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Wednesday, April 19, 2017

The Not So Secret Origin

As I was about to celebrate the release of Pheng iu (Volume 1) five years ago earlier this month, I dusted off the unreleased story of Pheng iu for this special occasion. I smiled and chuckled when I did the proofreading, simply because I found it hard to believe at times that this piece of nonsense was actually written by me. It felt like a lifetime ago since I last did such stuff. It was kind of nostalgic that it got me reminiscing and digging further into the treasure trove. 

Looking back, I realized that since I was a kid, I always had a knack for telling stories that evolved around me at that time. I used to play with my action figures just to act out the stories, from Tiger Wong (the old Lóng Hǔ Mén) to Final Fight (the side-scrolling, beat-'em-all video game, my all time favorite), usually with my loyal brother as the only audience. The routine stopped as it became increasingly embarrassing to do so, thanks to my grandfather's constant teasing. That's when I switched to another medium that allowed me to continue my passion.

As briefly mentioned in the Artworks, I thought I was into comics in 1995. I was wrong. Thanks to the well documented information in Sentimental Journey, I just rediscovered that I started a year earlier in 1994. After reading the timeline that I wrote back in 2001, I recall now that the comics craze was started with Sonic the Hedgehog pencil sketches. The drawing was awful, but it was fun and I craved for more since that moment onwards. I also vaguely remember that I did Dick Tracy as well during that period, although I totally have no recollection of how it turned out to be. Perhaps it was just a one page thing. I have no idea, really.

The main piece of work I was doing then was Mega Man. I came up with my own story and drew it myself. It was heavily inspired by Tiger Wong, hence the muscular characters and the fighting style that was mixed with occasional use of Mega Man's own Mega Buster, producing a result that was somewhat similar with Dragon Ball Z. It was exciting for a while, but because I wasn't any good in drawing, I always struggled and had a hard time catching up with the flowing ideas. Frustrated, I eventually abandoned the whole thing.

It didn't stop there and then, apparently. Upon learning that the drawing part hindered my progress, I did the storytelling only in the form of writing but, alas, of all the stories I could have started with, I wrote a love story. I mean, as a teenager, love story was not cool! It was just my luck that I was so inspired by the Chinese drama I was watching and what was the supposed to be the last thing done by a teenage boy became the first short story I ever penned down, literally, on a piece of paper. It was called Simfoni Kehidupan, retitled as the Chinese Love Story during its inclusion in Sentimental Journey.

Sentimental Journey, the Beatlestories (hand-drawn by yours truly) and the New Legend of Superheroes.

I thought it was corny. I was neither proud nor confident about it, but still I got the one and only original handwritten copy circulated around. Friends like Eday and Lisna encouraged me to carry on, which was very nice of them. Not long after that, I churned out another one, this time a comedy. That one felt more natural to me. I was at ease, having the time of my life and I began adopting the moniker Anthony Ventura. No, not from Ace Ventura, but from the name that I always saw on vinyls owned by my father.

I wrote a number of short stories during that period. Some were the finest then (Pompeii included, even though it was a, uh, love story), others were downright horrible. That was also the time when I first noticed that I couldn't really write based on requests from others. Imagine an artist that draws other people's face upon request. I did that, too, but the results weren't satisfying, at least to me. It somehow felt like very restrictive and the creativity just didn't develop well due to it, therefore the quality suffered. It worked best for me when it was my own stuff, a lesson that I learnt after many attempts of writing for others.

Another thing worth mentioning is, while I am capable of crafting stories from the scratch, I have this tendency of picking up what is funny around me, touch it up and repackage it into something that is entirely me. I often think that it's due to my keen sense of humor, which enables me to see ordinary stuff in a different light and laugh about it. Just my way of appreciating the irony in life, I suppose?

JKK, a parody of Justice League à la Kalbe, the silliest and the most useless incarnation ever.
Image credit: Kent August

Anyway, after brushing up my skills for a couple of years, I progressed from short stories to books (and wrote them on a computer as opposed to handwriting). The results were as random as they could be: two compilations of the previous short stories (Sentimental Journey, part 1 and 2), a bunch of new short stories with the same theme cobbled together (the Beatlestories, for example), two collections of poems, the fake monthly newspapers, a movie script (this was Andy William's project that was canned in the end), a play (it was performed in an event organized by Kalbe, the company I worked at), an interactive piece of nonsense where you could select your favorite characters and complete their adventures by choosing the multiple options that would bring you jumping all over the pages (JKK: Edisi Petualangan), two motivational books based on the lyrics of famous songs and, finally, normal books with one single storyline divided in multiple chapters such as the Battle of Destiny. Oh, there was even a trilogy called the Secret of Sephiroth, but only two out of three books were ever completed, haha.

