Clar Angkasa makes her debut as an author and artist with the exhilarating Stories of the Islands, in which she subverts three traditional folktales from her native Indonesia, boldly demanding agency for women and girls.
The opening tale, "Keong Mas," introduces a "Fish Lady" doing her work. The text, however, initially belongs to the silent thoughts of a snail revealed to be a trapped princess. The Fish Lady's patient kindness to the snail engenders freedom and companionship. In "Bawang Merah Bawang Putih," a blended family of four is grateful "they already had their happily ever after," particularly the two daughters. But their joy is usurped by Mother's death, which turns Father unrecognizably cruel. Old Mbok Srini (deemed "old" because she's unmarried) is commanded to plant a magic seed by a vicious giant who promises to return for the "fruit of my choosing" in "Timun Mas." Her fertile garden yields a daughter Mbok Srini never knew she even wanted, who turns out to be her own clever savior.
In illustrating her feminist versions, Angkasa, who was born and raised in Jakarta, pays visual homage to her Javanese cultural history by, for example, garbing her characters in sarongs and selendangs. Angkasa's vibrant, inviting panels and spreads appear with and without borders, as if subtly reminding readers that borders are fluid and often unnecessary, and her vividly saturated images use color palettes matched to each individual story to build tone and setting. In her author's note, Angkasa states that she "reimagined these folktales in a way I wish they were told to me when I was growing up." Her adaptations are undoubtedly aspirational improvements. --Terry Hong