This Filipino Comic Gets All Too Real About The Struggles Of Being A Student


Without saying much, Hay, Buhay speaks to the trials and tribulations of being a Filipino student in these times.

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Student life has never been easy for many, with the demands of school alone enough to cause some to go into a spiral. But when you add the stress of daily life, it’s a whole other challenge, something that’s keenly felt by many of today’s students. From high inflation, taxing public transportation, and more, surviving as a student who doesn’t have access to the finer things in life is a burden no one should carry. 

It’s this feeling that is brought to life by artist and illustrator Kulas Jalea in his wordless digital comic, Hay, Buhay. Taking inspiration from the daily struggles of a student-commuter, the comic highlights the various societal factors that make life even harder for a student. And going by the comic’s reception on social media and that it’s been made available in print, many people can see themselves in the comic’s story. 


Hay, Buhay is a comic rooted in student life. Fittingly enough, it has its origins in school. As Kulas shared with NYLON Manila, the comic was a requirement for his Production Methods class during his sophomore year as a Fine Arts student. “We were tasked to create a wordless book by using a chosen onomatopoeia to describe the feeling or emotion of our subjects,” he says. “In this case, I used ‘sigh’ to express the frustration of the protagonist in circumstances involved in the story.” Hence, the reason why this is a wordless comic. 


The comic begins with the protagonist waking up at 7 am to get ready for school. But as early as then, the grind starts as he gets caught in traffic and struggles to find a ride to get him to school. Overpriced cafeteria food, a long exam, and the pain of the daily commute back home round out his day as the cycle continues. Hay, Buhay indeed. 


The project features a few aspects of daily life many students are (sadly) familiar with. Early in the day, the protagonist has to deal with an ever-present transportation crisis, something Kulas has witnessed firsthand. “Having to endure endless traffic in Metro Manila, as I live in Marikina City, commuting to school every day is a struggle. I am consistently late and often have little to no time for proper preparation before heading out. This struggle is not unique to me; it’s a shared experience among many students and others whom I’ve spoken to.”


Another issue seen in the comic is how inflation has affected our spending habits. Simple acts such as buying food and commuting are getting more expensive, which makes life even harder for students who don’t have a lot of disposable income. “Acquiring funds for commuting, purchasing food, and meeting academic needs is a daily struggle,” expresses Kulas matter-of-factly. “The rising food prices in canteens further strain the budgets of students. Growing up without a silver spoon in my mouth, I am compelled to take on freelance jobs or rakets just to sustain my daily living expenses. Relying solely on my parents’ support is no longer sufficient given our family’s financial status.” 

And if that wasn’t enough, there is also the grind of academic requirements that’s made more challenging due to certain socio-economic factors. “In light of the aforementioned issues, these factors collectively impact a student’s performance significantly. For instance, chronic lateness due to traffic, insufficient access to food due to inflated prices, and returning home late with pending deadlines exacerbate the already exhausting experience of student life.”   


While it doesn’t use any lines to convey what is happening, the wordless comic makes up for it through a simple yet striking visual style that gets the feeling across. “The visual style is inspired by illustrations and comics of the contemporary period, characterized by detailed linework, emotive characters, and dynamic compositions,” the artist shares. “The palette used was limited to three colors, as per the instructions for this plate. I chose red, teal, and beige to incorporate warmth and harmony into the story, creating a visually cohesive and emotionally evocative narrative.”


Without saying much, the comic speaks to what so many are going through. But more than just serving as a relatable piece for readers, Kulas hopes his Hay, Buhay comic allows them to find their place in how they can address these issues. “Understandably, all of us go through challenges in life, and we all collectively experience these societal crises. In this comic, may we carry exhaustion towards anger, frustration, and accountability, with patience and love—whether for the country, others, or ourselves.” 


Hay, Buhay is another example of art being used to talk about today’s society and highlight important issues. In this case, it’s about a student whose life is made exponentially more difficult by social and economic inequality. While the initial thought is that the government and the powers at be to be held accountable and do a better job at addressing the needs of the masses, which is valid, Kulas also sees his viral comic as another medium that serves as a reminder that we too have a part to play in seeing change happen.

As he puts it, “As ordinary citizens, we share this responsibility. By demanding good governance from the government, we recognize that the power to change society ultimately rests with the people.” 

Art and images courtesy of Kulas Jalea. You can read the Hay, Buhay comic in full here.

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