Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Q&A with Clar Angkasa



Clar Angkasa is the author and illustrator of the new middle grade graphic novel Stories of the Islands. She was born and raised in Indonesia, and is based in Brooklyn.


Q: What inspired you to create Stories of the Islands?


A: I started this book as an independent study project when I was still a student at Rhode Island School of Design. I came up with a project that combined multiple interests: comics, folktales, Indonesian culture, female empowerment.


I decided to illustrate a feminist retelling of the folktales I grew up with because it felt the most personal and meaningful to me.


Thinking back on the narratives I grew up, I became very determined to create the type of stories that I felt was missing in my childhood, ones where girls are so much more than a mother, or a daughter or a love interest, and women’s choices aren’t limited to stereotypical gender roles.


I want readers, especially Indonesian girls who have lived their whole lives in an overwhelmingly patriarchal culture, to be encouraged to take control of their own lives regardless of what others expect of them.


Q: Did you work on the text first or the illustrations first--or both simultaneously?


A: Simultaneously. This is what I love most about adapting folktales, the bones of the stories are already there so even before putting things on paper, there were already words and images in my head that I had to start with.


After that it just depends on what comes to mind first. Sometimes I think of the visuals first and then I add the corresponding text, and other times it was easier to write the words down first and then create the image that goes with them.


Q: The School Library Journal review of the book calls it “A beautiful collection of folktales that succeeds in depicting strengthened female agency while promoting a healthy consideration for others.” What do you think of that description?


A: It makes me very happy because this was exactly what I was hoping to do with this project. Female agency is something I often feel is missing in folktales so if I was going to achieve anything through Stories of the Islands, I’m glad it was this and I am hopeful that young readers will be inspired by it.


Q: What did you see as the right balance between the original folk tales and your own interpretations of them?


A: Folktales with female protagonists generally revolve around the tropes I’m trying to subvert in this book (the damsel in distress, the evil stepsister, the sad and lonely widow) so I had to take a lot of creative liberties.


However, it was still important for me that Indonesians familiar with these stories are able to recognize the specific folktales.


For the interpretations to have the most impact, readers had to be able to make the direct comparison with the original tale so I made sure to keep the core magical aspects of each story like the snail princess, the jewel-filled pumpkin, and the baby in the cucumber.


I also kept the central themes of good deeds being rewarded, love overcoming evil, and most importantly, the value of the relationships you nurture.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: More books! Stories of the Islands opened the doors for me to bring to life a lot of the stories I’ve had living rent-free in my head and I hope to someday bring them to the shelves too


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Stories of the Islands was a labor of love that took over five years to complete. It’s basically my baby. Many tears were shed, many breakdowns were had, but I’d happily do it all over again and I can’t wait for this book to finally be available in bookstores.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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