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Book Review: Karimata 1890 by Toni Masdiono (Creativ Media, 2019)

While our website focuses on Singapore comics and creators, it is also important for us to know and learn from our neighbours as Southeast Asia is a crucial market for regional comics. But the issue is what are regional comics? What sort of stories or art style should one adopt to appeal to the SEA market? Or should we just tell our own authentic stories and hope that it will catch on in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, etc? That seems to work for Lat, who is probably the most well known Malaysian cartoonist in other SEA countries.

Or should we try to identify certain common themes that will sell across the different countries in SEA? Like horror seems to be a popular genre (see KS Tan’s Silent Horror from Malaysia) but not so much superheroes. And then to draw in an art style that will appeal to most young readers in SEA today eg. manga style. But I suspect most comic creators would not want to do this – most are individualistic and would not want to compromise their style and integrity.

The other issue is the language barrier given the myriad of languages in SEA. What sort of language should you write in? English? That would be presumptuous although English is the lingua franca and working language for ASEAN. But it would work in Singapore, the Philippines and Malaysia but not so well in other countries. Or should it be Bahasa? There was some discussion for Bahasa to be the second language of ASEAN.

Whatever linguistic choices one makes for comics to be sold in different SEA countries, translation will not be easy and it is expensive. Cultural nuances could be lost in translation.

This is where I would like to offer Karimata 1890 by Toni Masdiono as an example. Toni is an old friend and he passed me a copy of this back in 2019 at the Singapore Comic Con, the last physical con to be held at MBS before covid shut it all down. It is as Indonesian a story as they come and drawn in a style that would not be mistaken to be from anywhere else. And he chose to present his story as a wordless comic, which solves the problem of translation. The onus is on his drawing skills then – to tell the story without the help of words and still understandable by those who read it.

Karimata 1890 by Toni Masdiono
Karimata 1890 by Toni Masdiono
Karimata 1890 by Toni Masdiono
Karimata 1890 by Toni Masdiono
A bit about Toni’s background. He has been in the Indonesian comic scene for a long time. He has worked on many projects which are not published (including one with Johnny Lau!). And that is frustrating for those of us who have been following his progress on social media. Finally we have Karimata 1890 as a compromise. It is not a full-fledged comic as there could be a more ‘complete’ version in time to come. I told Toni that the stories and characterization could be better fleshed out if he can work with the writer and editor to develop the story further. But art-wise, this is beautiful, something Toni’s mentor, the late Teguh Santosa (1942 – 2000) would be proud of.

This is a late 19th Century pirate story that takes place along the Karimata Straits. High seas action all the way. Read this together with Terumbu by Cheah Sin Ann (COSH, 2018), another pirate story set in the 19th Century.

Where can I get it?

You can watch a video of the comic here:

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Comments (1)

Thanks, CT!
I will ask my publisher to prepare some copies of Karimata 1890 @shopee again 😀

Toni Masdiono

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