Monster-Mania, one of the many Godzilla fan fictions I ever wrote.

1998-2006 was an insanely productive era! Apart from what was described above, I also wrote a couple of songs with my friend Ardian. You see, I had a band or two and at least one guitarist that I highly admired, but Ardian was a down-to-earth guy with under-utilized talents that he was approachable for me to work with. As a songwriting team, we split the tasks naturally, ie. he handled the music and I took care of the lyrics. We used tape recorder at first, then digitally re-recorded the same stuff using computer a few years later. The last time we got together to write a song was, perhaps, around year 2007. We wrote Friends Forever, which was supposed to be the soundtrack of Pheng iu #3. As a duo, we did perform our stuff to public at least once during the Christmas event (and we wrote Christmas song so that we were qualified to register, haha).

Friends Forever, in what was meant to be Pheng iu #3.

Still within the period was the book publication that happened twice in 2005. Now this was rather interesting. When I started writing, I didn't write with a commercial mindset that it would eventually get published. Most of the time, it was done because I felt like doing it and I enjoyed the process. Only after the work was finished that I'd read it as a common reader and, more often than not, the outcome tended to be for personal consumption or limited audience. Yet there were some materials that were pure comedy, the ones that could be enjoyed as easy reading by many. 

Crazy Campus, originally titled as Happy Campus, was one of those. It was about the four main characters, together with their classmates, wrecking havoc during their stay at the university in the fictitious Newtown City (yeah, I created the whole city long before this and most of my stories took place here). The series was inspired by my experience as computer lab assistant when I was in college and I did around 40 standalone chapters. When I moved to Jakarta, I picked up the best ones and submitted them as a book. Much to my delight, I got the deal. That was the first time I ever signed a contract with a publisher, albeit the indie one. 3000 copies were printed for the first round and another 3000 were printed subsequently. 

Half a year later, the second book, Hong Kong Heroes, was published. This one got me worried about copyright infringement due to the similarity between the characters and the real life people. As I mentioned earlier, when I wrote books, I did it mostly just for fun. In this case, Hong Kong Heroes was supposed to be some sort of fan fiction only. It featured Stephen Chow, Andy Lau, Jackie Chan, Jet Li and Chow Yun Fat reprising their roles from their movies, defending Hong Kong from the clutch of mafia led by Al Pacino, therefore I was understandably reluctant in publishing the book, but I was convinced that there wouldn't be any issue.

The original Hong Kong Heroes: 2001 and 2003.
Image credit: Jun Fui (Hong Kong Heroes 2003)

Were Crazy Campus and Hong Kong Heroes bestsellers? I'm afraid not. Judging from how they were written, I tend to think that you either like them or hate them. In term of success, Hong Kong Heroes didn't get any reprint, so only less than 3000 copies were sold. Due to the poor reception, the sequel (yes, there were actually two, Hong Kong Heroes 2001 and 2003) wasn't released. Talk about royalties, they were quite substantial then, came handy at the right time to cover my expenses when I first migrated to Singapore later on that year.

The Secret of Sephiroth was written at the end of an era. It was a fantasy story influenced by both Harry Potter and the Lords of the Rings. I was also reading Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs at that time and, as much as I was fascinated by Tarzan, I disliked the one line description about the fight. I thought, as a reader, I would like to know the details, hence the battle scenes in my story were long and illustrative. If I recall it correctly, I met a guy who edited the Bahasa Indonesia edition of Winnetou and he requested several changes (this explained why the first part of the saga has the original and alternate version), but no deal was materialized. The trilogy, with the total of around 800 pages' worth of story so far, was left unfinished.

The map from the Secret of Sephiroth.
Image credit: Kent August

Then the life changing decision happened. I moved to Singapore and started anew. While I was looking for a job, I dreamt of doing a short film. That's when Pheng iu, which means "friend" and originated from the phrase often used by Sudarpo, was born. With a little help from my friends, I wrote the screenplay, I directed and shot the scenes and I post-produced the whole thing. The first flick was pretty much a test, but not without its memorable moments (I especially cherish the dancing scene, the first outdoor shooting we ever did). The second one was more of a decent short film. The third one, which was supposed to be the best and directed by the far more capable Andy William, stopped half way due to camera faulty and died a quiet death. Nevertheless, Pheng iu as a bunch of characters found a new life soon after that, this time in the written form. I happened to discover the self-publishing website and, after a decision to retire the pseudonym, Pheng iu (Volume 1) by Anthony Robinson appeared on

That was the last hurrah before the five year hiatus. When my daughter was born, I thought it was time to call it quit and move on. It was fun while it lasted and all good things must come to end, no? The writer in me was long buried until 2017, when I curiously installed the Blogger application on my trusted BlackBerry Priv

It feels good to be back! It's been a long way since I first started. I had survived the handwriting era, I had done it for the longest time on computers and now, relying heavily on the addictive BlackBerry keyboards (KEYone, here I come!), I'm a writer on the go! This man has stories to tell and he's here to stay!

