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Chris Lie: A life of comics

  • Ika Krismantari

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta | Fri, March 6, 2015 | 06:30 am
Chris Lie: A life of comics

Courtesy of Chris Lie

Chris Lie is living his dream '€” designing Spiderman and Transformers toys and helping draw illustrations for books and games for the Star Wars and The Lords of the Rings franchises.

Little Chris had always wanted to become a comic artist and no one could stop him, even his own parents.

The inspiration came from his uncle, Kristanto, who was a painter and an illustrator for the legendary Kho Ping Ho action novel series.

'€œI practiced my drawing skills looking at my uncle'€™s paintings at home,'€ recalled the artist, who, in his black-rimmed glasses, blue shirt and greenish casual pants, does not look like a man in his forties.

He is probably one of the country'€™s most successful comic artists, owning his studio with clients coming from all around the world, but his journey has been filled with many ups and downs.

Driven by a passion for drawing, little Chris always enthusiastically took part in drawing competitions. But he rarely won.

'€œI won only one time but after that never again ['€¦]. The influence from my uncle made my drawings not really winning material,'€ recalled the man who originates from the Central Java town of Surakarta.

The failures did not deter him; he still continued drawing.

'€œDrawing has become a tool to realize imagination inside my head [...]. I can go to outer space or even go into hell with only a pen and a paper,'€ said the man, who named Tintin as his favorite comic.

The urge encouraged him to become a comic artist, an idea that raised many questions, including from his parents, who doubted that the profession could guarantee their son'€™s future.

His parents'€™ doubt impeded Chris'€™s plan to take an art major at the Bandung Institute of Technology, deciding to study architecture at the same university with the hope of pleasing his parents while fulfilling his personal ambition to continue drawing.

Chris turned out to be a brilliant student, graduating with flying colors and being offered a very good job with very good pay. Yet, he refused it because it was not what he was looking for.

After graduating in 1997, he took the chance to work for renowned artist I Nyoman Nuarta. Using his architecture background, Chris helped the sculptor design the famous Garuda Wisnu Kencana statue in Bali.

Back then, in the morning, Chris was an architect working in an office, but in the evening, he was busy drawing and publishing comics independently. He pursued his passion although it forced him to stay up late.

He continued juggling the two until at one point, he had to choose. '€œI fell sick because I was handling two jobs. That was when I decided to focus on comics,'€ he recalled.

With a group of friends, he later opened the Bajing Loncat comic studio in 1998. The job was pretty good because the studio got orders from local publishers like Gramedia and Mizan. Unfortunately, it did not last long. He had to quit due to different visions on the studio'€™s future with his partners.

Fresh touch: re-On comics'€™ free interpretation of the epic Ramayana. - Courtesy Chris LieFresh touch: re-On comics'€™ free interpretation of the epic Ramayana. - Courtesy Chris Lie

He later moved from one city to another, taking up different jobs '€” but one thing remained the same: his passion for comics made him a little bit picky when it came to choosing a company to work for.

He later ended up working as an illustrator for Singaporean exhibition company Rich-Art Enterprises in 2001 but stayed for only two years.

'€œI was tired and I wanted to look for something else,'€ he explained.

His pursuit ended when he got a Fulbright scholarship to study at his dream university, the Savannah College of Arts and Design (SCAD).

'€œI learned about SCAD from a brochure that my senior colleague gave me. I wanted to study there because it is a very good school and great artists go there,'€ Chris said.

Attending the prestigious art school for comic artists opened up many opportunities for Chris '€” he had the chance to meet top artists and learn from them in person.

Two of them were Klaus Janson, the inker for Frank Miller'€™s legendary comic Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and David Mazzuchelli, the creator of Daredevil: Born Again and Batman: Year One.

'€œThey were invited by my campus for a comic art forum during which the students could show their portfolios,'€ he said.

'€œI can'€™t remember what Klaus said about my work but what I learned from Mazzuchelli was his innovative way in producing artwork.'€

At the school, he also secured an internship at the Chicago-based independent comic book publisher Devil'€™s Due Publishing.

From there, his career in the international comic industry took off. He was trusted to become the designer for the new G.I. Joe series while getting work to draw illustrations for Archie Comics.

Time flew and he graduated as SCAD'€™s top student, securing more jobs, one of which landed him what seemed to be the pinnacle of his career.

With the help of his lecturers, he was introduced to an editor from a publisher that planned to publish a series as a follow-up to Jim Henson'€™s fantasy film Labyrinth.



Titled Return to Labyrinth, Chris'€™ work was listed in the New York Times manga bestsellers. Sales were so good that the publisher decided to extend the series from three to four books.

Despite a promising career in the US, Chris decided to return to Indonesia for a very personal reason: family. '€œI want to be close with my parents,'€ said Chris, the family'€™s first child.

He later married the love of his life in 2007 and they had a son in 2011. Now, he lives in Jakarta and his house is located close to his Caravan Studio in West Jakarta.

Caravan Studio was established in 2008. The business runs very well. From four staff members, his company now employs 33 people, working on projects from Sony, Mattel, Hasbro and many others.

Their projects include designing toys for characters like Spiderman and Transformers. They are also involved in illustrations for books and games for Star Wars and Lord of The Rings.

Apart from growing his business, Chris is also busy supporting a periodical comic magazine, re:On Comics, in the spirit of reviving the local comic scene and promoting local comic artists.

re:On Comics is quite unique because it compiles the work of different artists in one issue, a concept that Chris said he copied from Japan and encourages local artists to produce stories consistently.

'€œThe junior artists can also get opportunities because their work is published in the same book as their seniors,'€ explained the softly spoken artist with a slight Javanese accent.

His big mission is to show that comic art is also a promising profession and he is the living proof. '€œI want young local artists to able to tell their parents that this job is also a profession and they can earn their living from it,'€ he said.

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