Popcon Surabaya will be held at Siola Building, Surabaya, on June 4-5, 2016. (Photo courtesy of Fazan Meonk)

Faza Meonk Draws Up an Innovative Vision for Indonesia's Comic Industry

AUGUST 20, 2015

The comics section is usually the most crowded area in an Indonesian bookstore — a place where people of any age would delightfully browse and turn the pages of their favorite titles. But most of the widely read comic books in this country hail from abroad, with Japanese manga in particular still reigning supreme and becoming the darling of local publishers who have been translating them into Indonesian for decades.

The older generation can perhaps still remember the glorious age of Indonesian comics back in the 1960s, when series like R.A. Kosasih’s “Mahabharata” — inspired by an ancient Indian epic of the same name — became a must-read for youngsters at the time.  Over time, though, local comic artists seemed to lose their relevance amid the invasion of foreign characters.

Just like his millennial peers, comic artist Faza Ibnu Ubaidillah, better known by his pen name Faza Meonk, first got acquainted to the imaginative world of comics through Japanese characters like Doraemon. Raised in a family that encouraged his reading hobby, he started drawing comic characters from the time he was in elementary school. 

As an animation student in university, Faza became inspired to make four-panel comic strips about the minutiae of campus life after observing the silly shenanigans of his friends. He first uploaded this comic series to Facebook and subsequently attracted many fans online, eventually resulting in the publication of his first comic book in 2011.

One of the characters in that book is Juki — an eccentric high school graduate of Betawi native who sees himself as “anti-mainstream” — whom Faza catapulted into fame through his next comic series “Si Juki.” Drawn in a unique style with stories revolving around daily social scenarios in Indonesia, the series has gained mainly young male readers who can relate to the character’s life.

In addition to his print books, Faza produces a slew of merchandises featuring the character, ranging from an illustrated t-shirt to an action-figure toy he launched during Popcon Asia earlier this August. He has also partnered up with numerous brands, including the mobile messaging app LINE, for which he made “Si Juki” digital stickers and web cartoon.

Driven by his passion to support the local comic industry, Faza also co-founded Pionicon, an intellectual property management dedicated to local comic creators.

Faza recently spoke to the Jakarta Globe about his beloved comic character, the importance of being business savvy for comic creators and his blueprint for the future of Indonesian comic industry.

Q: What message do you want to convey to your readers through “Si Juki” comics?

A: If you read closely, I always include social messages or critiques to the government in each “Si Juki” comic. To give an example, in the “Berani Beda” (“Dare to be Different”) book, I want to encourage young readers to not shy away from standing out — to show them that they are capable of creating their own trends and being creative in what they do. Usually it’s hard to deliver this kind of message to young people, but through my comics, I try to package it in a more entertaining and eccentric content.

You have produced many merchandise featuring Juki: t-shirts, hats and even toys. In your view, how important it is for comic artists to turn their characters into products that they can sell?

It’s very important because eventually if these comic artists want to make a living solely out of their characters, they cannot rely only on selling comic books.  Even sometimes people know about Juki from our merchandise first, so comic creators need to realize that there are many segments to reach out there. Therefore, making merchandises is one way to introduce our comics to a larger audience. At the same time, it also provides us with an opportunity to monetize our work.

What’s your view on the current landscape of Indonesian comic industry?

I think the comic industry here is growing very fast. For starters, you can see how more mainstream publishers are looking for Indonesian comics to publish these days. I think the Internet plays an important role here. Now a comic artist can bypass the old functions of a publisher — from getting a manuscript edited to having your book printed and distributed — simply by uploading their comic straight to social media. They are enabled now to grow their own reader base and in turn get a book published.

Although the interest in foreign comics is still very high, I observe how the public in general also becomes more appreciative toward Indonesian comics from year to year. Not to mention, there is an increasing number of festivals or conventions that highlight local talents, so the public is more enlightened now.

Can you tell us about your mission at your intellectual property management Pionicon?

Back in 2013, I felt that I could already make a living exclusively out of “Si Juki.” but this was never my main goal. My vision until now is to have a new iconic character that can become popular across Indonesia and later on in many other countries. I saw how there was no regeneration of iconic characters after Si Unyil or Komo [Indonesian television characters popular among children growing up in the 1980s and 1990s]. Now people are more familiar with characters from abroad.

Yes, Juki is now gaining more popularity, but if we only rely on one character, our local creators will lose the competition with their foreign counterparts. And that’s why I established Pionicon in 2014, so that local characters could attract more fans.

There are many potential creators in Indonesia, but because they are more of a creative type, the may not know the right way to sell their characters. So I want to help them develop their ideas into many different media. I want Pionicon to act as a bridge between creators and publishers, studio games, production houses and even big brands and investors. We already have around nine characters under our management.

Are there any local comic talents that you deem to be promising in the future?

There are so many, especially those that are discussed a lot in social media. A notable one is the creator of “Tuti and Friends” that we manage at Pionicon. There is also “Si Bedil” that is targeted at the religious market. “Tahilalats” [a comic strip series by Nurfadil Mursyid] is also popular because the creator is consistent and prolific in making interesting content.

You mentioned earlier about the prospect of local comic creators in entering the international market. Do you already have a strategy in mind to do so for “Si Juki?”

Yes, definitely, but it is still in the works. The concept of “Si Juki” is very Indonesian-centric, which explains our many fans here. Yet whenever I introduced it in comic conventions abroad, people there can appreciate the unique visual style but they cannot understand the jokes. Therefore, moving forward, I plan to make new editions of “Si Juki” that are more targeted at international readers — most likely those in Southeast Asia first.

In addition to going global, what is your next plan for “Si Juki” and Pionicon?

I really want to expand the media for “Si Juki,” perhaps by venturing into animation, board games or even a mobile game, so more people can become aware of this character.  

It’s pretty much the same thing with Pionicon. I want the work of these creators to be known more widely. As long as there is a public awareness about them, the business side of the comic industry will run smooth eventually.