Interview with Clar Angkasa, Author of Stories of the Islands

By: Michele Kirichanskaya
Jan 19, 2024

Clar Angkasa was born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia, and graduated from Rhode Island School of Design with a BFA in Illustration. An illustrator, animator, and comic artist with a passion for narrative art, she draws inspiration from stories, nature, and wholesome people. Her work has received such honors as the MoCCA Arts Festival Awards of Excellence, an Adobe Awards Top Talent, and more. Stories of the Islands is Clar’s debut graphic novel. She is currently based in Brooklyn, New York.

First of all, welcome to Geeks OUT! Could you tell us a little about yourself?

I’m a Brooklyn-based Indonesian illustrator-animator-comic artist with a passion for visual storytelling. I was born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia before moving to the U.S. to pursue a career in the arts. After graduating from Rhode Island School of Design in 2019 with a BFA in Illustration, I moved to New York in search of ways to stay in the country as an artist.

What can you tell us about your latest project, Stories of the Islands? What was the inspiration behind this book?

I’ve always been fascinated by folktales and this fascination inspired Stories of the Islands. To be precise, I was inspired by what I felt was missing in folktales. Reading or listening to these stories, while enjoyable, always left me feeling unsatisfied with how the women are portrayed. Traditionally, they are damsels in distress to be rescued, wicked witches to be outsmarted, or just the hero’s love interest. I wanted to go beyond the superficial tropes, to create characters that have agency and depict girls and women as flawed and nuanced people with their own personalities and motivations.

Another big inspiration was my mom, a single mother who in my opinion is the strongest, most independent woman I know. I grew up watching her have to work twice as hard to be taken seriously in her career, and even then, all people cared about was if she had a man by her side. Yet, she never let anyone dictate how she should live her life. I was lucky enough to have had a role model that taught me that my value as a woman goes beyond what society expects of me. My mom taught me to carve my own path in spite of what others may think, and I can only hope that Stories of the Islands can teach young readers to do the same and expose them to narratives that are empowering for women, rather than limiting.

As creators, what drew you to the art of storytelling, particularly the comics medium?

I’ve always loved stories and for as long as I can remember I’ve used stories as an escape. Eventually I started making my own stories through my art and it became a form of self-expression and coping mechanism, a way to process the chaos of everyday life. I didn’t become interested in making comics until I was in college and started reading a bunch of comics when I was procrastinating at the campus library. At that point I was torn between wanting to pursue a career in illustration or one in animation. I saw comics as the perfect in-between medium. Through comics, I can make beautiful drawings and also tell stories through sequential art. Moreover, I sometimes have a difficult time articulating things with just words or just images, so I loved the idea of being able to combine both in comics. When words fail, I can draw it, and when the illustration isn’t enough, I can enhance it with my writing.

How would you describe your creative process?

My creative process is somehow both chaotic and orderly. Creative ideas pop up in my head at a much faster pace than my hands can work so I always start with an overwhelmingly messy collection of notes and sketches. At the same time, I need structure and organization and plans, so I would make detailed spreadsheets to schedule out all the individual tasks involved in the projects I want to work on, which are usually a lot more than I could realistically take on. I always end up wanting to do way too many things at once so to avoid spreading myself too thin, I do my best to limit myself to only two big projects at a time (I don’t always succeed). I think of myself as a chronic multitasker, unable to fully devote my day to just one thing. This means at any point I would usually be chipping away at multiple tasks such as taking breaks from work by doing chores or replying to emails while waiting for my Photoshop files to load. 

Growing up, were there any stories in which you felt touched by/ or reflected in? Are there any like that now?

One of my favorite stories growing up was Winnie-the-Pooh. I made my mom read the books to me before bed, watched so many episodes of the TV series and got the stuffed animals and bedspreads to match. I think what drew me to the series was the unique personality and quirk each individual character had, some of which I really related to. It wasn’t until much later that I realized a lot of the characters represented different mental health issues. When I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression as an adult, I remember thinking, “That explains why Piglet and Eeyore were my favorite characters.” As I grew older, I kept getting drawn to stories where I related to the characters in some way. There are many like that now but the most recent one I’ve read is Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol. Reading about the main character struggling to fit in and being envious of others’ seemingly perfect life immediately brought me back to my high school days.

As a creative, who or what would you say are some of your greatest artistic and creative influences and/or sources of inspiration in general?

