i started drawing ever since i could remember. subject? mostly revolves around ultraman, a japanese superhero that frequents the television in the early 80s. i guess much of my artistic influence came from my dad, who is also quite talented in art, although he didn’t have the chance to develop it very much. he’s a history teacher, taught at sekolah ungku aziz, sabak bernam, back around 70s till early 80s.
despite that, he did manage to churn out several comic strips. i remembered them quite well, 3-4 panels comic strips about panglima nayan, a local malay hero along the line of tok janggut, datuk bahaman and the likes, but not very well known. i dont remember where it was published, or whether it was even published at all, but watching him draw really inspires me.
i’d love to look back at my earlier works, but alas, i do not keep my earlier drawings. my family moved alot, and my drawings, mostly scribbled on bond paper, were easily categorized as rubbish by my mum. she strongly discourages me and my siblings’ inclination towards drawing or visual arts. to her, it’s a waste of time. of course, at that time, art is not something that could pay for your rents. it’s just something that a parent wouldn’t want their children to venture into for the sake of their future. so from time to time, she managed to find my sketchbooks and threw them away so that i could concentrate on my studies.
my family moved to shah alam in 1983, my dad was promoted from an ordinary school teacher to headmaster in sekolah menengah subang jaya. at this time i was enrolled in an english based kindergarten in klang. here, the english lady whom i couldn’t remembered her name took special interests in my drawings. i couldn’t remember what she said to my mother, but i know i was proud of what she had said. i’ve never had the chance of meeting her again, as she passed away a few years after that.
my primary school days in srk raja muda, shah alam, isn’t very interesting. but i distintively remember the time when we had manipulative skills class (kemahiran manipulatif), where we get to play with legos and stuff like that, and start making objects out of it. i loved it, and soon after, my dad starts buying me lots of legos. i’d rather be playing with legos than the more contemporary toys of the time like miniature cars, robots, action figures and stuff like that.
suddenly, just a few months in standard two, my dad was offered a contract with yayasan selangor as the education manager. we moved to kampung pandan in kuala lumpur, and i shifted to srk st. john (2) in bukit nanas, kuala lumpur. this is where everything was kicked into the first gear. somehow, srk st.john are very keen on developing artistic skills in the students. i remember the headmaster at the time, mr. xavier, was very enthusiastic in making sure that every student had some kind of artistic talent. most ended up in music classes, some singing classes, acting, story telling, and people like me, drawing.
this is where i met one of my close friend, masrin. we had an uncanny ability of drawing similar styles. mind you, despite being 9-11 years old, our styles we’re quite distinctive. our subjects range g.i.joe, mask, transformers to space cop gaban. we could draw a battle of two sides (good vs evil) on the same piece of paper, and it would be very hard for anyone actually identify it’s a work of two separate persons. well, atleast, at that time.
we started our first comic together, at that time we were 11 years old, at standard five. at the same moment, i joined srk st.john’s recorder band, and also the drama group. after performing well in the inter-school nasyid competition, i managed to secure a place in the suaramas choir, but that was when my dad’s contract ended, and he was promoted to the state education department. so we went back to shah alam after four years in kuala lumpur. that’s the last i’ve ever heard of masrin.
i went back to my old school in srk raja muda, and came back to a bunch of old friends. however, i found out that the school did not emphasis in art anymore. the whole manipulative classes somehow disappeared. it viewed art as something that is secondary. i spent one year there, and of course, it doesn’t make a difference. we had a few arts classes, but it didn’t do much. i do feel like they’re just trying to fill in the requirement of the ministry rather than to really train us in arts.
when i finished primary school, despite having good grades for my UPSR, i did not managed to secure a place in any boarding schools. i don’t remember if i even applied to any boarding schools. hence i ended up in sm sultan salahuddin abdul aziz shah in section two, shah alam. that’s about 10minutes bicycle ride from home.
early during secondary school, the local comic scene was invaded by a series of hongkong comics, translated into bahasa malaysia, obviously. i was introduced to the works of tony wong. i was impressed at the art, and immediately start to imitate him. but all of a sudden, the company who distributed the comics was gone. just like that. it was around only until issue 6 i think. so i had to move on to other sources.
berita harian, the local newspaper, initiated a comic stip competition around 1990-1991. ofcourse, i wanted to enter, but my mum was quite strict and insists that i concentrate on my studies. a few months after that, they published the winners in a weekly basis. one comic that seriously caught my attention was “sanggahan siborg”. i couldn’t remember who the artist/writer was. it was a story loosely inspired by the film blade runner. and this comic is way ahead of the time interms of the story, even by today’s standards. i was inspired.
however, it was until a classmate, aznin, introduced me to western comics that i start to open my eyes to a bigger world. somehow hong kong comics lack the story and motivational characters that the western comics seemed to hold on to. characters like batman and superman are so strongly created, they had special abilities, advantages and charisma, yet they are also weak in other areas that makes them entirely human. i was drawn very much to this, although after a short while, aznin and lotfi introduced me to japanese manga.
