Gatotkaca Lives!


Gatotkaca is a familiar character in wayang , the traditional shadow puppet shows in Java, which feature stories adapted from the ancient Indian epics Mahabharata and Ramayana. As a child, Gatotkaca is said to have been thrown into a volcano to toughen him up. He is described as having steely muscles and metallic bones.

Blessed with character traits that seem to be straight out of a superhero comic book, it was probably only a matter of time before artists like Yuwono Sigit, 35, and Surya M Iqbal, 34, attempted to introduce Gatotkaca to toy aficionados.

“Gatotkaca is iconic,” said Sigit, explaining why he and Surya chose the wayang character for their line of toys. “People just see the bottle-brush mustache and the yellow star on the chest and they are immediately able to identify the character as Gatotkaca. He also has a good, unique shape that adapts well into an action figure.”

Sigit and Surya share an interest in vinyl and designer toys, an offshoot of a movement that started in the 1990s that aimed to make art more practical and accessible to the public. As students at Trisakti University in Jakarta, the two often met up at a toy store in Taman Anggrek Mall. With Sigit’s expertise in miniatures and Surya’s experience with miniature military model kits, the two started to accept orders to make maquettes, or scale model toys, in 2000.

The road leading to the Gatotkaca toy was not smooth, however. In 2006, the duo organized a competition where participants could buy a figurine template of a design they called Suzuka and could modify it in whatever way they liked. This was fairly successful.

In 2008, the pair established their own company, Proxyfigures. Two years later, they attempted to launch a series of figurine templates, which they called Free as a Bird. These looked like penguins, except that they had beaks in nine different shapes. The concept didn’t fly.

“It’s hard to sell something completely new. [The product line] didn’t go so well with customers,” Sigit said. “They kept asking what the deal was with all the bird shapes.”

The men learned from this misstep and decided to review their strategy. With the help of Alvin Sasmita, who became their third partner and financier of their newest project, they made another foray into the designer toy market and came up with the Mythical Bean line, which they decided to model after familiar characters.

The first line of Mythical Bean toys featured wayang characters. The team decided to start with Gatotkaca. Turning a wayang character into a designer toy, however, was not easy. “Urban toys are characterized by simplicity in design,” Sigit said. And Gatotkaca was a character with flair and flourish. So Sigit and Surya decided to tone down the embellishments. They pared the curlicues on Gatotkaca’s wings and his head ornament, and simplified the batik motif on the cloth wrapped around his waist. The result was a stern, tough-looking chunky figurine who looked like he could give RoboCop a run for his money.

In late 2009, Proxyfigures previewed Gatotkaca during the Year-End Toyfest, an exhibition in Electronic City, Sudirman, to favorable reviews. “The visitors showed a lot of interest and many asked how they could obtain the figurine,” Sigit said.

Preorders for the figurines started on March 1 at Rp 350,000 for buyers in Indonesia and $40 for buyers overseas. “We were surprised to find out that it was customers abroad who preordered Gatotkaca,” Sigit said. “It means that people can appreciate its artistry even though they’re not familiar with the tradition behind it.”

Proxyfigures decided to issue only 100 copies of each of their figurines, which they say will include other wayang characters, to increase their value as collector’s items. “Most of the potential buyers are collectors. They even asked for certificates and our signatures to ensure that their figurine is genuine and rare,” Sigit said. “We plan to make a video of us destroying the mold for Gatotkaca when we’ve sold some 80 percent of the stock so people will know we’re not making more of them.”

On March 13, the team launched Gatotkaca at the Jakarta Toy Fair in Senayan. “I think the highlight of the event was when a man came to our booth and pointed out who Gatotkaca was to his son,” Sigit said. “There was also an old man who visited our booth and engaged us in a lengthy discussion about wayang. In a way, this shows that we’ve achieved our goal of combining Indonesian culture with a new art medium.”

Proxyfigures plans to release four more wayang figurines in 2010 as combo packages of Arjuna and Srikandi, and Bima and Hanuman. But in the meantime, Gatotkaca seems to be on his merry way to becoming a collectible.


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