Tuesday, September 1, 2015
Not A Crime! An Interview with Kazimir Lee Iskander
A few weeks ago, I came across the comic story, Not A Crime by Malaysia born cartoonist, Kazimir Lee Iskander. It is a story about the arrest and discrimination faced by trans women in Malaysia and a particular incident that happened in Negeri Sembilan in June 2014. It came out of nowhere and it's really one of the best things I've read this year. I tracked down Kazimir to get the lowdown on him and his work.
Not A Crime is a fascinating story. If you have not drawn about it, most of us would not know about the Jempol arrests in Malaysia in June 2014. How did you get to know about it (you were in Malaysia at that time) and what made you want to do a story about this?
I had done some work with Thilaga, who is one of the members of Justice For Sisters (JFS – the group that helped the trans women after they were arrested), prior to learning about the Jempol arrests. Thilaga and I did some work with Food Not Bombs, another excellent lefty NGO. Thilaga actually put me on the Seksualiti Mederka (the Malaysian equivalent of Pride) and JFS mailing list, so I was informed about the Jempol arrests the night it happened, and watched it unfold over the week. I really wanted to make work that showed outsiders the state of Malaysian activism, that there were actually a lot of wonderful people working to fight bigotry and fundamentalism every day.
The story has been featured in Slate and a 1-page version of it is on the Guardian #OpenComics project. Have more people written to you about this story and wanting to find out more about the Section 66 law in Malaysia?
Yes! People normally contact me through my website. It's amazing to be able to refer people to the JFS homepage and it's really heartening to see so many people show interest in Malaysia's LGBT scene too. It's an amazing scene.
What are your politics?
I am a dyed in the wool leftist. I consider myself a feminist and advocate for LGBT (IQA) rights as well, though I guess time will tell if I can make a difference or if I'm just another middle class man shooting his mouth off. I'm also increasingly passionate about sex work decriminalization and worker's rights.
I looked through your website. There are many comics and animation which most people are not aware of - where have you been doing your work and where have you been published?
I am currently in grad school, but I spent the last few years working freelance, so a lot of my work is either published solely on the internet (through my website or tumblr) or self-published to sell at conventions.
Your bio stated that you have lived in Malaysia, USA and the UK - where were you from originally and what/where did you study/work?
I lived in Malaysia for the first 12 years of my life. Then I went to boarding school in the UK, in Tonbridge, Kent. I received my BFA in Animation at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design.
How would you describe your comic style - more American/Western?
I suppose my style is somewhat western or European, although Malaysian comics have been very influenced by publications like MAD magazine, and I draw from that as well.
What are your influences? What sort of comics did you grow up reading in Malaysia? Lat?
I grew up reading a lot of Tintin, Lat, Gila-Gila, MAD magazine, Ren and Stimpy comics, and standard superhero stuff.
You are currently doing a MA in cartooning at the Center for Cartoon Studies - how did that come about? Something you have always wanted to do? How is the course so far and who are teaching you?
The course is amazing. I feel like there could be more support for international students, but I think the course is always evolving and learning from its mistakes, so I think that will change. I really wanted to make more work that was overtly political, and there was no room for that in animation, so I decided to make comics instead. I feel privileged to have some really amazing course instructors, including Stephen Bissette, James Sturm and Jason Lutes. We get so much hands-on advice and instruction from these award winning creators, there is really no other school like this one.
What do you hope to achieve with your comics and animation?
I hope to reach a wide audience and hopefully entertain people while engaging with their politics. I want to make great art and bring people together, and make them laugh and cry.
Finally, a comment on what's happening in Malaysia right now..
It's disgusting how the culture of corruption and racial supremacy has eaten away at our democracy for so long. I can hardly even call it a democracy anymore, since the elections are so dirty. I am deeply disappointed that our leaders operate with the implicit approval of the West (because said leaders sell themselves as 'Islamic moderates' and are willing to sign the TPP).However, just this weekend we had a giant pro-transparency march that my amazing activist mother attended (I am so proud of her) so I have to believe things can change for the better.