Revolusis: Pergolakan, the second issue in a graphic novel series written in Malay, was released on 9 Feb, 2020. Flexing girl-power, this brainchild of KRYSS Network organisation is a unique endeavour in Malay graphic novels, which tend to veer away from feminism.
The creative team comprises six feminist writers and an artist, and features an ensemble cast of five teenage girls and a mystical janitor. “All of us are diverse. When we presented our characters, they turned out non-stereotypical,” says co-writer Mischa Selamat at the launch of Revolusis: Pergolakan.
In the first issue, published in 2018, the girls navigate the realities of child marriage and sexual harassment. “What really drove our writing is the difficult conversations that children are not allowed to have, or silenced when they talk about these issues,” says Angela M Kuga Thas, co-writer and co-founder of KRYSS.
The sequel highlights discrimination; particularly against domestic work and unpaid labour. “We tried to have the girls formulate a pushback,” says co-writer Serene Lim, adding “We hope through that we can get younger girls and boys to start thinking ‘perhaps this is not right, I need to say something.’”
Presenting complex issues in playful and simple ways, the book can be a starting point to include youths in conversations on larger topics like child marriage. “We hope this book provides opportunities for intergenerational conversations to happen,” says co-writer Juana Jaafar.
We interview Juana and Serene on Revolusis, and how it may shift mindsets and inspire collective action:
The books surface voices we don’t usually see as individual voices; domestic labourers, plants, animals
Juana: I’m glad the issue of labour surfaced to you. We wanted to do two things with this theme. One is to shed light on the people whose labour we may take for granted. In many cases, there is also a class dimension to it and in times of turmoil, we get to see how people are affected differently based on class. The other is to get young readers to think about how they occupy their immediate environment, and their role in its upkeep.
In the launch, it was mentioned that the story can seem magical, but also that the magic is a kind of truth around us. What would you say is the magic in Revolusis?
Juana: The faith the five teens have in themselves and each other. They are at an age where situations with their families and in school, and even the differences between them, can cause existential crises, self-doubt, and personal vulnerabilities. But because their friendship provides such a strong support system, and there’s full acceptance of who they are individually, they have more capacity to notice things outside of themselves and have the confidence to act in the greater world.
Serene: The magical element is also a representation of the discrimination and sexual harassment women and girls experience — it is like magic, nobody believes it is real. It take a global movement, thousands of women speaking up about sexual harassment, for the world to start recognising it as a prevalent issue perpetrated by men. People were shocked when #metoo happened; like magic, it was unbelievable.
Juana, your character is a migrant student in school. Tell us more?
Juana: Pen’s parents are migrants, but Pen herself was born in the land. Just like in our world, there is stigma against migrants and children of migrants. By virtue of her parents’ legal status, Pen herself is regarded as migrant. This systemic prejudice traps the family in a socio-economic situation where they’re not allowed to be equal or have upward mobility. In school, Pen is automatically assigned to a lower class despite her abilities and performance. She is to accept that she’s lucky to be allowed to attend school.
In a sense, Revolusis is a campaigning tool. There’s even a Valentine’s Day micro comic for International Women’s Day
Serene: Revolusis started because we want to use storytelling and pop culture as a tool to unpack issues that are not publicly discussed. It is very personal to us; it is our collective creative output, and encapsulates our struggles against patriarchy and the status quo. I think because of that, we have always seen Revolusis as something bigger than just the graphic novels.
Revolusis is very much a living story and a representation of our struggle, oppression and trauma – but given a lighter and hopeful treatment. With that kind of beginning, it is natural to see Revolusis as a tool for alternative discourse and highlighting stories through a feminist lens.
You present complex ideas in simple comic form aimed at youths. What may get lost in translation?
Serene: The writers are good in raising issues, but it remains a challenge to resolve them. Should the perpetrator of sexual harassment be punished, or go scot-free? These are complex issues that are unresolved in real life. We ask ourselves, what would be a realistic outcome that is encouraging, without necessary romancing the challenges in addressing sexual harassment.
Revolusis is published and distributed by Gerakbudaya. Prices begin at RM49.90 for a set of both titles.
The graphic novels can be purchased directly from KRYSS by emailing info [at] Kryss [dot] network. Postal delivery available, collection in Bangsar preferred.