The Big Three: Crazy Campus, Hong Kong Heroes and Pheng iu (Volume 1).

Asal-Usul Roadblog101

Sewaktu saya hendak merayakan terbitnya novel komedi Pheng iu (Volume 1) lima tahun yang lalu, saya mengeluarkan cerita Pheng iu yang belum pernah ditulis sebelumnya. Saya tersenyum dan tertawa kecil saat membacanya kembali, sebab sulit rasanya untuk percaya bahwa karangan sekonyol ini ditulis oleh saya. Rasanya seperti sudah begitu lama sejak saya menulis dengan imajinasi seliar itu. Saya jadi terbawa suasana untuk bernostalgia.  

Kalau saya lihat kembali, saya sudah gemar bercerita dari sejak kecil. Saya sering menggunakan mainan figur aksi yang saya miliki, misalnya kura-kura ninja, untuk memerankan tokoh dari beraneka cerita, mulai dari Tiger Wong sampai Final Fight (video game di Orbit Wonderland). Penonton setia saya di kala itu adalah adik saya. Hobi ini akhirnya saya hentikan karena kian terasa memalukan seiring dengan bertambahnya umur saya. Oleh karena itu saya pun pindah ke medium lain yang lebih cocok untuk bercerita. 

Seperti yang disinggung secara singkat the Artworks, saya mengira kiprah saya di dunia komik dimulai tahun 1995. Namun setelah saya cek lagi informasi yang ada di Sentimental Journey, saya baru menyadari bahwa saya mulai setahun lebih awal di tahun 1994. Semuanya bermula dari sketsa pensil Sonic the Hedgehog. Gambarnya luar biasa buruk, tapi perasaan saat berkarya itu terasa menyenangkan dan membuat saya berkecimpung di dunia komik. Samar-samar saya juga ingat bahwa saya pernah mengerjakan Dick Tracy pada saat itu, tapi entah bagaimana hasilnya. Mungkin hanya satu halaman, hehe.  

Karya utama pada era komik adalah Mega Man. Saya membuat cerita sendiri dan menggambarnya. Terinspirasi oleh Tiger Wong, jagoannya berotot dan bertarung secara fisik sambil diselingi tembakan Mega Buster. Hasilnya mirip seperti Dragon Ball Z. Pada awalnya terasa seru, tapi karena saya tidak pandai menggambar, karya ini berjalan lambat dan tidak sepadan dengan cepatnya ide yang mengalir. Karena frustrasi, saya lantas berhenti dari dunia komik. 

Saat menyadari bahwa kemampuan menggambar saya tidak cukup, saya kemudian berfokus pada cerita saja, kali ini dalam bentuk tulisan. Meski akhirnya saya lebih banyak menghasilkan cerita komedi, cerita pendek pertama yang saya tulis justru bertemakan cinta. Ketika masih remaja SMA, rasanya cerita cinta itu menggelikan untuk ditulis oleh seorang cowok! Akan tetapi saat itu saya sedang menonton serial drama Mandarin yang berjudul Sanggar Kenangan dan saya tergerak untuk menulis cerita serupa. Cerita ini berjudul Simfoni Kehidupan dan kemudian diubah menjadi Chinese Love Story saat dirangkum dalam Sentimental Journey.

Sentimental Journey, the Beatlestories (yang saya gambar sendiri) dan the New Legend of Superheroes.

Saya tidak bangga atau bahkan percaya diri dengan hasil karya perdana ini, tapi saya tetap mengedarkan cerpen tulisan tangan ini untuk dibaca oleh teman-teman. Eday dan Lisna memberi saya dorongan untuk lanjut, sebuah dukungan yang berarti buat saya. Tidak lama setelah itu, saya menulis karya kedua yang bernuansa komedi. Prosesnya terasa lebih alami, mungkin karena saya memang senang bercanda. Di saat yang sama, saya juga menggunakan nama Anthony Ventura sebagai penulis. Nama ini tidak berasal dari Ace Ventura seperti yang sering diduga banyak orang, melainkan dari nama seorang pemimpin konser yang sering saya lihat di piringan hitam ayah saya.

