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Finding Indonesia in Marvel universe

A. Kurniawan Ulung

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Mon, November 6, 2017  /  09:26 am
Finding Indonesia in Marvel universe

Doodling: Ario Anindito (front) and Alti Firmansyah showcase their skills. (JP/A. Kurniawan Ulung)

Illustrator Ario Anindito often did not pay much attention to the teachers when he was in elementary school and instead quietly drew his favorite comic-book characters in his school books.

One day, he was caught drawing Wolverine, a Marvel character. His teacher was furious at him and tore up the page.

Ario will never forget the moment and laughs out loud every time he recalls it.

“Now, I draw Wolverine in the real comic book. So, it was not in vain when I was scolded by my teacher,” the 33-year-old said during Indonesia Comic Con recently in Jakarta.

Since 2014, he has made illustrations for seven Marvel Comics series — WolverineSecret EmpireUnited, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Hyperion, House of M, Venom Space Knight and The Uncanny Inhumans.

“I am now working on an Ant-Man series,” he said, keeping the title of the upcoming project a secret.

Ario is not only an illustrator, but also a filmmaker.

His first break into American comics came in 2012 with Red Hood and The Outlaws for DC Comics when he was an art director for comedy flick Finding Srimulat.

It was Italian agency Tomato that introduced his works to DC. The agency found his potential after being wowed by his illustrations on online art-sharing platform Deviant Art.

Ario recalled that he was overwhelmed when handling the two projects.

Due to the tight schedule of filming Finding Srimulat, the only time available to him for drawing was at lunch. While the film crew was eating, he was still busy.  

His hard work paid off. He was nominated as Best Art Director at Piala Maya for the movie and at the same time, DC Comics was satisfied with his illustrations.

What surprised Ario the most, however, was that his work caught Marvel’s eye. The publisher’s representatives emailed him and said they wanted to hire him.

“They asked me, ‘What was my favorite comic book? I answered X-Men. Then, ‘What was my favorite character? I said Wolverine.’ Then, they asked me to draw Wolverine,” he said.

Smiling tiger: The iconic face of Macan Cisewu on the back of Deadpool. Smiling tiger: The iconic face of Macan Cisewu on the back of Deadpool. (Ario Anindito/File)

On some occasions, Ario inserted Indonesian-themed scenes in the comic books.  

In a scene from the Secret Empire: United, for example, he drew the face of Macan Cisewu (Cisewu Tiger) on Deadpool’s back.

Macan Cisewu was a statue of a tiger that was erected at the Sub-district Military Command (Koramil) 1123 in Cisewu, West Java. The statue was supposed to look ferocious, but the sculpting on its face made it look silly because it had a wide grin.

A picture of the grinning tiger went viral and generated laughter and glee around the country. However, high-ranking military officers were offended and they removed the statue.

Read also: Comical tiger statue at military base torn down but netizen frenzy remains

Ario was sad and to pay tribute to Macan Cisewu, he drew its face.

“I wanted to immortalize it in the comic book because by looking at its face, we knew that the tiger was kindhearted and it had become a mascot of sorts for years,” he said.

He added that he received positive responses from Marvel and readers because Macan Cisewu was in line with Deadpool’s characteristics that are funny and humorous.

Local snacks go global: Illustration of Pisgor Asoy on a blue car in a scene from Secret Empire: Untitled.Local snacks go global: Illustration of Pisgor Asoy on a blue car in a scene from Secret Empire: Untitled. (Ario Anindito/File)

In another scene in Secret Empire: United, he wrote Pisgor Asoy that decorated a blue car. The letters stand for pisang goreng (fried bananas).

“That is my snack when I am working on comic books.”

In Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, he drew newspapers with names like Pikirin Rakyat and Kompos, which are puns of Indonesia’s well-known newspapers. 

Like Ario, another Indonesian illustrator, Alti Firmansyah, also inserted Indonesian elements in illustrations that she made for Marvel.

In a panel of Thor vs HulkChampions of The Universe, for example, she drew a statue of Bali’s iconic Garuda Wisnu Kencana (GWK).

“It happens that the statue’s sculptor is a family member and I am proud of him. As a form of appreciation, I drew it,” she said.

Spot the Easter egg: A miniature statue of Garuda Wisnu Kencana as drawn by Alti Firmansyah in Thor vs Hulk.Spot the Easter egg: A miniature statue of Garuda Wisnu Kencana as drawn by Alti Firmansyah in Thor vs Hulk. (Alti Firmansyah/File)

Meanwhile, in The Unbelievable Gwenpool, she drew a map of Indonesia on Deadpool’s shirtless body.

Since 2015, Alti has penciled four titles for Marvel — Star Lord and Kitty Pryde, X-Men 92, The Unbelievable Gwenpool and Thor vs Hulk: Champions of The Universe.

Marvel discovered her at the first Indonesia Comic Con in 2014.

Alti said working for Marvel was challenging, especially when it came to drawing certain characters, which she found difficult. One, for example, was Maverick an old friend of Wolverine.

Following in the footsteps of her parents who love drawing, Alti began to draw when she was in kindergarten.

She learned how to draw through translated European comic books her parents bought her, such as AsterixTintin and Agent 212.

“I learned storytelling from those books so that readers can feel the emotion of each character,” she said.

Alti recalled that when she was in elementary school, her friends liked her drawings that she charged them Rp 100 per sheet.

Her female friends asked her to draw cartoon characters, such as Bugs Bunny, while male friends ordered adult-themed drawings, such as couples kissing.

At that time, she was so innocent that she did not understand her male friends’ reasons and accepted their requests.

“One day, my religion teacher came to me and said ‘Alti, do you want to be accepted in heaven? Please stop drawing things like that’,” the 34-year-old recalled.

“That was embarrassing.”    

According to Alti, Marvel’s artists work as a team. Therefore, she said it was important for aspiring Indonesian illustrators to be able to work as a team player and maintain a positive attitude if they want to work for Marvel.

Due to bad attitudes, Marvel disciplined an Indonesian illustrator back in April. In the debut of X-Men: Gold, the artist included subliminal anti-Semitic, bigoted and racist messages in the form of Easter eggs. It was a fatal mistake that the company said “direct opposition of the inclusiveness of Marvel Comics and what the X-Men have stood for since creation.”

Read also: Indonesian 'X-Men Gold' comic writer inserts anti-Ahok references in comic book, ignites controversy

Ario said he always acted carefully when it came to showing Indonesian elements in his comic books.

“I always try to be an antidote to such kind of condition. I want to neutralize it by inserting something funny. But, it may not be offensive to certain ethnic, religious, racial and societal groups,” he said.

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