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Apri Kusbiantoro: Indonesian successor of Don Lawrence

A. Kurniawan Ulung

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Mon, September 4, 2017  /  09:28 am
Apri Kusbiantoro: Indonesian successor of Don Lawrence

In Europe, illustrator and cartoonist Apri Kusbiantoro is celebrated as the Don Lawrence of Indonesia. (JP/A. Kurniawan Ulung)

In Europe, illustrator and cartoonist Apri Kusbiantoro is celebrated as the “Don Lawrence of Indonesia.”

British comic book artist Don Lawrence was renowned for his beautifully colored, highly detailed visions of fantasy worlds and voluptuous warrior maidens.

Appointed a knight of the Order of Orange-Nassau in the Netherlands, he received recognition for illustrating many books, especially Dutch science fiction series Storm, which has sold more than 2 million copies in translations worldwide, most recently in Indonesia.    

Ten years after Lawrence died of pneumonia at the age of 75 in 2003, people in the Netherlands were surprised when finding comic book de verloren verhalen van Lemuria (The Lost Tales of Lemuria) in 2013, which reminded them of Lawrence’s masterpieces because their illustrations were very much alike.

Since then, Lemuria, which is also translated into German, has circulated in other German and Dutch speaking countries like Austria, Belgium and Switzerland.  

Lemuria — which centers on the adventure of an alien, an orphan kidnapped by a space ship and a slave girl escaping an attack — is penned by Dutch writer Sytse S. Algera with illustrators done by Apri, who is from Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara. 

“I never imagine my work would hit bookstores in Europe,” Apri said.   

A page of comic book by Apri Kusbiantoro.A page of comic book by Apri Kusbiantoro. (Apri Kusbiantoro/File)

Before Lemuria, he made illustrations for American comic books, such as Radio Ga Ga by Dark Horse Comics and The Three Stooges by Bluewater Productions.  

Since 2009, Apri’s work has appeared in more 20 books, including Adhitya Mulya’s book Bajak Laut dan Purnama TerakhirSebuah Komedi Sejarah(Pirates and Last Full Moon: A Comedy of  History) released this year.  

Born 41 years ago in Selong, a small city on Lombok Island, Apri has Javanese blood from his parents, who liked to tell him about Javanese folklore, such as the story of Javanese King Aji Saka, when he was little.

Although Lemuria is not about Indonesia, he has inserted some things that can be found only in the country, such as a man wearing blangkon (Javanese hat) and a woman clad in kebaya (traditional blouse) with a sanggul (traditional bun), in Episode II.   

“I also drew Balinese statues,” Apri said when taking part in Popcon Asia recently in Jakarta.

At the festival, he saw many talented Indonesian artists who have the potential to go international. “They’re skillful but have yet to get an opportunity,” Apri said.

He entered the European market after Flemish magazine P@per contributor Wallie Hakken, who is a big fan of Lawrence, found his drawings on online art-sharing platform DeviantArt.

Hakken praised Apri’s work, telling him it resembled Lawrence’s style and encouraged him to make comics in Europe. He even asked Apri for samples of his work to be introduced to Dutch publishers.

Apri, however, could not comply as he no longer owned the copyright to his previous work, especially work he had submitted to American publishers. “I told him [Hakken] that I did not have [samples] but if he had a writer I would be happy to make illustrations for his or her work,” he said.

Before Lemuria, Apri Kusbiantoro made illustrations for American comic books, such as Radio Ga Ga by Dark Horse Comics and The Three Stooges by Bluewater Productions.  Before Lemuria, Apri Kusbiantoro made illustrations for American comic books, such as Radio Ga Ga by Dark Horse Comics and The Three Stooges by Bluewater Productions. (JP/A. Kurniawan Ulung)

Hakken then proposed Sytse S. Algera, who later emailed Apri to offer to collaborate. “He [Algera] said, ‘Let’s make a story about a knight, monsters and beautiful women. European people like these things.’ I then made the concept and he chose Lemuria as the title,” he said.

Two leading publishers, the Don Lawrence Collection in the Netherlands and Splitter in Germany, agreed to print Lemuria.   

“In the first three months, Lemuria was among the top three best-selling books in Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium,” Apri said.  

Before making Lemuria, Apri and Algera tested the waters by making a comic strip titled Close Call for the P@per magazine. At that time, Apri was not paid because the comic strip was included in a supplement that people got for free.  But for him, it did not matter as it helped introduced his name.

Apri was excited when learning that Close Call had passed with flying colors and readers began to compare him with Lawrence.

He admitted that Lawrence had influenced his drawing style. “I admire him, but I never dreamed I could be like him.”

When in elementary school in the 1980s, he fell in love with Lawrence’s illustrations in Storms and science fiction comic series The Trigan Empire,among other translated European comic books, including Petualangan Tintin(The Adventures of Tintin).

“He [Lawrence] is the only writer with a realistic and detailed style,” he said.  

While completing Episode III of Lemuria, Apri also collaborated with Dutch writer Willem Ritstier in making fantasy comic strip Saul, which tells of a feud between the Giants and the Midgets, for magazine Strip Glossy in the Netherlands.

Today, he is also busy completing comic series Mahabarata, for which he not only illustrates but also writes the storylines.    

To him, drawing is a career. Because of his job, he neglected his studies at the Indonesian Art Institute (ISI) Yogyakarta to such a degree that he was warned twice that he would be considered to have dropped out. “After 11 years, I finally graduated,” he said with a laugh.

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