it started with akira. i know it was a little too late, but there weren’t any mangas or animes back then, and we had to wait for the US to release a subtitled or english dubbed versions to enjoy it. but it was worth the wait. akira was what sealed the deal for me. katsuhiro otomo’s work was superb, both the movie and the comics. we bought the japanese version of the comic just to enjoy the arts. we obviously didnt understand any of it, but it was worth it.
friends really had a lot of influence during my early years in secondary school. i’d say i had most inspiration from close friends like aznin, malin, elmi, wengheng, ba’am and amir. but girls like abirah and malin in my class bugs me alot with “can you draw this for me?”, “can you draw new kids on the block?” or “i know you drew me naked the other day!” or other stuff like that. i didnt really mind, i enjoy drawing. I really enjoyed drawing to the point i stopped studying at home and spent most of my time drawing figures, comics, posters and the likes.
i distinctly remember a period of time a year before SRP that i had to study with my bedroom door open so that my mom or dad could watch me study from outside. it was a helluva year. i had no where to escape. i only had saturdays free enough to draw, and even that i could only do when i said it was practise for SRP’s arts subject. i had problems with my stationaries too. i occassionally found myself missing several drawing pens or pencils, only to find it was hidden by my parents inside a drawer in the master bedroom.
the next time i bought my drawing stationaries, i had the aid of malin and friends to keep my stationaries for safe keeping. which usually i took em back the next day for the next drawing-under-the-table-while-teacher-is-teaching sessions. sometimes i had to let them keep my sketchbooks also, for i’m one of the unfortunates that had my own mom as the class teacher. you have no idea how often she instructed a spot-check in class! and thanks to malin especially when she updates the stock of pens and pencils in my kit!
by 16, i was already well influenced by the works of three different comic worlds: american, hongkong and japanese manga. also not forgetting the usual dose of local flavour in the form of fantasi, ujang and gila2. i need to emphasize here that i wasnt wee bit interested in making a humour comics. akira really influenced me alot. i was determined to write a comic at an epic level (yeah, i’ve been wishing for so long now) rather than draw pretty pictures. at this point, it was either “draw beautiful, takes too much time” or “write wonderful, drawing’s too sketchy”.
in form 4, i was selected into the pure science stream. back then, we have 9 subjects for SPM (O-levels) which includes physics, biology, chemistry and add-maths, but no arts/humanity subjects at all (minus history). i was dumb-struck. i was officially deprived of any outlet for drawings or arts. however, since i did exceptionally well for my SRP especially in arts, my parents decided that i’ve proven myself worthy for a little space. mind you, my early life was strict and disciplined: i had a timetable detailing what i do everyday from 6am till 12am every fucking day.
my art teacher, puan what’s-her-name was a little frustrated that i joined the pure science stream, in her own words “you have huge potentials in arts. unfortunately, science stream is more promising for your future”. so there i was, stuck in between what i love, and what i had to do. despite good SRP results, i refused to transfer to a boarding school. well, i had to admit it was because of abirah, a girl whom two weeks after that transfered to SM sains cheras. what a dumbass i was. never sacrifice your future over a girl who’s not even your girlfriend!
i suddenly found myself not interested in drawings, but more into card making. i made wish cards, gift cards, the likes for various occassions and events. it started when i was thinking of sending those to that girl, but never really bothered to actually send them. not even a single one. and a few weeks later she transfered back. ding ding! suddenly my artistic abilities came surging back. i started drawing more, involved in almost every single art-oriented event in school from club logo design competition to mural paintings to school play.
form 4 was basically the formation of the foundation of who i am today. i suddenly realize that i could do just about everything relating to arts, minus singing – i have a lousy voice especially in the early days when my voice broke. i signed up for the elective arts class just to brush up my artistic skills, and puan what’s-her-name was really happy i joined.
at the same time, aznin introduced me to mind shop, the local comic retail near subang parade, the centre of all direct edition comics and merchandise nearest to shah alam. it was like heaven, only that the owner was really stingy, u cant even browse the inside of the comics. it’s all wrapped up in plastic, sealed like it was some kind of anthrax-ridden book. comic books were treated like an asset. u dont buy it to read, but u buy it to keep in a safe deposit box and hopefully cash in heftily in the future.
i cant remember how much i’ve spent on the comic books, and my parents weren’t too happy with my excessive interest in comic books. heck, there are a few local comic magazines around, but they didnt interest me much because of the low quality. i was immediately absorbed by jim lee, jae lee, adam hughes, mike mignola and joe quesada. image comics was just making its mark, releasing its first batch of comics, and i seem to be taken on directly into the band wagon, leaving the measly marvel and dc comics who’re still using traditional methods of comic making.
this inspired me most into rethinking the styles, especially jae lee’s strong, brutal strokes; jim lee’s proportion and poise; mignola’s renderings and excessive use of black; and quesada’s attention to detail. you could literally see my drawing styles morphing from one precedence to the other. due to jae lee’s style, i also started to explore different media, particularly acrylic and knife. you have no idea how many papers had to be sacrificed due to my curiosity to teach myself how to wield a knife for an artwork.
