Our featured artist for this month hails from Indonesia. Stephani Soejono is a comic artist, lecturer, and member of unnamed, a Southeast Asian comickers collective. We had the pleasure of talking to her about her comic ‘The Tale of the Bidadari’, a story about a young boy named Erlang who meets a mysterious girl named Mayang whilst on a trip with his father.
She also shared her thoughts on being an artist in Southeast Asia, her new and upcoming comic series ‘Here Be Dragons’, and more. Read on to find out!
Disclaimer: The following interview has been edited for reading clarity.
For our readers who may not know you, who are you & what do you do?
Hi, I’m Stephani Soejono, I write and draw comics and illustration. I did Tale of the Bidadari, Banana in Canada, a whole bunch of zines and indie comics, participated in Liquid City 3, illustrated for Sunspot Jungle and The Sea is Ours. Currently working on Here Be Dragons and a better sleep schedule.
How did you first get into art / the art community?
I went to an animation school, got a job in animation but even though I love animation I still wanted to do my own thing so I started writing and drawing comics. Then I got introduced to my first Indonesian editor, who gave me my first chance, Ronny Amdani.
I did a few comics with him and he introduced me to the Bandung comics community, then I got involved in Malaysia thanks to Sarah Joan Mokhtar. She asked me to go to Comic Fiesta and it blew my mind when I went, so I kept coming back.
For ‘Tale of the Bidadari’, what was it like to produce your own graphic novel and what were your thoughts when making it? How long did the production take in its entirety?
I think my thoughts were more like, “DON’T EFF UP. WHY IS THE ARCHITECTURE STUFF HARD. Oh hey, this is getting kind of fun. Oh yess this is great and …It’s done? I’m happy but that was too fast.”
I started writing Bidadari when I was still in college because I was homesick. The writing, on and off, took about six years? Drawing it was only a year because in those six years I collected references and sketches and developed it over the years. I didn’t even pitch Maple until year 5. It only looks like it was fast because nobody was watching me. (laughs)
Who or what are your greatest creative inspirations?
I don’t have any “One True Inspiration” because my art has been influenced by a lot of things. Like many artists, I am influenced by Western animation, comics, manga, and anime when I started.
The main ones are Bruce Timm’s Batman, the late 90s early 2000s Disney stuff, like Lilo and Stitch (so underrated), Dragon Ball, Avatar the Last Airbender, Fullmetal Alchemist, and last but not least, Terry Pratchett.
The older I get though, the more I try to look at sources other than comics and animation. Recently, I started hoarding things like Batik patterns, schematics for old houses in SE Asia, and recipes from back in the day before colonization.
I’ve also been illustrating one or two things for Rosarium’s Sci Fi and Fantasy Anthology where the stories are told through SE Asian and African lens. These kinds of projects are really inspiring because the different takes and points of views from new writers are so refreshing. Overall I think there are lots of things I’m inspired by.
Here Be Dragons is your latest graphic novel that is currently in the works. What was your inspiration to create this graphic novel?
Some things that inspired me is directly related to the plot and I don’t want to spoil it, but I can say that I was definitely inspired by the history, art and architecture of 13th century Indonesia. Here, there is this tradition of komik silat or komik wayang which is our version of the fantasy/action genre, where it’s set in the past but everyone has cool powers.
For awhile I tried to avoid that genre because I was trying to be edgy and cool, you know, be more like the Westerners, sod my heritage. But then Avatar: The Last Airbender came along. I thought to myself, if these Westerners think our culture is cool and worth showing, why not me? Why don’t I do that? Though, that said, I don’t know if Here Be Dragons could be considered a cerita silat” because by design both cerita silat and wuxia literature is designed to be more serialized than Here Be Dragons.
When can we expect the release of Here Be Dragons? Are you working on anything besides that?
Well the first part of Here Be Dragons is 50% done right now, and I will complete it by this year and Part 2 and 3 will follow after. Besides that, I have a day job on top of the comics so it’ll be very tight. You’re most likely going to see little 4 panel comics in spurts on my Twitter or Tumblr. But the year’s only starting, right, so we shall see. I have some plans.
Lastly, how did you get involved with Unnamed? What role do you think it’ll play in helping SEA artists?
Reimena asked me, actually, so I agreed.
I think if anything, what we are doing now is bringing awareness to the region that, hey you’re not alone and the things we’re producing within the region are actually as good as – if not better than – the imported stuff.
And solidarity, definitely. We are starting to do this because in Comic Fiesta 2018 we brought in Indonesian, Singaporean and Filipino Comics and people were actually interested and surprised that there was so much talent in the region.
Then the #ArtistsofSEA hashtag happened and people were shocked at the amount of undiscovered talent. That’s just one time. What about the next When we can bring in more? Hopefully we can lift everyone up and get us to a place where local creators get more respect for doing what we do.
Where can people find and support your art?
If you have an artist that you’d like us to feature next month, leave us a comment below. We’d love to hear your suggestions!