not destroy. What begins as a passing thought on messy hair — the most personal of concerns! — grows into a larger realization. So much talk revolves around COVID-19’s disruption of life, but for many Filipinos, life was never easy to begin with. Uncertainty plagues us all, the comic suggests, but hasn’t it plagued us for most of our lives?
By the end of the comic, several realities are at play: the personal, the collective, and the one offered by the man on television. Promise, says the man, pledging a future we have dreamed of, but never received. The character in the final frame has had enough; in turning off the television, they reject the man’s reality. For now, this is all they have control over. Yet, hopefully, not for long.
More and more of us live on the internet now. Kailan reaches out to us exactly where we are, yet ultimately challenges us to go beyond this space. Playing with the phrase, “muling babangon,” Daluz skillfully relates the need for both rebuilding and protest. Bangon, after all, means to recover from setback, as well as to rise up. The character looks straight at the reader, their attention no longer on a device, their question no longer a personal one. Your grief is my grief, they seem to say. The conclusion pulls us back into the humid heat of the present, the stillness of the streets. The hard work lies ahead to harness our collective energy to rebuild, and create, a more just and humane reality.