‘Siksa Neraka’ Was a Terrifying Vision of Hell
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‘Siksa Neraka’ Was a Terrifying Vision of Hell

We revisit the comic that scarred a generation of Indonesian kids.

I can vividly remember the first time I saw hell. I was a kid, barely eight years old, when I discovered this tiny comic book filled with some of the most haunting images to ever cross my young eyes. The comic was called "Siksa Neraka" or roughly "Hell Torture," and its vivid depictions of the tortures that awaited sinners in hell still makes me shudder with fear—if only a little bit.

The simple comic was printed on A5 paper that felt thin and cheap at the time. The printing was blurry, the artwork crude, and each issue barely totaled 30 pages. But all of that only made the comics seem more mysterious, more terrifying, like the rough edges were left that way to match the graphic scenes contained within.


The plot of "Siksa Neraka" was pretty minimal. The comic was written by MB Rahimsyah AR and illustrated by Ema Wardana—whose darkly twisted imagination was the main reason behind "Siksa Neraka"'s infamy. The comic is basically a Muslim version of Dante's Inferno sketched out in the style of a low-class underground zine. There are seven levels of hell according to Islam, from Jahanam, the hall of light sins, all the way to Hawiyah, the deepest, darkest hell reserved for the worst sinners.

And Ema Wardana illustrated them all. Each page was chock full of crudely drawn naked human bodies suffering some of the worse tortures imaginable. Picture long-haired men stuck on hooks and stabbed with hot iron spikes. Blistered flesh smoking under a giant red-hot iron. The tongues of liars cut out of their mouthes. Limbs hacked off to regenerate and get cut off again.

Every sin in the Islamic hell of "Siksa Neraka" had its own uniquely awful torture. And for a select few, the kafir or unbelievers, it was a hell with no escape. One of the most-terrifying scenes was of a sinner being forced to drink from a lake of blood and pus. I mean come on, could anything be worse than that?

"Those comics are basically torture porn," Hikmat Darmawan, a comics expert, told VICE. "They focusing on the gory exploitation of violence, just like EC Comics did in US in the 1950s. Basically, it's about the religious doctrines found in our society. There's a moral message there and the comic acts as an explicit visualization."


Religious themed comics like "Siksa Neraka" started to hit Indonesia sometime in the 1950s, said Hikman, who has sent years studying and collecting these comics. These hell comics arrived on the market at a time when stories about pencak silat masters and prophets were in high demand. It took years for "Siksa Neraka" to find its audience.

"Siksa Neraka" didn't start booming until the 1970s and its popularity lasted until early 1990s," Hikman said. "At a time, when Indonesian comics were about to be taken over by Japanese manga, "Siksa Neraka" actually managed to survive. This means there was a big demand for it outside of the mainstream book stores."

By the time the 90s came around, there were several different versions of "Siksa Neraka" on comic stands. They all had different authors, and different illustrators, but the plot and style remained the same. It's even rumored that legendary Indonesian comic artist Tatang Suhenra—the man behind "Gareng dan Petruk"—once drew an issue. But even today it's a rumor no one's been able to prove.

It's the original comic, the one drawn by Ema Wardana, that stuck with me all these years. I wanted to interview the team behind it, but sadly, Ema Wardana has already passed away. I tried to find MB Rahimsyah AR but the man remained a mystery.

When hell-themed comics reached peak popularity, there were multiple publishers releasing their own versions of these gory, but still religious books. Surabaya's Pustaka Agung Harapan and Jakarta's Sandro Jaya were the most-aggressive of the bunch.


Pustaka Agung Harapan was founded by Luhur Santoso in 1994 and the small publisher quickly gained a fan base with its graphic comics and Islamic themes.

The publisher opened an office in a residential housing complex and quickly started to churn out low-cost comics for Indonesia's down-market shops and working class readers. The production methods were simple, Luhur explained. The original comic came in as a stack of actual drawings that were then photocopied or traced.

"Digital technology didn't existed yet," Luhur said. "The master file was still hand-drawn, then copied using tracing paper and printed with a small offset machine. The first print usually consisted of only 1,000 or 2,000 copies."

Pustaka Agung Harapan purposely kept production costs low and relied on old-school street-level distribution methods to get their comics into the hands of eager kids.

"Even today those kind of comic books can only be found at street stalls, street toy sellers, and reading gardens," Luhur told me over the phone. "Sometimes, we also distributed them to Islam-boarding schools as well."

Luhur told me that his company had sold tens of thousands of comics. But "Siksa Neraka" still stood out as something special.

"We first published 'Siksa Neraka' in 1995," Luhur said. "I happened to be friends with the author and the illustrator. A lot of kids liked it and I thought the comics might be able to guide and encourage children not to violate their religion teachings."


Pustaka Agung Harapan still exists and it still published hell torture comics. In 2013, the publishing house put out a remake of "Kepedihan Siksa Neraka dan Calon Penghuninya" ("The Pain of hell Torture and Its Potential Inhabitants") in full-color.

"There was still a demand for it," Luhur said. "We printed 4,000 copies and, at the moment, it's all gone. We haven't re-printed it since due to declining demand. It seems like kids these days prefer digital technology."

The impact of those comics on 90s kids can't be underestimated. Everyone knew of them, and even today, my idea of what hell might be like is shaped by some of stuff I saw in "Siksa Neraka" as a child.

"Those comics are now consumed ironically," Hikmat said. "Many even make parodies out of their content. If you look at the big picture, you don't necessarily become a better person by reading 'Siksa Neraka.' You can't really measure morality."

There was also more going on with these comics than initially meets the eye. "Siksa Neraka" was full of naked bodies and gruesome violence but it still got past the New Order's censors. That's because the comic served the interests of Gen. Suharto's repressive regime, Hikmat said.

"On every comic back then there was a police stamp that signified that the printer had the permission of the censorship bodies," he said. "There definitely were ideologies behind those comics. People who deviated from the society were heavily punished. Content-wise, the comics focused on personal salvation, but not on justice."

I wasted a lot of afternoons searching for copies of "Siksa Neraka" and other hell-themed comics while researching the history and legacy of the gore-filled religious comics of the 90s. I wasn't looking for them to fulfill a sense of nostalgia or any of that bullshit, because who the hell has warm childhood feelings about naked humans being tortured?

But I still did want to see how they held up today. Turned out it was pretty difficult to find the comics. I went to Blok M Square and asked the comic sellers who work there. "It's all about luck, Mas, when you're trying to find those kinds of comics," I was told.

Eventually I found six titles online, all of them published by Jakarta's Sandro Jaya. I have no idea when they were initially published, but the batch only cost me Rp 15,000 ($1.12 USD) apiece. Each issue was printed on HVS paper with better text—both features that would be considered luxurious two decades ago.

Thankfully, the comics failed to scare me like they used to. Maybe I've become a more rational person with age. The kind of person who no longer obsesses about being tortured in hell. The kind of person who knows there are scarier things out there than comics about hell beasts and torture. But back when I was a kid, there was nothing scarier than "Siksa Neraka."