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Alumni in the Spotlight: Tony Biddle (Class of 1985)

I attended JIS during my family’s stay in Jakarta for several years in the early-to-mid-1980s. I graduated in 1985, along with one of my sisters. We both left Jakarta that year to continue our studies back in Canada. My parents and younger sister (also a JIS student) stayed on in Jakarta for a few more years. 

Me (center) on graduation night with my best buds Gary (left) from Australia, and Jeff (right) from Canada.

There’s a direct connection for sure. Some people may recall the busy cartoon poster I created titled “Jakarta: A World of its Own”. It was a kind of caricature of the city’s chaotic, bustling street life. I’d been drawing it in my spare time after school with no specific purpose in mind, and one day, I took the large and detailed pencil sketch to school to show the art teacher, Mr. Carré. He immediately saw the potential in it and allowed me to work on it in class as an independent project while everybody else had to do the regular coursework. When it was nearing completion, he took me to see Mr. Bear, who taught a course on journalism and was organizing the design and compilation of the yearbook. Mr. Bear made me a proposal: He wanted me to create a similar panoramic cartoon scene of the school, which he could then publish in the yearbook along with the Jakarta poster. And in exchange, he would provide the funding to print a large batch of both posters, which I could then sell. 

Jakarta Poster - Copyright©2022 Tony Biddle

The plan worked out well. I asked the school admin for permission to sell the posters on the school grounds, and they agreed. So I started bringing small batches to school every day, and I would lay them out on the walkway around one of the pavilions. They flew off the shelf, so to speak. Revenue from the sales provided funding to make successive print runs, which my mother helped sell at international functions and bazaars long after I left Jakarta. When she left, she made an arrangement with an expat community organization to continue to sell them in their crafts boutique, with some of the proceeds going towards the charities they supported. It would sell for a few more years and then I eventually lost contact with them. (Sadly, I Iost control over the use of the artwork; acquaintances visiting Jakarta over the years have occasionally reported seeing it on various consumer products, like coffee mugs, handbags, etc. None of that was ever authorized).

The revenue from the poster helped pay for my undergraduate university tuition at McGill University in Montreal, where I graduated in 1992 specializing in geography. I would go on to do a Masters of Environmental Studies at York University in Toronto, graduating in 1995. What did I do with all that education? I threw it all away and gravitated inexorably — like a fly to a piece of doggy doo — right back to the arts. I became a self-taught freelance graphic designer and cartoon illustrator, with some dabbling in animation, focussing almost all of my creative energies on the design of educational and campaign materials for various causes like labor rights, human rights, economic and social justice, food security, protection of the environment, etc. 

To link this back to JIS, I think the whole experience with the poster and the support I received from my teachers and the school was formative in that it taught me early on that I could build a viable (most of the time anyway) independent career based on my creative abilities.  

My favorite memory was the year JIS hosted the week-long intramural sports and culture meet-up among the sister schools across Southeast Asia. I was always fascinated by the idea that had I been at school back in Canada, we’d be competing against neighboring schools from down the block or across town, but here we were competing against (if memory serves) Manila, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, and Singapore. The school was abuzz with international students and the positive energy was off-the-charts. I won first prize in the drawing category of the art competition — for the aforementioned Jakarta poster.

Advice to current students: 
Your time at this incredible school will ultimately be fleeting, so make a special point of savoring every moment. In time, you will look back on these formative years with fondness, pride, gratitude, and longing.  

Anything else you would like to add?
I have recently put the finishing touches on a spectacular new remake of the Jakarta poster with all-new artwork and some updates to reflect modern-day Jakarta. I’m calling it the “40th (well... almost) Anniversary Edition”. So, stay tuned!

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