Impact of Comics and Other Kinds of New Media on Children in Indonesia
R. Masri Sareb Putra
In spite of the monetary crisis that hit Asian countries in the recent years,
the book business in Indonesia is still vigorous with the increasing education
level and decreasing number of illiterate people in Indonesia from approximately
40 million in the 1980s to "only" 20 million at the end of the '90s decade.
Based on the sales data in bookstores, the five best selling types of books in Indonesia are; (1) textbooks, (2) children's reading books, (3) religious books, (4) books on management/economy, and (5) novels. Experts put children's reading books in Indonesia into 9 categories; (1) picture books, (2) comics, (3) traditional literature, (4) modern fantasy, (5) realistic fiction, (6) historical fiction, (7) poetry, (8) information books, and (9) biography.
Of these 9 categories, comics demand special attention, for at least 3 reasons. First, comics have been to be the main reading material of Indonesian children for 3 decades. Second, comics can be considered as light reading material, entertainment, and recreation for children. And third, there is the format, which has become uniform to 13x18 cm, distinguishing comics from other popular reading books, with an average thickness of 64-96 pages.
1967 can be considered the starting point of the popularity of imported comics, either from Europe or Japan. Local stories were still dominant, especially epics from traditional Javanese puppet plays (wayang), such as Mahabarata and Ramayana. It was not until the 1970s that teenage-adult comics appeared, exploiting sex in their pictures and contents. For example, a comic titled Achir Suatu Kemesraan (The End of a Romance) was very popular and sought after by teenagers, although its content was for adults.
Parents, educators and the education community at that time, were worried that comics could lead children to "mimic" the scene, message, or story in them, because those comics, often depicted scenes of violence, torture, and bloodshed. That is why, at schools, teachers forbid students to read comics. Comics are synonymous with improper reading. To help keep comics and their influence away from children, police were also monitoring and supervising comics' circulation. The last pages of comics in the 1970s were almost always stamped with a proof of publishing and circulating license, showing date and checking post of each comic before it was released. This imprint also provided information useful for monitoring comics production and distribution, because the publisher's name was not always printed, but the writer's name was nearly always printed clearly.
It is hard to show a direct connection between comics read by children and their daily behaviour due to the absence of special research regarding this matter, but it was obvious that there were quite a lot of pre-marital pregnancy cases among senior high school students from 1970-80.
From 1966-71, no less than 876 comic titles were circulating in Indonesia. Most of them were about fighting (48.75%) and teenage romance (36.75%). These comics were mostly written by Indonesian authors (199 authors), while there were only a few translated comics, such as Dongeng-dongeng H.C. Andersen (H.C. Andersen Tales) and Mickey Mouse.
Comics are Still Coveted
In the 1980s, the education community began to change its views on comics.
An education scholar and also a police inspector in Bandung-one of the largest
cities in Indonesia after Jakarta-even stated that, because Indonesia had developed
and become to a more open society, the attitude towards comic stories and pictures
should change too. What was considered pornographic and vulgar, might no longer
be so. Thus, traditional values tended to be set aside and replaced by liberal
and individual values.
This shift eventually had a large impact on children's reading material. The education community that had feared the negative impact of comics began to see opportunities to improve children's interest in reading through them. Therefore, since the 1980s, a lot of comics have been published in Indonesia, not only by local authors, but also imported comics, especially from Japan.
What is interesting is that, those comics not only entertain, but in many cases, they are also educational. For example, Dulken comic, written by one of Indonesia's famous children's book authors, Dwianto Setyawan, is funny and entertaining, and also educational. Dulken, which was a comic strip in one of the newspapers in Surabaya before it was published in book form, is quite popular, although it doesn't sell as well as imported comics from Japan. The Candy Candy series, imported from Japan, sells very well in Indonesia, as do, Kungfu Boy and Doraemon.
What factors make Doraemon popular among Indonesian children? First, its promotion. Before it was published in book form, a television station started showing Doraemon every Sunday morning, prime children's viewing time. The episodes often arouse their curiosity, so those who want to have the complete Doraemon story go straight to the bookstore and buy it. Second, the behaviour of the characters in Doraemon appeals to Indonesian children, especially those who live in cities. They love adventure stories, and enjoy challenge, and Doraemon has a 'never-give-up' attitude, and also stresses the need for achievement. Parents who understand that Doraemon educates, suggest their children watch, and then read Doraemon comics.
