Arts & Culture

Kangblabla: Experiment With What You Have

Toys highlighting diversity.
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Going by the moniker Kangblabla, Julius Raja Manickam is a character artist based in Malaysia who creates a quirky array of characters to highlight the beauty of diversity.

Each character he creates starts with a backstory in mind and is brought to life as a series of wooden sculptural figures he calls Kebab Toys. However, that is only the start of their story as these characters and their tales continue to expand and interact through pixel art styled comics.

However, Kebab Toys and pixel art are not Julius’s only mediums. His work actually spans from street art, painting and illustration to pixel art, sculpture and even poetry. Each medium is a different means of expression for Julius and he shares with us how his experimentation in mediums and passion for character design led to the rise of Kebab Toys.

Why the moniker Kangblabla?

Kangblabla is a slang from the 70's which can mean anything and everything. I stumbled upon it during my typography class in college and felt drawn to it. I felt it resonates with who I want to be.

How did Kebab Toys come about?

I was going through a creative block and couldn't produce any drawings, hence I chose to play around with a different medium. Back in the old studio, wood was aplenty and I had a go with making characters out of the wooden scraps. I thoroughly enjoyed the process and thus I managed to find a way to continue creating characters that pop into mind constantly.

What drove you to explore so many mediums from graffiti and paintings to comics and pixel art?

I was just always interested in learning new techniques and ways I can create more characters.

Was there a common approach under these explorations?

I would say it's character design. It has been my one constant go to since I was 5. I believe that every character has a story that we can learn and benefit from.

Your work now seems to centre around Kebab Toys and pixel art. How did these become your go-to medium?

It was fitting that I had the block that made me pick up wooden assembly. I use Kebab Toys as a way I can now introduce character line-ups that will appear and be part of the grand tale I'm beginning.

Pixel Art was another way I continued to produce digital work when I had no computer. I made them all through a pixel art app on my phone and it became a great accompaniment to the characters being released as Kebab Toys or as future characters in the works.

I still produce characters in other mediums but seeing as I can't split myself into five, I have to focus on a few mediums at a time.

When and how did you recognise that you have established a style of your own?

I think at the age of 12, I was reading Gempak comic magazines and was instantly drawn to the fact that every comic artist had their own style and drawing strokes, thus began my journey of creating my own style. I think I first created my own style at the age of 13 and from then on, I've evolved the style countless of times depending on what I was influenced by at the time. It is still evolving and I don't think it'll stop anytime soon.

Are there other mediums you’d like to develop or explore, or is Kebab Toys and Pixel Art ‘it’ for you?

For sure, there are lots of things I want to try out.  

Mediums are ways I can express my stories and I shouldn't limit my explorations of what I develop and create as that'll be against what my name invokes, Kangblabla.

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