I get most of my inspiration from stories I consume, be it from books, movies, TV shows or just stories people tell me over coffee. Most of my art is driven by my love of storytelling so when I experience a good story, it makes me want to write/illustrate my own. This is why one of my favorite places to be is in a bookstore, browsing through books and being inspired by all the covers and blurbs. Every new book I read, especially graphic novels, would generate new ideas and goals. If I’m ever in a rut, all I need to do is grab a book from a bookshelf. Even when I don’t buy anything new at a bookstore, just being around all these books is a great motivation for me to keep making stories and sharing it with others.

What are some of your favorite elements of writing/illustrating? What do you consider some of the most frustrating and/or challenging? 

My favorite part of what I do is being able to use my work as a medium to express myself and even process difficult thoughts and emotions. Sharing things is sometimes difficult for me but being able to write it down and/or sketch it out makes it so much easier. The act of sharing my work with people who resonate with or relate to the story is also one of the most satisfying parts about writing/illustrating. I also love how easy it is to work anywhere – I just need some pen and paper and I can pretty much write/illustrate wherever. 

The challenging part of it all is starting. I’m a very indecisive and anxious person who overthinks everything so sometimes it takes forever for me to start a project. Starting something new is always exciting but I would get overwhelmed by all the possibilities. The more choices I have, the more stressed I get. Ending things is even more challenging than starting it. Being a perfectionist makes it very difficult to finish a project because no matter how many times I make revisions and edits, I always see a new flaw or something I want to change. It’s especially frustrating when I’m working with a deadline and I just don’t have a choice but to learn to let go.

Aside from your work, what are some things you would want others to know about you?

I have a pretty obsessive personality and tend to get very into whatever it is I’m doing. I rarely do anything “casually” so when I’m not obsessing over the littles details of my work, I could easily be found with a different side obsession. I would start new TV shows and immediately binge the entire season or start reading a book and finish it overnight. I would take on new hobbies like needle felting or oven-bake clay and then devote hours to perfecting the craft. I bought a few plants during the pandemic and now I’m an overbearing plant mom with 30+ houseplants and a 3-page instruction PDF on how to take care of each one that I made for my roommate when I’m out of town. 

What’s a question you haven’t been asked yet but that you wish you were asked (as well as the answer to that question)?

If I could invite anyone to dinner, dead or alive, who would it be? The answer is my grandpa who sadly died a few years ago. It’s a question I’ve been asked in a random conversation before but it’s one that I always want to bring up when talking about my work. My grandpa was an artist and he was the reason I wanted to make art for a living in the first place. I feel like I’ve only recently found my voice as an artist and I would’ve loved to be able to share my work with him over dinner and see what he would think about it. Stories of the Islands was actually published on the anniversary of his passing. I would’ve loved to be able to show him this project, my debut graphic novel, a labor of love I’ve been passionate about for the past 5 years.

What advice might you have to give for other aspiring creatives?

The main advice I would give is to remember to take care of your mental health. While my art provides a great escape and a very satisfying coping mechanism, throwing myself into work 24/7 isn’t the most sustainable way to live. It’s important to devote time outside of work to lead a healthy and balanced life. To this day I have a really difficult time following my own advice. As a workaholic, my work is pretty much my entire personality but that is something I am actively trying to unlearn. Creators often face the constant pressure to keep crunching out work and that pressure sometimes makes you think that you don’t have time to take a break. I would feel the need to be productive all the time but I know that isn’t the best for both my physical and mental health. What I’ve found to be helpful is including breaks into my work to-do list. Instead of seeing breaks as “not working” I’ve started treating it as an act of kindness to my future self and an investment so that I may work more efficiently in the future. 

Are there any other projects you are working on and at liberty to speak about?

Stories of the Islands is part of a two-book deal with Holiday House so right now I’ve started working on the next graphic novel. It’s still in its early stages so there’s not much I can share yet. At the same time I’m also working on developing other story ideas I have that could potentially become another book. I’ve recently started freelancing full time as well so I’m currently looking for smaller projects to work on in between book projects.

Finally, what LGBTQ+ books/comics/authors would you recommend to the readers of Geeks OUT

There are a lot of great comics and artists that inspired me to start making comics of my own but two in particular stand out in my memory: Nimona by ND Stevenson and The End of Summer by Tillie Walden. All their works are amazing but these books were the first I read by these creators and they left such a huge impact on me. Tillie Walden even wrote a blurb for Stories of the Islands so that was a really nice full circle moment for me.

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