Influence of Multimedia
Undeniably, multimedia has a big influence on the lifestyle and behaviour of
Indonesian children. When multimedia began to enter Indonesian children's lives,
around the beginning of the 1990s, in such forms as video and computer games,
there were concerns, that multimedia would replace books, including comics.
However, children in Indonesia still read a lot, even though comics may be their
favourite reading material.
Multimedia is not cannibalizing books, they complement one another. The children's favourites on VCD are imports, such as Mr. Bean and Beauty and The Beast. Children like Mr. Bean because it is funny, and Beauty and The Beast because the story is interesting and there are moral messages in the story. Other favorites that have quite an influence on children's behaviour are the Power Rangers and Walt Disney series.
Why are multimedia and books complementary? By its nature, multimedia (which is electronic) is static, it can't be carried around. Specific time and space bind the children who play with it, while books can be carried everywhere they go, anytime. Then, after they have been read, books can be kept in the family library for younger siblings to read in the future.
Imported comics still seem to dominate the comics market in Indonesia. After the success of Candy Candy and Doraemon, many new titles were published, including Kobochan, Kung Fu Tao, all of which are from Japan. Like their predecessors, these comics were also big hits.
Soon enough, Indonesian children idolized the kungfu boy. There was an incident in which a young boy attacked a housemaid after watching a TV show. In another incident, a boy suddenly attacked his friend for revenge. Did this have anything to do with the comics he read? Pedang Bintang, which is about a samurai's revenge, clearly shows that revenge is acceptable, even desirable. Because of this phenomenon, many have started to fear the effect of foreign culture that invades Indonesia through comics. Revenge, for instance, is said to be alien to Indonesian tradition. Indonesians are forgiving and like to live in harmony.
These concerns are voiced by, among many, educators, parents, and even Government (Departmemen Pendidikan & Kebudayaan/Culture and Education Department). In every symposium about education and books, the fact of foreign comics flooding Indonesia often becomes a subject of criticism.
In certain respects, it may be true that imported comics have undermined national culture, but obviously not all of them. Quite a few are good and educational. So, why stop the domination of imported comics? Maybe business factors are a consideration.
In competing with imported comics, publishers and local comic writers work hand-in-hand to improve the quality and appearance of comics. One of the senior comic writers, Dwi Koendor, says new Indonesian comics have tried to create a visual power based on pictorial strength, as can be seen in Ayam Majapahit comic, first prize winner of Indonesia's 1995/96 comic competition. The illustration is polished, in Japanese comics' style. The story line is also refined to suit children's taste. Although it still uses the name of the former Indonesian Kingdom (Majapahit), Ayam Majapahit is a comic that tells the story of a university student who is possessed by a chicken spirit, which was a pet of a Majapahit Royal Prince.
Comic writers are making efforts to produce stories that appeal to their readers. So they are no longer pure epic stories like Indonesian comics in the '70s. This closeness to readers is one of the factors why Indonesian comics have begun to be accepted in their own country.
Indonesia's comic formula has been found. That is why, when the children's TV series SARAS 008 is shown on TV at prime time, comics and reading books with the same theme and story also sell well. SARAS 008 is locally made. It isn't based on a historic epic, but is a visionary epic story, set far in the future. SARAS 008 can shoot laser beams from her eyes to destroy her enemies. Like her motto, SARAS 008 is "the heroine of righteousness, defender of truth, friend of all who love peace". Nowadays in Indonesia, SARAS 008 is the children's idol. This character is very real to children, not abstract. Again, the closeness factor becomes the key to success for a children's movie. It is maintained in the SARAS 008 comic, aside from drawings and motions which still "mimic" the Japanese comic style-already popular among Indonesian children.
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id., "Children's TV Show Combines Fun with Moral Message", The Jakarta Post, March 7, 1999
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R. Masri Sareb Putra
Born in 1962. He is an editor as well as an instructor at Bengkel Penulisan Bacaan Anak (Children's Reading-Writing Workshop) held by Pusat Perbukuan Departemen Pendidikan dan Kebudayaan (Culture and Education Department Books Centre). He attended a training programme for children's book writers and illustrators ASEAN-wide in 1991 held by Book Centre, Cultural and Education Dept. His observations regarding problems and reviews on children's reading books can be found in many media, besides being a co-author of several children's reading books.