Saya menulis banyak cerpen pada periode ini. Beberapa di antaranya tergolong bagus (termasuk Pompeii, walaupun ini sebenarnya cerita romantis), namun tidak sedikit juga yang jelek. Ini pertama kalinya saya menyadari bahwa saya tidak bisa menulis hanya karena diminta oleh orang lain. Entah kenapa ada perasaan yang membatasi kreativitas sehingga hasilnya tidak memuaskan. Setelah beberapa kali menulis berdasarkan pesanan, saya menyadari bahwa hasilnya akan lebih baik jika saya tulis berdasarkan keinginan sendiri. 

Hal lain yang juga saya amati adalah, walau saya bisa mengarang cerita dari awal, saya memiliki kebiasaan mengambil sesuatu yang lucu dari sekeliling saya, kemudian saya kemas dalam gaya saya dan masukkan dalam cerita. Saya sering berpikir bahwa ini mungkin karena rasa humor saya sehingga saya bisa melihat sesuatu yang lucu dari hal-hal yang mungkin terlihat lumrah bagi orang lain.

JKK, parodi Justice League à la Kalbe, dengan jagoan yang konyol dan tidak berguna. 
Image credit: Kent August

Setelah mengasah kemampuan saya selama beberapa tahun, saya pun mulai meninggalkan cerpen dan beralih ke buku (dan saya juga beralih dari tulisan tangan ke komputer, mulai dari aplikasi WordStar). Hasilnya ada berbagai macam, mulai dari kompilasi dari berbagai cerpen yang pernah saya tulis, yakni Sentimental Journey, part 1 dan 2, kumpulan cerpen yang bertema sama, misalnya the Beatlestories, koleksi puisi, koran bulanan, naskah film (ini adalah proyek Andy William, namun akhirnya batal), drama (dan ini ditampilkan di sebuah acara yang diorganisir oleh Kalbe, tempat saya bekerja dulu), sebuah cerita interaktif yang memungkinkan anda untuk memiliki jagoan dan bertualangan dengan cara menentukan pilihan yang membawa anda ke halaman tertentu (JKK: Edisi Petualangan), dua buah buku motivasi yang berdasarkan lirik lagu serta buku-buku novel dan bahkan trilogi yang berjudul the Secret of Sephiroth (namun hanya dua dari tiga buku yang terselesaikan, haha).

Monster-Mania, satu dari banyak cerita fiksi penggemar yang saya tulis. 

1998-2006 adalah periode yang benar-benar produktif! Selain apa yang saya jabarkan di atas, saya juga menulis beberapa lagu bersama teman saya Ardian. Dari sejak SMA, saya bergabung dengan beberapa grup musik dan setidaknya ada satu gitaris yang sangat saya kagumi, namun Ardian adalah pria rendah hati dengan talenta yang jarang digunakan. Saya pun mengajaknya untuk berkolaborasi. 

Friends Forever dalam cuplikan film yang seharusnya menjadi Pheng iu #3.

Pada masa itu, saya juga sempat menerbitkan buku. Di kala menulis biasanya saya tidak berpikir secara komersial. Saya menulis karena saya menikmati prosesnya. Setelah selesai dan saya baca ulang dalam sudut pandang seorang pembaca, barulah saya sadari bahwa hasil tulisan saya seringkali hanya cocok untuk kalangan terbatas. Meskipun demikian, ada juga yang bernuansa komedi dan bisa dinikmati khalayak ramai. 

Crazy Campus yang awalnya berjudul Happy Campus termasuk dalam kategori tersebut. Cerita ini mengetengahkan sepak-terjang empat tokoh utama dan juga teman-teman mereka saat kuliah. Serial ini diinspirasi oleh pengalaman saya selama menjadi asisten laboratorium komputer di kampus. Saya menyelesaikan sekitar 40 cerpen dan, setelah saya pindah ke Jakarta, saya mengirimkan kumpulan cerpen terbaik sebagai sebuah buku ke penerbit. Saya mendapat tanggapan positif dan akhirnya menandatangani kontrak dengan pihak penerbit. Cetakan pertama berjumlah 3000 eksemplar dan demikian juga halnya dengan cetakan kedua. 

