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A collection of classic and current Indonesian comics. (JP/Ricky Yudhistira)
Dozens of young people watched Gundala Putra Petir (Gundala, the Son of Thunder) at the Goethe-Institut in Menteng, Central Jakarta, during a comic festival.
The film was reminiscent of Indonesian comics from the 1970s, a reminder that comic books were once so popular that they were adapted into film.
The movie was produced in 1982 and was based on a popular series with the same title. Besides Gundala Putra Petir, other memorable series that were adapted into movies were Si Buta Dari Goa Hantu (The Blind Man from the Ghost Cave) and Panji Tengkorak (Panji the Skull).
“From 1968 to the 1980s, there was synergy between film and the comic book industry. Film production was a big industry and producers needed stories,” comic book observer Hikmat Darmawan told The Jakarta Post.
He said during that time, Indonesian comics were rich with imagination, as a result comic book authors helped satisfy the demand from the film industry.
The popular comic book series used heroic themes about local knights before the 20th century (Si Buta Dari Goa Hantu and Panji Tengkorak) and superhero (Gundala). Gundala’s red and blue suit created by Hasmi was similar to those in American superhero-themed comic books.
Comic artist R.A. Kosasih, often credited as the Father of Indonesian Comics, ventured in 1954 his first superhero character, Sri Asih, adapted from Marvel’s Wonder Woman. In 1960s, he started his landmark quest to sketch the graphic versions of Javanese Hindu epics, Mahabharata and Ramayana amid the rising demand of local superheroes. His drawing styles have influenced many younger Indonesian artists including Beng Rahadian and Is Yuniarto.
After its heyday in the 1970s, Indonesian comics began fading.
Hikmat said the gloomy days of local comics was influenced by the policy in giant bookstores that required their comic section to cater only to children. Indonesian comics, he said, could not enter big bookstores because they were considered to feature content only for adults.
Petruk-Gareng humor comic series, a modern take to characters taken from Javanese Mahabharata, by Tatang S. often praised as “very Indonesian” complete with Indonesian physical features of the characters and a strong belief to mysticism.
The main characters, Petruk and Gareng, appeared as two men living in modern era, often depicted as unemployed and often encountered ghosts and spirits.
The series turned tacky and dry later in the decade as the industry entered into a hiatus.
Today, the Indonesian comic art scene is picking up with the rise of some young artists such as Vebi Djenggotten with 33 Pesan Nabi (33 Messages from the Prophet) and Tita Larasati with her graphic diary, Curhat Tita (Tita Tells Her Stories).
Online publishers such as makko.co and ngomic.com have also started to gain an audience.
In Germany, themes and styles are also dynamic. German comic artist Sascha Hommer said the market in Germany has seen a lot of positive changes in the past 10 years.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the first generation of German artists began to flourish, and were known worldwide for their unique approach in storytelling and graphic design. Today, German bookstores have begun to see more and more comic books.
“Before, it was very rare that young artists would make graphic novels or comic books and be published. And then, a younger generation of artists began to do very personal work, often autobiographical stories,” he told the Post.
Hommer said a graphic novel is just a marketing term invented by publishers who want to offer literary comic books for adult readers. In Germany, comics sound like a book that contains humor, while graphic novels sound more neutral.
The author of five comic books said the young artists in Germany get a mixture of influences from the United States, Japanese manga as well as French and Belgium comics while developing their personal style.
Popular topics, he said, change from time to time. Autobiographical works were popular in the market until 2008. Nowadays, autobiographical work discussing politics have started to emerge.
Hommer presented a number of German comic books. They have nice packaging, are hard covered and full colored. Although it is not too difficult to get a book published, he said the comic industry is still too small and comic book artists still cannot rely solely on their comics to make a living. Comic book artists, however, still have the possibility to earn money from comics by illustrating for companies.
“A comic book is a good portfolio piece because it shows clients that the artist is able to concentrate and complete an entire book,” he said.
When asked about the development of digital comics, he said they have not hit the market because people are still reluctant to pay for online comics. The same thing also applies to online textbooks, he said, which sell well in the US but does not in Germany.