|RAKHMAD DWI SEPTIAN,
"EXPLORING THE POTENTIAL OF INDONESIAN UNDERGROUND COMICS"
Rakhmad Dwi Septian
The 90’s were a difficult period for the development of the comics scene in Indonesia. This was caused by a plethora of foreign comics imported since the 80’s, but, on the other hand, the same period saw the rise of the spirit of underground comics as well. The reason for the decline of domestic Indonesian comics lies in the presence of many foreign comics that were available to the readers in two versions: as manga or as translated European comics. This influence of imported comics strongly affirmed the general public stance towards comics as light entertainment for children and teenagers.
Independent comics are open toward different approaches to making comics. According to Hikmat Darmawan, an Indonesian pop culture and comics connoisseur & critic, the character of independent comics that began appearing at that time was technical in style and expressive in content. Previously mentioned mangas and western comics have become more acceptable by the general public and able to enter major book stores, while underground comics were in this same period active only on a lesser scale and tended to stay at the margin.
Underground comics, one of many possible types of comics, thus became a platform for expression of social, economic and political issues that were important at that time. They are also worthy of scholarly interest in spite of their short lifetime, mainly due to their background and the practice of their creation which includes many hybrid and fringe ideas.
This kind of comics in Indonesia was an offshoot of the fine arts movement in the 90’s which happened to include comics as well. Indonesian Fine Art Institution in Yogyakarta is the formal educational institution which has raised lots of students of fine arts who later on, individually or collectively, became pioneers of underground comics. Yogyakarta in the 90’ was a synonym for progressiveness in many fields, for example in music, art and fashion. This independent spirit has exercised great influence on music and art (comics) communities.
The development of underground comics was characterized by different content of their stories from the mainstream comics. The context of underground comics favors a huge variety of topics, such as daily life, humor, sex, politics, violence, religion and identity. These topics could not be covered in mainstream comics because the government censored the comics and limited their content span (comics published in the 70’s had to obtain the approval from the police beforehand). According to the scholar and researcher Laine Berman this strict censorship prevented the appearance of any comic that was critical of the society or the government.
One of underground comics’ capital ideas was that anyone could make comics, even those with no background or previous experience in it. This was clearly shown in Eko Nugroho’s Daging Tumbuh books, comics anthologies/collections that gave anyone a chance to submit their comics art and be included in these compilations, as there was no limitation about the comics content or form. This innovation of the book as a free gallery space for anyone has influenced other similar contemporary projects and today there are many anthologies that are inspired by the idea of Daging Tumbuh. Unfortunately not all comics artists from these books remained in the field of comics, but the success of Daging Tumbuh and other anthologies gave a chance to everyone to make comics according to their preference, perception and style.
Here, underground comics artists perform in other art fields as well, so naturally this led to comics that were adapted to nonconventional spaces as well, such as Apotik Comics (a comics collective, ‘apotik’ means pharmacy) that performed a project of mural comics in public spaces, or art collective Mulyakarya who made an ATM machine that would distribute their comics to the public. Around the turn of the millennium the comics activity intensified thanks to a higher flow of information. This gave a chance to the underground comics to present themselves in a new light, address the general public and shorten the distance to it.
Production costs limitations weren’t really an obstacle for underground comics artists as they made comics with simple layouts, used photocopy machines to print them and thus lower the budget as much as they could in the true spirit of ‘Do It Yourself’. This approach is nowadays still used to publish small-scale comics.
However, Indonesian underground comics are still facing lots of obstacles: from limited market penetration and lots of foreign imported comics to a lack of media, publications and other platforms to distribute the artwork. Comic artists don’t just have to care about making good comics, but to overcome said obstacles, they must be able to work together and establish connections between comics artist and the general public.