French Artist Gives Graphic Approach of Che Guevara

Illustrated by French artist Simon Geliot from his new exhibitiin in Jakarta. (JG Photo/Tunggul Wirajuda)

Illustrated by French artist Simon Geliot from his new exhibitiin in Jakarta. (JG Photo/Tunggul Wirajuda)

Comics and graphic novels are one of the ultimate expressions of pop art.

While they evoke gritty works like Frank Miller’s “Batman: Year One” and “Sin City” or Robert Kirkman’s “The Walking Dead,” it is all too easy to overlook other, less known writers in this genre.

But comic buffs in Jakarta now have a chance to see firsthand the works of one such comic book artist.

French comic book artist Simon Geliot is exhibiting his latest comic “Benigno, Memoire d’Un Guerrillo du Che” (“Benigno, Memoirs of One of Che’s Guerrillas,” 2012) at the invitation of the French-Indonesian Comic Forum, the Institut Francais d’Indonesie, the La Boite a Bulles publishing house and the Akademi Samali.

The 100-page comic recounts the experiences of Benigno, a leftist guerrilla and comrade-in-arms of legendary revolutionary Che Guevara.

“I first heard of Benigno through comic book editor Christophe Reveille and one of my friends. I heard that he had been looking for a comic illustrator to tell his story, which actually suited me as I was looking for a story to tell,” said Geliot, whose real name is Daniel Conte Ramirez.

“Benigno decided to tell his story through comics, as it has already been told through a book and an upcoming movie,” he added. “We also felt that recounting his story through a comic or graphic novel would be particularly effective to convey it to those who have no time to read the book. I think his tale will also resonate among young people as it can encourage them to fight for their rights.”

It did not take long to see that Geliot’s stark, austere black and white pictures sharply portrayed Benigno’s experiences as a veteran guerrilla.

“The illustrations conveyed [Latin America’s] standing as a Cold War battleground between the 1950s and 1960s, as well as its people’s postcolonial struggles with the United States,” Geliot said.

The pictures chronicled Benigno’s experiences, from his time fighting alongside Guevara and Fidel Castro to take over Cuba in the 1950s until the Guevara’s death in Bolivia in 1967.

They also convey the raw brutality and violence faced by Benigno, one of three survivors of Guevara’s doomed insurgency in Bolivia.

For Geliot, his portrayal of Benigno is as much about form as function.

“Benigno’s story reflects my own ideals about the constant struggle for freedom. But I do not think I can fight for them the same way that he does.”

While Geliot might not pick up a rifle and fight as Benigno did, his comic workshop does reflect something of the violence of his experiences.

“The theme of the workshop is the recent murder of four inmates at Yogyakarta’s Cebongan Penitentiary by members of the Army’s Kopassus Special Forces unit,” said Heryani Wahyuningrum, the marketing manager of Akademi Samali.

“Geliot wants the participants to convey the incident through various points of view, whether they be outsiders, the doomed inmates or the soldiers themselves.

“There are no limits about how many panels he wants them to make, but he does expect them to do their research. Most of all, he wants to show them that making good pictures is not enough when it comes to making comics. The participants also have to be good storytellers.”

However, she pointed out that the workshop was not without its challenges.

“Many of the participants, particularly the younger ones, are ignorant about what happened in Cebongan. I guess it’s because they watch too many movies and not enough news,” Heryani said.

“Many of them also think that as long as incidents like that happen elsewhere and not to them, they will not care.”

For his part, Geliot said he intends to explore other themes, among them a comic adaptation recounting the story of the Weather Underground Organization, a militant group that was active in the United States in the 1970s. He also plans to translate the comic into other languages, among them English and Indonesian.

Geliot’s work on Benigno will be displayed until April 27.

So if you are scouring for alternative comics or if you can relate to Geliot’s vision for revolution and freedom, then you can do no better than stopping by and taking a glimpse at his work.
Simon Geliot Comic Exhibition
Through April 27

IFI Jakarta
Jalan Salemba Raya 25
Central Jakarta
Tel. 021 390 8585

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