The newly-opened Malaysia Cartoon And Comic House, nestled in leafy Taman Botani Perdana in Kuala Lumpur, is set to be a major attraction for comic book enthusiasts and the more curious-minded. The building, which is now home to the nation’s cartoon and comic book story, is practically packed out, wall-to-wall, with original comic book art, editorial cartoon strips, storyboard sketches, studio notes and vintage youth culture magazines, all dedicated to chronicling Malaysian comic book history and culture.
“There is no shortage of material to exhibit when it comes to local cartoons and comics. It was a question of how we wanted to present the Malaysian narrative for this form of art, which admittedly, wasn’t taken so seriously or even overlooked in the past,” says Tazidi Yusof, 58, Malaysia Cartoon And Comic House curator/researcher, when unveiling the initiative recently.
“Right now, there is a far better appreciation for the many homegrown names who built up our cartoonist and comics community. Influential names, like that of the late Rejabhad, Datuk Lat, Gila-Gila magazine founder Jaafar Taib and Ujang (Ibrahim Anon), will be the obvious ones that people will recognise instantly. But the mission at Malaysia Cartoon And Comic House is also to introduce and celebrate the entire community – the early pioneers, the legends, the outsider artists, right down to the clearly weird mavericks and one-hit wonders,” he adds.
The idea behind Malaysia Cartoon And Comic House, says gallery manager Azhar Adnan, 45, is to create a public centre that would appeal to lifelong comic collectors, pop culture geeks, students, and also, cater to the tourist traffic in the area.
“We wanted a fun, cool and relaxed atmosphere in the gallery, and I think we have come real close to it. In being entertaining and informative, we had to find the right balance – given the limited space we have now,” says Azhar.
“In the gallery, you might feel that you are negotiating an A5-size comic book, but rest assured, the tight corners are filled with great treasures and some priceless nostalgia,” he adds.
Over 500 cartoon and comic book works – spanning mid-1930s to the late 1990s – are on display now at the gallery, with Tazidi revealing that less than 10% of the Malaysia Cartoon And Comic House archive has been made public in this opening exhibition.
Tazidi, who is a veteran cartoonist and illustrator, kept this project close to his heart.
“It’s a labour of love, with so many old friends and new ones coming forward to support us,” he says.
The majority of the original works have been loaned from private collectors as well as Creative Enterprise Sdn Bhd (Gila-Gila publishers) and Balai Kartun Rossem, a private museum in Kota Baru in Kelantan.
Tazidi reveals that Malaysia Cartoon And Comic House was originally planned in 2015 (in tandem with the comic awards Anugerah Kampung Boy). Archival work began back then with a cadre of cartoonists, comic artists and collectors banding together to source original comic strips, editorial and gag cartoons, comic book, graphic novels, animation and caricatures.
“Research work and the conservation of comics were done at our studio (in Petaling Jaya). The cleaning up process for the original strips was fairly straightforward. We had to deal with yellowed pages, torn strips, tattered 40 year-old copies of Rina magazine ....
“However, documentation work, which later became full-blown investigative adventures, was always going to be tricky since there were so many cartoons and comics without dates or (artist) signatures ... we really had to jog some memories,” says Tazidi with a chuckle, recalling consulting older artists.
Malaysia Cartoon And Comic House founder, Mohd Desa Omar (aka cartoonist Juragan), says the gallery is set up in a loosely chronological manner, focusing on reprints of Malay editorial cartoons from the 1930s and 1940s.
“We put these early works at the front of the gallery to emphasise their importance, and show people that local cartoons are not so much a distant culture as you might think” says Mohd, 52.
The cartoons, loaded with political satire and social criticism, were popular in Malay newspapers like Warta Jenaka, and Utusan Zaman. Another source of cartoons was the Majlis newspaper in the 1940s, while Berita Harian’s arrival in 1957 signalled an increased usage of cartoons in its pages.
“A pool of regular cartoonists and contributions from the public made up the bulk of editorial cartoons in the early days,” says Tazidi.
The exhibition takes in the 1950s and 60s with independent comics from Saidin Yahya, Halim Teh, Raja Hamzah, Sulaiman Awang and Osman Baru.
At the heart of this exhibition are feature walls for legends like Rejabhad, Lat, Zainal Buang Hussein, Jaafar Taib, Mishar, Nan (Zainal Osman), Rossem (Rosidi Semail) and Azman Yusof, complete with brief biographies and selected artworks.
The Gila-Gila corner, complete with its popular fist wave alumni, is bound to attract major attention, while the independent-era (from the late 1960s/70s) is packed with serious raw variety comics, romping through fantasy, folk tales, humour, sci-fi, romance, adventure, monsters and superheroes.
“We had our fair share of underground comics, DIY comic publishers ... loads of sneering, cackling villains, and sexy characters. The verbal and visual poetry of that era can still blow your mind. We are talking about a bunch creators, barely in their teens, dreaming of coming up with something new and exciting ... I’m glad we have some of their works on our walls,” concludes Tazidi.
Malaysia Cartoon And Comic House (Rumah Kartun & Komik Malaysia) is situated at the Information Centre Building, Jalan Cenderasari, Taman Botani Perdana in Kuala Lumpur. Open daily, 10am to 5pm. Closed on public holidays. Admission: RM10 (adult) and RM5 (children). Facebook: Rumah Kartun & Komik Malaysia.