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Popcon Asia 2015

Popcon Asia 2015

As Singapore gears up for STGCC and the General Elections in September, the region is going abuzz with comic and toy conventions, which gives you an idea of the kind of creatives we have in Southeast Asia and the big money that is generated through pop culture. For some of us, pop matters more than politics.

In the month of August itself, two major conventions took place in Jakarta, Indonesia and in Metro Manila, the Philippines. The latter was held Komikon Indieket 2015 at Pasig City while the city of Jakarta played host to Popcon Asia 2015. I had the privilege to attend Popcon Asia 2015, which was a great event for local comics and original IP.

Held over three days at the Jakarta Convention Centre, this was my second time to Popcon and it was bigger than ever. Estimates given were that 37,000 attended this 4th edition of Popcon as compared to 25,000 last year. Comparing this to STGCC, the Singapore con (a two-day event) hit a high of 40,000 attendees in 2013, a brand that took six years to build. The 2012 edition of STGCC had an attendance of 35,000. So for a relatively newcomer not backed by a big player like Reed Exhibitions, Popcon is doing very well.

Initially founded by Sunny Gho, Andi Martin and Marlin Sugama, the current phase of Popcon is run by Gho and Grace Kusnadi. Gho is a colourist for American superhero comic books (DC, Marvel, Millarworld) and he used to run Imaginary Friends Studio Jakarta before transforming it to Stellar Labs. Kusnadi is an experienced exhibitor who owns Revata.

To me, what makes Popcon unique is the focus on original content and the networking. The big launch was Glitch Network’s comic magazine, Kosmik, which sold out its 1000 copies by the second day. (I contributed to its scarcity as I had to buy copies back for friends in Singapore) Although largely manga inspired (one of the stories is clearly influenced by Blade of the Immortal), all the comics are original content, ably put together by editor-in-chief, Jhosephine Tanuwidjaya. Other comic magazines that did well at Popcon were re: ON (Caravan Studio) and Shonen Fight. The original IP also extends to toys like the God Complex figures by Glitch Network.

There is no lack of genres in Indonesia comics. From men in tights (Volt, Cakrapolis) to aviation comics (Avianista) to shojo Muslim manga (Jodohku dari Pesantren and Hijab Comic), there is something for everyone. It is not just teenage or adult comics at Popcon. For the young ones, there is Galang Tirtakusuma’s Garudaboi, Shirley Sys’ Sang Sayur and also Kelir, the organization of children’s book illustrators, with artists like Lia Hartati, and Lyly Young. A find was Srinti by Sofie Dewayani and Cecillia Hidayat, a touching children story about the 2006 earthquake in Jogjakarta. With the strong Singapore dollar to the Indonesian rupiah, one is only limited by the number of books you can carry back.

Having been to Indonesia a few times to check out the comic scene and to talk to artists, one is heartened to see young publishers growing from strength to strength. It’s always good to chat with Rony Amdani to find out how CAB and Muffin Graphics are doing. He was telling me one of their titles, Roro the Sea Guardian even has a puppet show on youtube now. Muffin Graphics is going places.

Other than giving a platform to a variety of original comics, Popcon had also brought in international guests so that an exchange of ideas and networking could be done. Malaysia-born artist, Billy Tan (DC and Marvel) was kept busy at his booth signing books and drawing commissions, but he still found the time to interact with his peers. Nicolas Finet, writer and editor and also the Angouleme Comic Festival representative of Asian comics, was at Popcon to meet Indonesian artists. Hint of an Indonesian pavilion/booth at Angouleme in time to come? With Indonesia being the guest of honour at this year’s Frankfurt Book Fair and comics being heavily featured and introduced to a larger European audience, Angouleme may just be the next stop for Indonesian comics. I had a chat with Nicolas and pushed for the idea of a Southeast Asian comics pavilion at Angouleme. He was tentative about the idea but at least the seed is planted. I also made sure I introduced the Komikon folks to him.

This idea of networking and introducing artists to other artists, critics and curators is important. For years, I have been linking up Southeast Asian artists with each other whenever they visit STGCC, eg. Komikon (the Philippines) with Akademi Samali (Indonesia). So Lyndon Gregorio and Lei Muncal of Komikon finally made it to Popcon this year. I moderated a panel on Southeast Asian comics with Lyndon (Komikon), Adi Nazri (Pekomik/Pekan Kartun, Malaysia), Hikmat Darmawan (Indonesian comic critic) and Evangeline Neo (Evacomics, Singapore). We exchanged information about our respective comic scene and learned that the grass is not always greener on the other side. For example, the big news in Malaysia was that the long running Ujang comic magazine had just folded while Lyndon revealed that only one independent comic artist make a living drawing comics fulltime in the Philippines. Eva shared her SWOT analysis (strengths, weakness, opportunities and threats) in creating a niche for your comics and Hikmat presented an overview of Indonesian comics today. We agreed that more meetings like these were needed to share information and to learn from each other. Maybe we can have a SEA Festival of Comics just before the main Popcon event.

Having co-edited Liquid City Vol 2 (Image Comics, 2010), an anthology of Southeast Asian comics, I proposed for more SEA comic anthologies. Popcon could do an annual convention comic book (much like comic conventions overseas like Thought Bubble in the UK) featuring stories by Southeast Asian artists. Since Hikmat and Iwan Gunawan were there, another idea I threw up was to start an association of Asian comic critics. We’ll see.

While Popcon has retained its comparative advantage of focusing on original content, there is still space for ‘cari makan’ artists who draw DC and Marvel character commissions like Garrie Gastonny, Yusof Idris and Yasmine Putri. (they will be coming to STGCC) These are artists who draw comics for a living and it is great they enjoy what they are doing. There are cosplayers at the con, but as Eva pointed out, not as many as at STGCC. In fact, what is inspiring is the number of young artists inside the portfolio room waiting for their work to be critiqued.

Our Singapore contingent did well too. Jerry Hinds (SupaCross) did brisk sales while Shawn Siow and Mark Koh did a good job introducing their original comic, Silent War to the Indonesian audience. Eva and D’Creativeaholic sold out, so that’s great. Like last year, I brought along Epigram Books and other Singapore artists’ works to help them sell at the Akademi Samali booth (thanks Beng and Errie!). The Indonesian audience was keen to read Singapore comics.

Till the next time.

By CT Lim

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