He started to intensely read storybooks since his middle high in Bali. There were comics, novels and silat (martial art) stories in both forms. Indeed these were not heavy reading materials. Let’s say, among some that he still remembers are pulp fictions by Fredy S., detective novel Nick Carter, adult stories by Enny Arrow and the warrior epic Wiro Sableng. He also read a couple of Chinese martial art and Indonesian comic books.
“… Told you I forgot, stuffed in my brain already ha..haa…” wrote him in a Facebook inbox page when I asked about the number of comics he had read.
Masriadi accessed these reading materials from a book rental shop nearby school. One of the many important elements that made up his mind is superhero comic book. His first encounter with western superhero is with Superman. Curiously he did not get a conventional Superman comic book from common book store or rental shop; instead he got a mini-sized comic book not much bigger than a calling card.
“Where did that comic come from?” I asked.
“I got from buying a dish soap of some brand… I can’t remember!”
Superman, then Batman, and even more familiarized with the adaptation movies that he watches. As we know, Superman and Batman were originally comic book series printed in late 1930s. Today, movies have become a far more powerful reminders and comic books or novels are considered more as “epilogue or prolog” to those wishing to learn further of the details in the stories.
In reality these days, despite having limited number of Batman and Superman comics to be read, Masriadi did many paintings of these superheroes. Putting together his works, it is Batman that enjoys primary position in Masriadi’s professional career, not Superman.
Why the fascination with Batman?
First of all reason is its popularity. The existence of Batman is almost unrivaled by any other superhero characters but Superman. Its comic book series written by Bob Kane and Bill Finger were first produced on may 1939 by DC Comics. Superman was published a year earlier. Batman movies have been continually produced, as many as eight movies have been made, while Superman movies have been produced dozens of times. Uniquely everything about Batman has been made real, from its car, costume, weapons and house, giving this character the sense of being ‘alive’.
Second, it is “… easy to draw and dramatic, Mikke” wrote him. Masriadi’s concept of easy to draw and dramatic could vary. The most possible way is when Batman is represented in a form and shape that anyone would recognize. With its classic mask, heavily muscular body, distinctive costume and dark colours, everyone could easily recognize it.
Masriadi has painted Batman in various poses (excreting in toilet, close up portrait, pointing at something or standing with his robe fluttered all over the canvas). Anatomical deformation is also present. Sometimes Batman appears midget, childish, and innocent. Other times it looks masculine and tough. However it is generally painted with a muscular built body.
To Masriadi, Batman (and Superman) as objects are more than mere replicas of the comics he reads. One reason, other than to fill in the empty space of his canvas, is to create a form of metaphor. In the work Rangda vs Batman (1997) he visualized Batman standing equally with the Balinese mythological figure Rangda. If Rangda is conventionally pictured as a wicked witch, the evil and villain of the story, here it is Batman—to me—that acts asthe story’s antagonist. In this work there is a form of symbolic conflict set by Masriadi where Batman represents outsider or newcomer that could harm Bali and Rangda acts as a sorcerous figure that would protect it. Other than Rangda it is difficult to think of any other opponent that could evenly match Batman. When Rangda dies, Bali certainly would switch path or have its hero replaced by Batman wouldn’t it?
In more recent works, Masriadi treated Batman as a figure in parody context of modern life. The presence of Batman on Masriadi’s canvases mark the complex cycle of modern, urban life. In a way he wants to depict Batman as a Problematic character (as can be seen in Jago Neon (Neon Fighter) (2013) ) who is willing to commit good deeds but is manipulated by other character/individual.
In the work Wind from Back (2011) the matter related to imagery is presented. How could a common man become a hero? To create the essential impression to public, aside from helping others with sophisticated weapons, Batman also needs to make up its image with his constantly fluttering robe. Artificial and fake.
On the other side, Batman is pictured as having conversation with Superman when the two are excreting in toilet. The work Sorry Hero I Forgot (2011) gave the idea of human’s nature in forgetting history, etiquette and probably small things as simple as saying “thank you”. This work is a critical review on the social reality of modern society.
When put together side by side, between the works with Batman/Superman theme and Masriadi’s other works there is an interesting affinity. Most of Masriadi’s works generally depict figures with oversized, muscular and sometimes fat characters (especially with male figures). This visualization does not only mark the presence of Batman as a super figure, it also contributes in expressing Masriadi’s idea of male masculinity that is present within the character Batman.
By this, it is obvious that comics are more than just some passé bedtime stories. They give window to a new idea: an idiom of masculinity.
by Mikke Susanto –