Exploring New Worlds through Making Comics

The Research Trip that Opened My Eyes as an Artist

Nin Dianda (right) and Naomi Saddhadhika (left). Photo by Bonni Rambatan.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
— Marcel Proust

We think we know things. We may think we’re the most objective, open-minded person on the planet, but we can’t help carry around that feeling that we know what the world is like. We also tend to have a very strong idea of how it looks.

Artists and cartoonists such as myself are very prone to this. When I heard the word “forests” and “forest fire”, I was pretty sure what I was going to be drawing. A quick Google search will do the trick, right? These days, what can’t you find out through some quick internet search, anyway?

Well, as it turns out: a whole damn lot!

On Board the “Primate Peril” Adventure!

So, okay. A little bit about me and how I got involved with the project. I’m an indie comic book writer and artist. I table at cons, sell self-published comics, sell art prints online, and maintain an ongoing series at Tapastic.

The former was how I met Bonni Rambatan, really: I was tabling at Popcon two years ago and he bought my comic book debut, Santa Project. We’re pretty much a fan of each other’s works, and we maintained contact.

My book is sitting proudly on Bonni’s bookshelf, apparently!

One day, he told me about this Primate Peril project he’s doing in collaboration with TRI Handkerchiefs — an amazing social enterprise supporting various movements in Borneo — and, right off the bat, I was hooked.

I really liked the environmental and social issue angle, you see. Santa Project was about a disabled kid, and with Talking Talk I try tackling LGBT issues. So when Bonni came and told me about Primate Peril, I told him I wanted to try it out right away.

From “Research”…

I’ll be honest: I have never done a comic with animal characters before. And I have never done a comic set in a forest before. And I have never done action-heavy comics before. What a challenge!

But I was ready. I was up for the challenge. I did the first thing that came to mind: Googled the heck out of orangutans and forests in Borneo.

It wasn’t half bad, hey. I came up with these designs, ones we’re still using for the comics right now:

Everyone loved it. So I was set to continue making comics, doing my research whenever needed using the almighty Google! Seems simple enough, right? That’s what everyone does, after all!

So you can imagine my shock when this interaction happened:

Bonni: Nin, are you free on May 25th to 28th?
Nin: Yeah, I think so. Why?
Bonni: Pack your bags, Nin! We’re going to Borneo!

…To Research

Barely two weeks after that interaction, we — Bonni, myself, and NaoBun’s co-founder Naomi Saddhadhika, who is also helping out on the project — were paddling and waddling through the peatland swamps of Central Borneo.

And I mean paddling. Like, with an actual boat.

I didn’t paddle much, but Naomi does it like a badass!

And also waddling. Like, knee-deep-in-mud waddling.

We killed our shoes.

No, I did not know that orangutans hardly ever walk on the ground because there is hardly any ground to walk on (it’s pretty much all water). No, I did not know that orangutans eat tree barks and termites and not, like, bananas all the time. I did not know they hardly ever make a sound, or that males and females tend to react to humans differently.

Orangutans are super adorable…

And, no, I did not know that forest fires in the orangutan’s homelands happen friggin’ underground, with virtually no flames visible above ground, but cause this much damage:

…and we’re killing them off by doing this to their forests.

The fires kill not so much through burns, but by suffocation and habitat loss. And, no, you can’t just put them out with water, because you can’t see them. And, no, they don’t make this huge scene you can plaster on front pages of newspapers for the whole world to care.

In fact, that’s one of the reasons the world doesn’t care. There are no spectacular flames to see. It’s basically just smoke.

And dying orangutans.

A Deceivingly Simple Mistake

Some mistakes in comics are harmless. You can make characters wear outfits and hairstyles that doesn’t make sense in the geographical and historical setting, for example. These would cause a chuckle by knowing readers, and you can probably chalk it off as lazy fact-checking.

But imagine if we’d gone ahead and not do actual on-the-ground research for this comic series. Imagine if we’d gone for dramatic visuals alone and drew the orangutans amidst raging fires, and simply used a ton of water to put it out.

It would not be harmless. It would be misleading. People would see the haze in Borneo and say “Oh, the fire’s been put out. It’s not as bad as the one in the Primate Peril comic, right? It’s not so bad, then!”

It would have made things worse.

Being an Artist with a Vision

I want to make comics for the rest of my life. I want to keep making comics, and I want to make a living by making good comics.

Because I love comics. I love how it takes me to explore new, fantastic worlds. I love how it challenges me to learn new things. It’s as simple as drawing pictures, but also so much more.

And it is this “more” that I’m learning more and more each and every day. That research trip to Borneo has been a most valuable experience for me, and I thank Bonni and Naomi for this chance, and of course our production partner TRI Handkerchiefs.

The team from NaoBun Project, TRI Handkerchiefs, and Borneo Nature Foundation. Photo by Irma Astrid Sitompul/For Good Comms.
There are travels that give you fun times. Then there are travels that give you lots of data and information.
And then there are travels that give you a new set of eyes, a new way of seeing the world. A sense of purpose you take for the rest of your life.

Where can we read the comic?

It will be out very very soon on CIAYO Comics! Click on the images below if you don’t have the app. They have other great comics there from local creators, so be sure to check them out as well!

And, of course, remember to sign up for NaoBun’s newsletter on their website to get notified when the series is out!

Nin Dianda is the lead illustrator for Primate Peril. This article was written by Nin with the help of Sesa Wulandari and Bonni Rambatan, and translated to English by Bonni Rambatan. Follow Nin on her Instagram account below:

TRI Handkerchiefs is a social enterprise aiming to raise awareness about deforestation while supporting grassroots organizations doing critical work on the ground to protect Indonesia’s peatland forests. Learn more about them on their website, http://www.trihandkerchiefs.com/.

The NaoBun Project is a Jakarta-based comic book studio, storytelling consultancy, and artists development initiative focused on social transformation. If you’re interested in collaborating with them, or just saying hello, shoot an e-mail over to hello@naobunproject.id.

Follow their exploits here on this Medium blog or sign up for their mailing list below, or on their website at http://naobunproject.id/. Don’t forget to ♥ this article if you think more people should read it!

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