DC superheroes are a familiar sight for both kids and adults, be it in the form of comics, cartoons, movies figurines or Lego blocks. But the iconic characters' latest incarnation may just be their most unique yet.
In a fascinating merger of two very different art forms, a team of artists from Malaysia has transformed five DC superheroes - Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Flash, and Green Lantern - into traditional Wayang Kulit (shadow puppet) characters.
Tintoy Chuo and Teh Take Huat, the founders of Fusion Wayang Kulit (FWK), teamed up with Wayang Kulit Pak Daim (master puppeteer) Muhammad Dain Othman to work on the project as a way to renew interest in the diminishing art form.
Chuo, a graphic designer, said, “It is very sad to see Wayang Kulit being categorised as a dying art, so we decided to put a twist to it.
“We wanted to find a way to revive this traditional form of art,” he said, adding that Wayang Kulit is often perceived as old-fashioned due to its association with the ancient folk tale of Ramayana.
In order to preserve the tradition of Wayang Kulit, Chuo had to familiarise the Pak Daim with the DC characters so he could match them with Wayang Kulit characters having similar features. This was the “toughest part” of the DC-Wayang Kulit mash-up, with each puppet requiring about two to three weeks to make, said Chuo.
“For example, if you look at Batman, he is holding a yellow claw in his hand. This is taken from a character in Wayang Kulit because I explained to Pak Daim that Batman is one with many gadgets, but doesn’t have any superpower,” said Chuo.
The remade Wonder Woman was initially wearing a sarong like a Wayang Kulit princess but this was changed to a shorter sarong later.
Not all the DC superheroes can be matched with traditional Wayang Kulit characters.
“Wonder Woman is a fighting character, but traditionally, princesses don’t fight. So we had to improvise.”
Once the designs were finalised, Pak Daim took over, printing out the designs in the appropriate sizes and then passing them to experienced craftsmen who would carve out the designs on cowhide using a hammer and specially designed nails.
“We could do it using a computer, but that would take away the authenticity of the puppets,” said Chuo. In addition, the timeframe for puppet-making would have been much longer – by Chuo’s estimation, an amateur like him would take three months on average to complete a puppet, instead of three days for a craftsman.
By adopting the style of Wayang Kulit from Kelantan, Malaysia, Chuo said the colours of the puppets that can be projected at a performance would be more vivid.
“It is a big misconception that Wayang Kulit is only in black and white. The truth is, you can see the colours of the puppets because the paint for Kelantanese Wayang Kulit is translucent.”
Although the DC series is complete, FWK has yet to do a performance as it is still in discussion to secure approval from Warner Bros, which owns the copyright to the DC characters.
A self-confessed Star Wars fan, Chuo said his first project with Teh was to recreate Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker.
“After our first exhibition of the two characters in July 2012, a friend of the Pak Daim we know told him about it and we connected. After meeting him, we decided to do more as he has the knowledge and skills to bring the project further,” said Chuo.
FYK has made 25 pieces of shadow puppets to date, including creating entertainment icons like Bruce Lee, a Chinese New Year series for the Year of the Goat, even a Christmas series.
The team has done about 20 shows for their Star Wars characters, named Peperangan Bintang Wayang Kulit (Star Wars shadow puppet), which was based on Star Wars episode 4: A New Hope, after getting the green light from Lucasfilm previously.
FWK first showcased their DC characters at an exhibition in Penang, Malaysia from 27 to 31 August this year. There will be another exhibition from 30 October to 8 November in the Bangsar Village shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur.
“Through these projects, we hope to revive Wayang Kulit from the dying art category, and turn it into a popular form of art again,” said Chuo.
Chuo added that their next project would revolve around Halloween and will be unveiled on 31 October.