Some say Indonesian comics are underdeveloped and lack a unique local flavor. Artist Sheila Rooswitha Putri, better known as Lala, begs to differ.
'All of those who are negative should realize it is the time to move on,' said the respected penciller. 'The art of Indonesian comics has not only risen, but has gone faster and further. It is much better now compared to the past.'
Lala, a graduate of Trisakti University's visual communications and design school, says that local comics need not exclusively feature wayang kulit or other traditional symbols.
'If the comic was created by Indonesians, then the comic is an Indonesian comic,' said the mother of two, who won the second National Comic Competition last year held by the Tourism and Creative Economy Ministry.
Lala has published several titles, including Lovely Luna, Cerita si Lala, Duo Hippo Dinamis, Komikriuk, Antologi 7 and Liquid City anthology.
'I've loved comics since I was 8 or 9 years old, through Western comics, such as Tintin and Asterix; while my Indonesian comic influences include the late RA Kosasih,' Lala added, referring to the artist considered as the father of Indonesian comics.
Her 'real work' started when Lala enrolled at Trisakti University and was invited to an make a five-issue educational comic about banking.
'I was so happy. I could learn about economics and develop my drawing style. Best of all I was paid. This was far removed from being scolded for drawing,' she laughed.
Lala confessed she was not a high achiever at school.
Her concerned parents asked her to take IQ test. To their surprise, Lala did exceptionally well.
'My father was confused as to why my IQ test was so good but my grades were so bad. But at least I could graduate from high school and go to university,' she said.
Lala later worked for film productions as a storyboard artist, previsualizing movies such as Jakarta Undercover and Arisan. 'Being a full-time artist in Indonesia is not easy. But so far I trust in the quality of my work and my ability to work with others.'
Lala said that a willingness to collaborate has been key. 'Many artists want to work alone. But they do not realize that today, all things must be done in a team, allowing those who are experts to take the lead in certain areas.'
On Twitter, Lala collaborates with the famed cartoonist Muhammad 'Mice' Misrad at @infojakarta to publish a comic about a favorite subject: life in the big city.
'Usually I observe the problems in Jakarta and pick up on issues to do with transportation and the habits of friends. From the comedic to the tragic, I try and use them all,' Lala said. 'Sometimes just showing reality is even more interesting.'
She also publishes comics on Facebook. 'It's kind of a diary, but in the form of a comic. My story with my children and husband.'
Lala said that she has been satisfied by the response of her fans. 'Once, a mother who had two children contacted me. She said that my comic was like looking at her own life.'
On future projects, Lala said she is working on a comic book about traditional fishermen who cannot catch fish because the sea is owned by hoteliers. 'To catch fish in the high seas, they have to deal with the bigger foreign fishing vessels. I will aslo touch on the lack of education fishermen have, meaning their descendants are doomed to the same fate as their parents. Something has to be done to break the cycle.'
Another work in progress is inspired by the life around her house, which boasts a very strong Betawi culture. 'Each of the villagers has a unique, often touching, story. From a driver who also works as a bouncer, to a housekeeper who is good friends with the owner of the house and inherits luxury goods when the owner moves house.'
'Everyday stories,' she added.