Arts & Culture

Kangblabla: Experiment With What You Have

Toys highlighting diversity

Words by
b-side staff

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 spans street art, painting, illustration, 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 has led to the rise of Kebab Toys.

Why the moniker Kangblabla?

Kangblabla is a slang from the ’70s and it 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 at making characters out of the wooden scraps. I thoroughly enjoyed the process and found a way to continue creating characters that constantly pop into my mind.

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 to 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 on 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 to introduce character lineups 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 they 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 since 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 all the comic artists had their own style and drawing strokes. Thus, I began my journey of creating my own style. I first created my own style at the age of 13 and from then on, I’ve evolved the style countless 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 are Kebab Toys and Pixel Art ‘it’ for you?

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

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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