Sun, 14 Oct 2001

A long road back for local comic books

Hera Diani, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Local film and comic books hold sort of the same fate. Both used to be very popular, both were subsequently in the doldrums for years and now both are showing signs of revival.

More locally made films appeared in the past two years and young filmmakers are growing in number.

The same thing has occurred with comic books. The spirit and drive to make comic books among young people seems high.

It's evident from the increasing number of exhibitions, discussions, a developing comic book community and "underground" comic books, those that are independently distributed.

"There is growing interest among young people to make comic books. Back in the '80s, it was very difficult to find someone willing to make comic books. But now, there are many of them," said Iwan Gunawan, a graduate of Jakarta Arts Institute (IKJ) and founder of an IKJ-based comic books community called Pengki.

"They (comic book artists) are also talented and have great skill."

The interest may be high and the skills are excellent. But there is one crucial problem: there are hardly any publishers who are willing to hire them and publish their works.

According to comic book artist Alfitri M.Z. or Alfi Zachkyelle, publishers are too demanding and place many restrictions on comic book artists.

"They want us to draw cute and funny pictures. We only become sketchers, not artists," said Alfi, whose comic book titled Petualangan Tiggy (Tiggy's Adventure) will be published in December.

As a result, Alfi said, many artists choose to distribute their books independently.

"We print it, photocopy it and sell it, all by ourselves," he said, adding that some 5,000 copies of comic books are distributed monthly "underground".

However, some artists think that publishers are not the one to blame but the artists must actually look at themselves.

Taufiq "Ipot" Juniarto from Masyarakat Komik Indonesia (MKI/Indonesian Comic Book Society) said that comic book artists here lack of professionalism.

"This is something that we have to fix. Many artists couldn't meet deadlines, saying that drawing needs a certain kind of mood. They still can't contain their ego. No wonder that publishers complain," Ipot said.

MKI has some 300 members, including those living in Java and Bali.

Meanwhile, comic book artist Pidi Baiq, who created the comic book Si Lender together with comedy group P-Project, said that it was really up to artists if there is to be a revival in the fortunes of local comic books.

"Many of them just want to be rich or famous. Although money is of course important, but don't make it the main purpose. If we can produce a great work, money will come," said the graduate of School of Fine Arts and Design of the Bandung Institute of Technology (ITB).

Pidi said that many publishers complained that artists demanded exhorbitant payment.

"If we can offer them (publishers) something unique, different and have selling point, they will publish our works," said the 27-year-old artist who also created the Kapten Bandung (Bandung Captain) comic book back in 1995.

Si Lender, a parody of Highlander movies, is indeed entertaining and reportedly selling well.

The problems with local comic books today, Pidi said, was a lack of originality and weak storylines.

"No matter how identical our style is with Marvel's, it won't do us any good," he said.

Comic books, he added, must be able to tap into and raise public emotions.

"That's the most important thing. That's why comic book artists in foreign countries succeed. Because they can meet the psychological need of their readers."

In the United States, he said, people need someone to look up to or idols which was why American comic books are full of heroes.

Workaholic Europeans are fond of adventure stories while Japanese, Pidi said, need escapism from their busy lives.

"Here, as social control is tight and there are many restrictions, people like something that represents rule- breaking, like parody, for example," he said.

"Like a cook, artists must also know how to work the recipe, which means matching the character, the style and the story. There are some process to be done, but most of local artists don't want to get through it. That's because they only aim at money."

It seems, he added, that local artists in general are divided between two extremes.

"Like in film, for example. It's divided into (director) Garin Nugroho and (soap opera tycoon) Raam Punjabi. The first makes art movies that can only be appreciated by a few so-called highly educated people, while the latter makes, well, you know, soap opera," Pidi asserted.

He pointed to the successful local TV series Si Doel Anak Sekolahan, the story of a Betawi (native Jakarta) family.

"See why it's successful? Because it's original and down to earth. That's why it can touch many people," Pidi said.

"That's how local comic books should be."