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Student-founded Kwento Comics aims for Asian representation in debut graphic novel

Aiming to alter the on-screen representation of Asian characters in Hollywood, Kwento Comics is penning narratives inspired by cultural myths as graphic novels. Co-founded by fourth-year theater student Waverley Lim (right) and her mother Cecilia Lim (left), the first issue of its series “The Mask of Haliya” follows Filipina teenager Marisol on adventures partially based on Waverley Lim’s own experiences. (Ariana Fadel/Daily Bruin staff)

By Chau Lu

March 4, 2022 10:05 p.m.

This post was updated March 6 at 8:47 p.m.

Kwento Comics is breaking down the glass ceiling and debuting with a bang.

Founded by fourth-year theater student Waverley Lim and her mother, Kwento Comics strives to expand female and Asian American representation in Hollywood through graphic novels. The first issue of its series “The Mask of Haliya” is set to release Saturday and follows the mystical adventures of Filipina teenager Marisol. While the story also addresses themes of Philippine societal norms, corruption and mental health, Lim said she hopes the representation in the comic encourages young Asian American girls to take pride in their identities.

“Visibility is just so important for any young girl growing up to see themselves reflected, to see a role model, to see something to aspire to,” Lim said. “They don’t have to look like anyone else or be anyone else. They’re valid enough just in the person that they are, in the skin they were born into.”

The creation of Kwento Comics was inspired by Lim’s move to Los Angeles in 2018, she said, when the lack of roles written for Asian Americans encouraged her and her mother to build a business and change that reality. As an aspiring actress, Lim said her inability to find characters she looked like and related to drew her attention to the absence of Asian characters in the entertainment industry. She said she realized this void could only be filled by building a foundation for more Asian roles through other forms of media.

As the producer of Kwento Comics, Lim said she oversees the entire project and acts as a recruiter and facilitator for the writers and artists. While searching for potential members, it was important the team reflected the mission of the company, she said. The business promotes the representation of Asian women, and she said it is crucial the team also consists of this demographic.

“The on-screen representation really starts from off-screen with writers who look like us, who share our stories, who share our culture,” Lim said.

(Ariana Fadel/Daily Bruin staff)
As an aspiring actress herself, Lim said she noticed there weren’t many roles and characters in the industry that she related to and that the only way to change this was through utilizing writers who can speak to these stories and cultures. (Ariana Fadel/Daily Bruin staff)

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Devoted to creating a space for Asian American stories, head writer of Kwento Comics Kaitlyn Fajilan said the plot of “The Mask of Haliya” draws inspiration from both Lim’s own life and Philippine mythology. Similar to Lim’s experience of inheriting a piece of jewelry at her grandma’s wake, Marisol receives a mask from her grandma, Fajilan said. In addition to integrating Lim’s anecdote, she said the story also builds off the legend of Haliya, a Philippine fable about a beautiful goddess who escapes a dragon, Bakunawa, by hiding herself with a golden mask.

Rewriting the myth of Haliya as a comic brings the old legend to life in a vibrant way, Lim said. It honors the culture and ancestral past of the Philippines while illustrating the complexity behind Philippine mythology, she said. Her background in theater and film ingrained her with an appreciation for visual images, and she said she hopes readers are able to be more receptive to the story and its message through a graphic novel.

“We tinkered with comic books specifically, just because it’s such a visual medium,” Lim said. “The stuff that we were researching alone, just on Filipino mythology, we were like, ‘It’s such a vibrant world – how could we not put this into pictures?’”

(Courtesy of Waverley Lim)
Lim said the graphic novel format was partially inspired by the inherent vibrance of Philippine mythology, but she also hopes the message of the story can be more accessible through illustrations as opposed to just words. (Courtesy of Waverley Lim)

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Apart from bringing Asian representation to the media, Waverley Lim’s mother and co-founder of Kwento Comics Cecilia Lim said the company also wanted to ensure the authenticity of Asian American characters. Hollywood confines many of these roles to outdated stereotypes – such as the nerdy Asian kid and the ninja – but Cecilia Lim said she aims to showcase the different stories and cultures of all Asian heritages. The sexualization of female Asian characters is another issue Kwento Comics aims to combat, as most comics depict Asian protagonists with unrealistic bodies younger readers cannot relate to, she said.

Moving forward, Kwento Comics aspires to create a plethora of graphic novels that highlight the stories of other underrepresented cultures, Cecilia Lim said. The future novels will adhere to Kwento Comics’ mission of providing a strong female heroine but each story will be centralized around a different culture, she said. For now, she said she hopes the debut of its first issue creates excitement for the rest of the series and future projects.

“This is just the first launch of our very first issue,” Waverley Lim said. “It has a long journey ahead. We hope audiences are left on the edge of their seats, wanting more after this very first issue because you are not getting rid of us yet. We have so much more story to tell.”

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