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As print media shifts to digital, comic strips also follow suit. But what remains in a webcomic is the old formula of mixing satire with social commentary. We speak to two of Malaysia’s rising webcomic artists, Jai of Komik Ronyok and hxsm, to find out more behind their viral comic strips.
If you’re on Twitter a lot, chances are you’ve seen at least one hxsm (pronounced “hexism”) comic. The look of the hxsm comic is simple, or as described by the artist, “very loose and buruk sort of. Why it’s simple and loose? Mostly because of laziness. Sometimes I do colour my work, when it’s relevant to the story. The other day I wanted to draw a pau but it looked like an onion so I had to colour it.”
Although it first went viral a couple of years ago on Twitter, the hxsm origin story started from the deep interwebs of the lowyat.net online community forum. But when some comic strips were taken down by the forum’s moderator due to issues like language, hxsm chose to move to Twitter. Today, the hxsm account is followed by more than 54,000 users, while the Facebook page has close to 62,000 fans.
In keeping with his need for anonymity, there’s not much we can disclose about the artist’s personal details except that he (yes, he) is a writer. The ambiguity of his identity even led to this funny story: one time, he drew a headscarf on his Twitter profile picture “for fun”. Minutes after that, some users started sending him nudes.
“I started drawing hxsm just to tell stories and stupid jokes that normally wouldn’t go well in real life, the kind of jokes that would get crickets,” he says. Over time, his work evolved to become an observation of the everyday Malaysian on the Internet.
To hxsm, using humour as a form of social commentary is easier as it resonates well with the masses, but he insists that his works were never meant to be taken too seriously. “It’s just a reflection of how I feel about the absurdity of things and how people respond to things.”
Some popular characters in the hxsm comic include the Done Dakwah Dude, Babi and Guy in Kopiah, but these days the comic artist says he doesn’t really “draw idiots” as much as he used to. “Over the years I’ve gotten [less controversial]. In a realistic point of view, you can justify your reasoning but I guess I just feel like some people’s minds you can’t really change, so why bother?”
In the same vein as hxsm is Azwanjjai aka Komik Ronyok, a fellow webcomic artist whose four-panelled comic strips have also gone viral – they’ve even been compiled into two comic books by Maple Comics.
With Safira Si Kucing Judgemental being a popular recurring character, the cat has become a sort of signature for Komik Ronyok. Jai, as he’s better known, sometimes even wears a cat mask during public meet-ups (for fun, he says, not for social anxiety).
“Komik Ronyok was just something I did as an inside joke among my friends on campus. If I can make up a story [behind the name], I would say that Komik Ronyok is something a comic should not be – it’s trash, just like crumpled [ronyok] paper,” says Jai, whose friends encouraged him to upload his works online.
Going viral doesn’t come without backlash, and Komik Ronyok isn’t spared. While using humour to highlight social issues can be an effective way to raise awareness, it also attracts a lot of controversy. The character Safira Si Kucing Judgemental, for example, has been called misogynistic by some users.
“She’s supposed to be that way,” reasons Jai. “I designed the character to be as rude as possible – people criticising her is what a normal reaction should be like.”
Even so, not everyone gets this type of humour, evident in the way Jai’s comic strips have been reported and deleted before. But he doesn’t seem at all fazed by it. “Read the comments on the Komik Ronyok page, those are lovely,” he quips.
By Nadia Rosli
Comic strips courtesy of hxsm and Komik Ronyok.
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