City Caricatures: Jakarta, West Java

A transvestite wearing a rowdy wig, gaudy makeup and shabby tank top singing a dangdut song in a baritone voice is not something most people want to see while sitting at a traffic light or stuck on a congested street. It’s the sort of thing that makes you want to avert your eyes. You could give her some money, to make her go away, but your car would be besieged by a line of baby-toting beggars who’d like some, too.

These common characters can be easily found on any street in Jakarta, and now they are all wrapped up in a new edition of satirical cartoons, 100 ‘Tokoh’ yang mewarnai Jakarta (100 characters who color Jakarta).

The book marks a return for the Lagak Jakarta (Jakarta Style) series of cartoons, which takes a humorous view of life in the city according to Adisti Sukma Sawitri.

The book, the work of cartoonists Benny Rachmadi and Muhammad Misrad, features 100 characters from daily life in every corner of the city.

From the sweaty “street fighters” who collect coins from motorists to the big-haired rich women who swathe themselves in branded items and paint for pleasure, all are stars in their own lives.

“Everyone is unique and ‘a big star’ in their own life,” Muhammad Misrad, or Mice, said.

Mice said he and Benny did not have to go out of their way to research the characters in the book, because they were such common features wherever you go in the city.

“What we did was just try to put humor and irony in every character, instead of only lamenting their bad luck in life,” he said.

The duo started drawing the characters four months ago and ended up with more than 100, saying there were so many interesting people in the city, including the frog catcher who delivers his catch to restaurants and traditional medicine sellers.
They decided to whittle them down to 100 characters, because it is an “even” number and “sounded good” for the title.

Benny said although they loved all of the characters they created, both agreed the most annoying moments were when they tried to draw a public order official or a legislator.

“We don’t like those two characters because we don’t think they do anything good for people, but again, we try to criticize that in the details we came up with in explaining their outfits,” he said.

Benny and Mice produced six volumes of Lagak Jakarta from 1997 to 1999, including volumes on transportation, the lives of Jakartans during the 1998 economic crisis, the beginning of the reform era and the 1999 general election.

They took a long pause before launching this new book, with both involved in graphic design projects.