Exclusive Preview: Indonesian Folktales Retold With Stunning Illustrations by Comics Newcomer
One of the must-watch up-and-coming artists of the moment—especially in the comics space—is Clar Angkasa. The Indonesian artist’s colorful and touching illustrations (some of which are animated!) have caught the attention of guilds and professionals from coast to coast. Now, Angkasa is debuting her first YA graphic novel, Stories of the Islands. This book seeks to offer a new perspective on the lives of the women from some of her favorite childhood stories.
Once upon a time. . .
A princess was cursed to live as a snail,
Two sisters were trapped by their father’s wrath,
And a mother and daughter faced a hungry giant. No one is coming to save them.
Will they get their happily ever after?
In Stories of the Islands, debut graphic novelist Clar Angkasa takes three folk tales from her childhood in Indonesia and gives them back to the girl characters, following their hopes, dreams, and journeys for freedom from natural and unnatural forces. Why should women in folk tales be sidelined or reduced to tropes? What if we tell their stories, instead?
A folklore collection from any country would offer a rich palette of stories, especially in this retelling form and when presented to an English-reading audience that doesn’t have access to many translated works. However, Indonesia is especially interesting because the country is a collection of roughly 17,000 islands and over 700 Indigenous languages that have survived the Dutch invasion and colonization. (To say nothing of border conflicts and the ten years of Japanese rule.)
A large group of people in such close yet distant proximity (because you know, water) will transfer stories in a distinct way. The way stories traverse an archipelago could reaffirm the theory many folklorists (and myself) share that there’s no “original” story. Instead, a resemblance of one shared viral oral tradition and art. (That everyone has a different version of the same story regarding myths, legends, etc.)
Exclusive: Stories of the Islands
I had the pleasure of looking at an advanced reader copy of the novel, and y’all—it’s so gorgeous. Beyond that, which should be evident by the cover, the adventure story feels so warm. Don’t get me wrong; there are some tense moments. At least one-page turn resulted in my physically recoiling in shock/horror.
While the stories are unfamiliar (to me), the themes feel very familiar and touch upon near-universal experiences. Still, the narrative itself is very Indonesia-specific and thus an amalgamation of the cultures that make up the nation. I can only imagine the nostalgia someone who grew up with these stories might feel reading Angkasa’s take. Even my least favorite of the stories (which is still excellent), Angkasa’s writing and illustrations maintain this rhythm-like quality. This mirrors the way folk tales worldwide stayed alive through oral tradition. In the final pages, Angkasa shares a one-page summary of these stories as she heard them. This gives readers an opportunity to reflect on these changes and appreciate how Angakasa explored girlhood.
Ahead of the October 31 release, Holiday House offered TMS readers a sneak peek of the Stories of the Islands. (The publisher has a paperback and hardcover releasing simultaneously!) This includes the first 17 pages of the book that share the beginning of Keong Mas, a.k.a. Golden Snail.
To zoom, open the image in a new tab for higher resolution.
Stories of the Islands releases on October 31. You can pre-order online (hardcover/paperback) or at your local bookstore.
CORRECTION 4/4/2023: Angkasa is Indonesian, not Indonesian American, as previously stated.
(featured image: Holiday House & Clar Angkasa remixed by Alyssa Shotwell)
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