Setengah tahun kemudian, buku kedua, Hong Kong Heroes, pun diterbitkan. Buku yang satu ini sempat membuat saya khawatir dengan masalah hak cipta karena kemiripan tokoh yang saya pakai dengan orang-orang terkenal di Hong Kong. Seperti yang saya paparkan sebelumnya, saya biasa menulis karena saya suka. Hong Kong Heroes harusnya hanya merupakan sebuah fiksi penggemar. Cerita ini menampilkan Stephen Chow, Andy Lau, Jackie Chan, Jet Li dan Chow Yun Fat yang memerankan karakter dalam film masing-masing. Oleh karena itu bisa dimengerti kenapa saya sungkan untuk merilis cerita ini, namun pihak penerbit meyakinkan saya bahwa tidak akan ada masalah.

Hong Kong Heroes: 2001 and 2003.
Image credit: Jun Fui (Hong Kong Heroes 2003)

Apakah Crazy Campus dan Hong Kong Heroes terjual laris? Harus saya akui bahwa hasilnya tidak seperti yang saya harapkan. Dari cara cerita ini ditulis, saya tahu bahwa hanya akan dua tipe pembaca, yang benar-benar suka dan yang tidak menyukainya. Bicara soal sukses, Hong Kong Heroes bahkan tidak dicetak ulang dan hanya terjual kurang dari 3000 eksemplar. Karena kurangnya minat pembeli, buku berikutnya (ya, bagi yang belum tahu, sesungguhnya ada dua episode, Hong Kong Heroes 2001 dan 2003) tidak diterbitkan. Bicara soal royalti, jumlahnya cukup lumayan dan berguna untuk biaya hidup saya saat saya pindah dan memulai dari awal di Singapura. 

The Secret of Sephiroth ditulis di penghujung periode ini. Trilogi ini adalah kisah fantasi yang dipengaruhi oleh cerita Harry Potter dan the Lords of the Rings. Pada saat itu, saya juga membaca novel Tarzan yang ditulis oleh Edgar Rice Burroughs. Saya suka cerita Tarzan, tapi saya tidak suka deskripsi pertarungannya yang singkat. Saya merasa bahwa detil pertempuran sangat penting, jadi setiap adegan pertarungan dalam Sephiroth sangat panjang dan ilustratif. Saya akhirnya bertemu dengan editor yang mengerjakan alih bahasa Winnetou. Dia meminta berbagai perubahan dalam cerita (ini alasannya kenapa buku pertama akhirnya ada dua versi), namun kerja sama ini tidak membuahkan hasil. Saya hanya sempat menyelesaikan dua buku yang totalnya berjumlah 800an halaman.

Peta the Secret of Sephiroth.
Image credit: Kent August

Sesudah itu, saya pindah ke Singapura. Selagi saya mencari kerja, saya bermimpi bahwa saya membuat sebuah film. Dari sinilah Pheng iu (yang berarti teman, sebuah frase yang sering digunakan teman saya Sudarpo) bermula. Dengan bantuan teman-teman serumah sebagai bintangnya, saya menulis naskah, menjadi sutradara, menjadi juru kamera dan menyatukan hasilnya menjadi sebuah film. Episode pertama sebenarnya lebih menyerupai eksperimen (saya menyukai adegan tarian yang merupakan adegan luar ruangan yang pertama bagi kita). Film kedua lebih bagus hasilnya. Yang ketiga, yang seharusnya paling bagus karena disutradari oleh Andy William, teman saya yang bergerak di bidang perfilman, putus di tengah jalan karena video kameranya rusak. Walaupun demikian, Pheng iu sebagai tokoh cerita berlanjut dalam bentuk tulisan. Di saat bersamaan, saya kebetulan menemukan situs yang memungkinkan saya untuk menerbitkan buku sendiri. Saya memutuskan untuk mulai menggunakan nama asli saya dan  Pheng iu (Volume 1) karya Anthony Robinson pun muncul di

Itu adalah karya terakhir saya sebelum saya berhenti menulis selama lima tahun. Ketika putri saya lahir, saya pikir bahwa saya sudah menulis lebih dari 10 tahun lamanya, jadi mungkin sudah saatnya saya berhenti. Saya tidak pernah menulis apa pun sejak itu, sampai awal tahun 2017, ketika saya iseng mengunduh aplikasi Blogger di BlackBerry Priv

Senang rasanya bisa kembali! Saya telah melewati masa-masa tulisan tangan, era komputer dan sekarang saya mengandalkan keyboard BlackBerry yang terpercaya sehingga bisa menulis di mana pun! Oh ya, saya punya cerita dan saya senantiasa akan bercerita!

Crazy Campus, Hong Kong Heroes and Pheng iu (Volume 1).


  1. Terima kasih sudah menjadi Anthony Ventura, penulis yang menjadi trigger saya untuk menulis komedi. :)

    1. Wow, gak nyangka. Thanks juga atas komentarnya. Sukses selalu ya, Zulfian!