Bangsacara & Ragapadmi, by Jan Mintaraga & Pak Man
With more than 17.500 islands and around 300 ethnicities, Indonesia is very rich with stories. In 1950s trough 1980s, this rich resources of stories was fully used by Indonesian comic writers and artists. This is just a small example.
This comics was a supplement in a 1980s children magazine, Ananda. The magazine routinely give comics, mining well-known Indonesian folklore or traditional stories from Wayang (Indian-influenced Javanese traditional puppet show). Bangsacara and Ragapadmi is a Maduranese love-legend, adapted here by a legendary comic artists Jan Mintaraga.
Jan, as you can see, heavily influenced by Warren Comics artists, in particular, those whose origin were Latin-America. Esteban Maroto was one of the biggest influence for Jan. Hence the westernized figures and faces of this Indonesian characters. He is often criticized because of this, but his fans didn’t mind at all. In fact, this westernized figures played some kind of escapism mechanics in his comics.
But other than the anatomy, Jan is quite rigorous in his research for stories like this. He usually took some historical materials, and interpreted them in the light of modern view.
In this story, Ragapadmi was a lovely wife (one among many, mind you) of King Bidarba of Madura island. But she caught a disgusting skin desease, and was expelled from His Majesty palace to the hand of his loyal (and heavenly good-looking in a Vogue magazine kind of way) servant, Bangsacara.
The-to-be-expected-recovery part of Ragapadmi was treated in a rather modern way: no divine intervention or hocus pocus treatment, just your usual herbal medicine in the forest where the mother of Bangsacara lived.
Jan also very kind to the King -it was not His Majesty fault that the two heavenly creatures met their tragic end (this is a traditional Romeo-Juliet story after all), but rather his too excited officer that came up with the hideous plan. Contemporary reader could not escape in wondering how the all-dominant Soeharto’s regime whose power was at peak in the time of the comic’s publication have something to do with it. At least, playing part in Jan’s choice to downplay the “evil” of the King.
The manner of how Jan ended the story was also rather modern -the bodies of those tragic lovers were found by some traveller and reported to the king, and the king pondering about the possibilities of the identity of those two bodies.
Over all, this 16 pages retelling of Bangsacara and Ragapadmi is too docile, told in a rather dated narratives, but contain a very high quality of visualization. This is Jan at the height of his techniques, doing some work-for-hire job. I imagine that Jan did this short comic with his eyes half-closed. It is but a tip, a very small tip, of a very large iceberg that is the unexplored Indonesian comics history.