The Jakarta Post
Regular people: A visitor looks at cartoons drawn by Muhammad “Mice” Misrad. (JP/A. Kurniawan Ulung)
Visitor Sri Yuliana chuckled at a displayed comic strip, titled 4 Sehat 5 Sempurna (4 is Healthy, 5 is Perfect), at the Indonesia Senyum (Indonesia Smiles) exhibition at the National Gallery in Jakarta.
The drawing depicts two men who look innocently proud of their healthy-looking dishes but do not realize that they are hazardous, because the vegetables are contaminated with pesticides, the white rice is chemically bleached, the tofu and fish contain formalin and the chicken has been injected with hormones.
The 42-year-old Sri quickly realized that the comic strip was satire on the New Order regime’s problematic nutrition campaign called “4 Sehat 5 Sempurna”.
For her, the message of the cartoon is that people should not easily believe everything the government or other parties say or promote, even though it may seem convincing.
“There should be milk in the drawing,” Sri said, recalling this year’s case of sweetened condensed milk that was proven harmful to health, because it was high in sugar and contained little fresh milk.
The comic strip was created by Muhammad “Mice” Misrad, who rose to fame with cartoonist Benny Rachmadi, thanks to Kompas newspaper featuring their cartoons, titled Benny & Mice, in October 2003.
Unfriend by Mice (JP/A. Kurniawan Ulung)
Running from July 21 to Aug. 4, the exhibition celebrates the 20-year career of Misrad, who has published more than 15 comic books, such as Benny & Mice: Jakarta Luar Dalam (Benny & Mice: Jakarta Inside Outside) in 2007, Benny & Mice: Lost in Bali in 2008 and Indonesia 1998 in 2014.
Curated by artists Evelyn Huang and Yulian Ardhi, around 50 works are on display, including his old comic strips about the birth of the Reform Era in 1998; Gebuk! (Strike!) and Reformasi Baru Dimulai (The Reform Era is just beginning).
According to Misrad, his comic strips that draw attention to political issues aim not only to warn the government in a bold, yet witty way, but also to make his readers more critical.
“So that they will not keep silent if they are disadvantaged by government policies,” the Rakyat Merdeka newspaper cartoonist said.
The exhibition also centers on funny, yet pathetic aspects of technology, lifestyle and urban life. A comic strip titled Get Back to Work, for example, is about a physically healthy beggar who joyfully pretends to be disabled in the street to beg for mercy.
The gallery also showcases figure cartoons that humorously depict people that Misrad thinks are unique in styles and behaviors. For example, Seniman Gak Jelas (Obscure Artist) that mocks self-acclaimed artists who dress like real artist but like to talk more about politics than about art and often criticize other artists’ artworks.
Muhammad “Mice” Misrad (JP/A. Kurniawan Ulung)
Misrad said his future project was to make comic strips about his favorite musician, The Beatles.
“I have thought about it since a long time ago, but I have no time to make it because of my other projects. I promise I will make it next year,” he said.
Like his previous works, the cartoon about the English rock band will be humorous, because, he says, smiles and laughter were urgently needed today.
Misrad was referring to recent verbal attacks of others, especially in social media, over differences that he said should be celebrated. He said he could not understand why rifts caused by the 2014 presidential election remain until today and look set to worsen ahead of next year’s election.
According to his observation, the threat to the unity of this country are the “buzzers”, who use social media to spread hoaxes to boost the image of particular politicians or officials. He hopes that his funny drawings can make people relax and calm down.
Born on July 23, 1970, in Jakarta, Misrad is a comic lover, who liked to read the Eppo comic magazine when he was about 6. His love for comic books continued to grow after his parents bought him Superman and Batman comic books.
Senang (Happy, left) and Sumpel (Clogged). (JP/A. Kurniawan Ulung)
In junior high school, Misrad started to draw simple animations in his notebooks. After school, he loved to spend his time in book rentals. Inspired by Hai magazine illustrator Wedha, the creator of the Lupus character, Misrad began to draw more seriously in high school. At the time, he often criticized his teachers and headmaster through his cartoons on walls.
In 1986, his first cartoons were featured in the Kartini and Humor magazines. When studying graphic design at the Jakarta Arts Institute (IKJ), he made friends with Benny.
It turned out that their bromance ended in 2008, and two years later, Benny & Mice was replaced with Mice Cartoon.
“They [readers] are disappointed and many of them are angry,” Misrad recalled. “Whether they like it or not, I have to work alone.”
Misrad invited Benny to the opening of his exhibition on July 20, but Benny did not show up. When paying tribute to him in his speech, he could not hold back tears.
He was reluctant to reveal details on his falling out with Benny, but he said there was some incompatibility in their friendship, which later ended in a big quarrel that exploded when they were doing the Benny & Mice Roadshow in 2008.
“[The big quarrel] might have been triggered by our physical condition, because at that time, we were so tired that we failed to hold back our anger,” he said.
Misrad expressed his wish to reconcile with Benny and his expectation that they could work together again.
“I have learned a lot from him,” he said.