September 4, 2023

Magical Sweet Gula: Gula Gulali discovers that variety is not the spice of life at school where her magic makes for sour grapes

Wouldn’t it be magical if we could just wave a wand and fit in? Unfortunately, in Magical Sweet Gula, that reality seems to be pie in the sky for Gula Gulali. Born part-Magi, Gula sticks out whether she wants to or not, with her cotton candy pink-hair and pointed ears in her Terran-majority school. Which, in turn, makes her the low-hanging fruit target of her school’s insatiable bullies.

To add salt to her wound, even amongst the general school population, Gula finds herself in an uphill battle against the rampant sensationalised stereotypes that inundate the media her peers consume. Even when she walks on eggshells, all it takes is one untimely discharge of her magic, and she is dropped quicker than a hot potato by her schoolmates.

Gula’s constant calibration to find the perfect measurement of “normal” amidst her mixed Magi and Terran heritage is a quandary that is especially close to the heart of the title’s co-creator Johanes Park. “Even though this comic book is a work of fiction, the story is inspired by my own experience living in a multicultural Indonesian society as a mixed child,” he shares. Born to a Korean father, and a Chinese-Sundanese mother, Johanes recalls feeling lonely and outcasted. It was from this vantage point of trying to find harmony in cultures and perspectives that Magical Sweet Gula was first conceptualised.

Jessica Leman, the other pea in this husband-wife creator pod, elaborates, “Books or graphic novels with narratives about searches for identity usually portray people who live outside the country of the ethnicity they are descended from, and how they struggle to integrate after.” Noting a lack of multiracial characters in transmigrant stories, she continues, “In Magical Sweet Gula, we tried to share a story of the next level of identity searching – where the character is of mixed ancestry. Being multiracial, the character has a unique struggle where neither ethnic group will wholly accept her as a part of them.”

Both creators are well aware that the desire to fit in, to get along like peas and carrots with your peers in school despite being different, is a concept that many children are familiar with. Magical Sweet Gula offers its young audience food for thought on the ways in which multiracial children may experience prejudice. To make the subject more accessible to younger readers, the creators made Gula immediately visually distinct from her peers. “Since Manakarta is based on Jakarta, where people have naturally dark hair, we found the most eye- catching way to show contrast was through one’s appearance, especially using colour,” Jessica explains.

Besides using bright colours and a very generous sprinkle of magic as visual markers for Magi in Magical Sweet Gula, Johanes also highlights how spicing up the pages with Peranakan desserts extends the metaphor of fitting in. “I believe in “Bhinneka Tunggal Ika” which means “even if we have many differences, in the end we can still have the same feeling”. I think this philosophy is also reflected in Peranakan culture, especially their foods.” The creators go on to explain how food recipes in Indonesia often draw their history from multiple heritages—the antithesis of “too many cooks spoil the broth”. When researching on jajanan pasar (market snacks), Jessica and Johanes found further inspiration for Gula’s growth and journey in how these snacks were often served together in a single tampah (flat woven bamboo basket), even when they come in multiple flavours.

Commenting on Difference Engine’s decision to publish Magical Sweet Gula, Publisher Felicia Low said, “A core tenet of Difference Engine is to support the amplification of stories and voices that may not have the same reach and platform as that of the majority. Magical Sweet Gula is earnest in its exploration of a multiracial character coming to terms with their identity, and holds both sweet and bitter halves of Gula’s experiences. While concepts like bullying and self-perception might seem intimidating to younger readers, Jessica and Johanes’ vibrant colour palette and humorous panels do wonders to ease readers into these topics.”

Magical Sweet Gula is now available in bookstores in Singapore and Malaysia. It is also available for purchase online with local and international shipping options. The book retails at SGD15.90 (w/o GST).

Purchase the print or ebook at

For enquiries about the book, contact:

Magical Sweet Gula is the first of a two-volume series, with Book 2 scheduled for release in 2024.

More like this