Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports Major General (Rtd) Dato Paduka Seri Haji Aminuddin Ihsan Pehin Orang Kaya Saiful Mulok Dato Seri Paduka Haji Abidin speaking to one of the artists during the Comic Art Exhibition 2019 at the Royal Wharf Art Gallery in the capital on 19/04/19. Image: Ridhwan Kamarulzaman

Brunei’s comical art scene has never really taken off to a stronger stand despite the country continuing to produce artistic talents throughout the years.

If you live through the 90s, you’ll definitely be familiar with mainstream comic brands and artists from Malaysia, Japan, Taiwan and the US – but rarely can you outrightly name local artists who once filled the faces of local newspapers, or at least local student’s magazine Mekar.

Some of the art pieces during the Comic Art Exhibition 2019 at the Royal Wharf Art Gallery in the capital on 19/04/19. Image: Ridhwan Kamarulzaman

Brunei recently hosted its first comical art showcase, featuring artworks by the younger generation of cartoonists including Norhadi Brahim, Ai Zainuddin and Aklil Zainuddin – who believed that the creative scene can one day grow larger if they keep on practicing their passion.

While print is the way for comic artists in the past, all of these artists agreed that cartoonists today will need to find newer ways to market their artworks – as printing industries worldwide are slowly declining with the advent of digital media platforms.

Seizing opportunities via social media

The diverse social media avenues accessible to people today has allowed comic artists has made it easier for cartoonists to showcase their artworks.

Some of the art pieces during the Comic Art Exhibition 2019 at the Royal Wharf Art Gallery in the capital on 19/04/19. Image: Ridhwan Kamarulzaman

“In the past where social media channels have yet to exist, artists would have to depend on things like book fair, exhibitions and print publications to market themselves,” the three cartoonists told The Bruneian.

“But for those who couldn’t afford that, or didn’t know how to reach the right network, they may have to find their own ways to put themselves out there – or to just shelve their talents off until the right opportunities come.”

Today however, artists can just post their latest artworks and have them noticed by the public via their respective Instagram or Facebook accounts.

If they want international exposure, they can always go to worldwide platforms like DeviantArt and Patreon, they said.

“Of course, a lot of factors come into play like presentation, connection to the audience, selection of the audience, genre of the content and so on – but this can be thought of along the way.”

What is important, they said, is for artists to know how to exactly seized the opportunities presented to them, as not only they can gain a strong following, it may also allow them to start businesses.

Monetising arts

With regards to money-making aspects, local artists would now have to endure as the Brunei’s cartoon scene has yet to become a lucrative economic scene for them.

Some of the art pieces during the Comic Art Exhibition 2019 at the Royal Wharf Art Gallery in the capital on 19/04/19. Image: Ridhwan Kamarulzaman

For now, artists would either sell their existing artworks or receive commissions to draw something as per requested by their clients – and that would also depend on if he or she knows how to strengthen their following.

“How we charge usually depends on the size and the type of artwork we created, or requested.

Whether they are drawn in pencil or acrylic, on canvas or on regular paper is a factor that we must consider – let alone the time we consumed in finishing the artwork.

“But if is just based on size and made by simple materials, the larger one A1 would be around $600, while the smaller artworks, A4 or A3 would cost below $100. Between artists, prices may differ, but it is all up to each artist to creatively package their services as they can also gain a following from this,”

Visitors having a look at the art pieces during the Comic Art Exhibition 2019 at the Royal Wharf Art Gallery in the capital on 19/04/19. Image: Ridhwan Kamarulzaman

There are also others who moved on to merchandising their arts where they printed their toons on mugs or stickers.

There are even those who attempted to make figurines using 3D printing machines, but all of these has yet to take off.

Most artists in Brunei however, prefer to strengthen their portfolio first before moving strongly to commercialising their art.

Now or never

Brunei’s comical art has never been short of talents – yet most of them had to shelve their talents for a more stable career.

Bruneians who wanted to delve deeper into their passion for making cartoons will have to deal with the lingering questions whether the field of their choice would be worth it in the long run.

Image: Ridhwan Kamarulzaman

“For all of us, the most difficult thing was to ‘start’,” the cartoonists said.

“You can have as many ideas as you want, but end of the day, you would still wonder if could ever be worth it in the long run. If you like what you’re doing then just do it, don’t think too much,”

“Once you’ve started, then only you’ll know where to go, how to proceed and so on. People don’t just improve by looking at others, they improve by doing it.”

If sustainability is the main concern, they said there are a lot of people now fighting to bring the comical art scene up as a full-fledged industry.

“And these people, including us, believe that Brunei is capable of achieving it, so long as we keep doing it,” they said.

“It is either now or never, there will never be an in-between,” they added.

This article was first published on May 11, 2019 in our Weekly E-Paper issue 36

Waqiuddin Rajak | BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN
The Bruneian