straight into form 5, i knew i had to lay it off a bit and concentrate on my SPM. everybody were busy on their studies and i found myself caught up with them. but then again, i was elected as the assistant head prefect of the school, so i had bigger responsibilities. and for the fun of it, i joined the school police cadet corp. it was one of the weirdest year in my life where i literally joined everything in school. i was the president of the school landscape club, i was an executive member of the english club, i joined several inter-school competitions including theater, debate, forum and berpantun! i can’t believe i did all that and still had the time to study.
well that’s the thing. i didn’t have time to study. i hardly revised my studies. my only tuition was with dr. gause (spelling?), a retired teacher who only teaches add maths and science in english with a thick accent. mind you, we learn everything in bahasa back then. every weekend i would cycle to syima’s house, about 20 minutes away, and learn everything in english. i didn’t know syima that well at the time, she was my class mate in standard six, but then went to school in sri aman. her english was good so she had no problem posing questions and discussing. but there i was, translating stuffs in my head.
about 5-6 months before SPM, i joined rakan senibudaya, a part of the infamous rakan muda programme back in the 90s. it was conducted by these two ITM lecturers (now known as UiTM) from the fine arts department. one of them is called azhar, but i can’t remember who’s the other guy. ba’am was the one who insisted i joined. after amir agreed, i joined in too. the group was small, about 8-10 kids including us. we held our workshops at tasik shah alam every weekend. there we were taught the basics of painting, what to do and what not to do. it was simple and straight forward, but i never get to actually finish a single painting in the few weeks we fooled around. however i did learn a lot. right when i was about to take the arts paper for SPM, the two lecturers taught us the best way to score.
i didn’t get to see them again after SPM. my dad were keen on not letting me waste my time sitting on my ass not doing anything. so he got me a job as an office boy at KPPMS’ office in kompleks PKNS.
life as an office boy was simple. you wait the phones, photocopy stuffs, type and print letters, fax a few things and all that. it’s a secretariat for an NGO, so it’s not running a business per se. and there were only two other guys there, uncle jo and uncle markom. both retired teachers who ran the place as volunteers. this gave me a lot of time to practice my artworks. i had one section of the office organized as my own personal space. ba’am came to help sometimes, hang out and scribbled a few. all while waiting for SPM results.
KPPMS office also ran tuition classes for PMR students. sometimes uncle jo went to teach a few classes. most of the time we had part time teachers. but sometimes they would call in sick or busy all of a sudden, and we wouldn’t had time to find replacements. so occasionally i jumped in to teach. mostly maths. that’s the only subject that i’m absolutely confident with, because there’s always an exact and accurate solution. that’s when i realized i kind of liked teaching. it’s fun. my parents are teachers, so i guess it kinda rubbed off.
i did a bunch of artworks during that few months. some comics too. but one significant thing that i realized was i starting writing too. i wrote two novels, each about 80-90 pages long, both scifi, obviously. one was about a group of elite space marines along the line of warhammer 40,000; the other one was a superhero novel. i saved it on the office’s PC. something that i regret because they replaced the PC one day without telling me and that’s the last thing i ever heard of my two novels. well, it’s probably shit anyway. i had no training. it was just plain naivety and being young.
after a few months, the results came out. at this point, my parents were already busy choosing courses that’s right for me. my results weren’t too bad. i got 13 aggregates (the best would be 6, lowest about 30). i aced maths, english and arts. mind u, 13 aggregates from a daily school that had nothing special was not bad at all. i didn’t expect that at all. i was targeting somewhere around 16-18.
when i got home, right after the congratulatory sentence, the question that followed was: “have you decided what you want to be, yet?”. those were my parents. two other cousins the same age as i was scored brilliantly. i blame them being nerdy girls haha. ijah is straight away going into medicine, while jiha going for law. well that’s shit. with 13 aggregates, there’s not many choice i can go. certainly nothing glamorous like medicine or law.
i didn’t pay attention to what they chose anymore, and concentrated on what i wanted to do. right around that time, limkokwing college churned out excessive advertisements about their art and design courses in the newspapers. it really caught my attention. i like arts. i’d probably be good in those. but there’s no way my parents could afford limkokwing. it’s a private college, with fees around RM10k per semester. no way in hell.
sorting through the UPU forms, i looked for art and design courses in IPTAs. ITM was the only university offering the course. i called up ba’am. he’s certainly taking that course. so i thought, why not? at least i know a close friend would be there doing the same thing i was. so i voiced this out to my dad.
it was straight and simple no. you can’t imagine a colder rejection from a father. he said, “with a result like yours, you could do engineering or some other science based courses.” i was disappointed. there weren’t that many courses that i was interested in. engineering sounds fancy, but i wasn’t interested in it. my dad suggested law, as i was already good at debates and stuff. but law sounds boring to me. we argued for a few days. and we argued hard.
then one day he suggested a compromise: architecture.
it just caught on. architecture – a mix of arts and science. a little bit of engineering, public speaking skills and all that. it’s brilliant. but i still wanted to do art and design.
to be continued