Three young teenagers have mysteriously disappeared and the strange situation only intensifies when they resurface three days later, having aged 15 years.
That, in a nutshell, is the plotline of Nasser's Secrets, a new sci-fi graphic novel by Khaled Bin Hamad that blends Japanese styles with Emirati culture.
Supported by the Middle East Film and Comic Con (MEFCC), Bin Hamad will introduce the prologue in English to the public tonight at the Cartoon Art Gallery in Dubai, with pages of the comic displayed on large canvases throughout the gallery. He aims to complete the full comic, with an Arabic translation, in time for the next MEFCC in April.
The story focuses on ways in which the Emirati community reacts to the supernatural and how ordinary people face extraordinary events. Bin Hamad, from Abu Dhabi, wrote the script and created the artwork himself, mainly on his iPad using various specialised applications.
"After the teenagers disappear and return, many questions are raised on the strange circumstances because each has aged 15 years and experienced different physical changes," says Bin Hamad. "There is plenty of mystery from the very beginning and with each page the reader learns something new."
The supernatural plot explores what really happened during those three days and introduces the audience to the "strange and wonderful characters" the teenagers cross paths with and the "true villainy behind the disappearance".
"It is very exciting and new. It is not about trying to be extreme or realistic. It is penetrating scientific fiction ideas in real life, especially within Emirati society," he says. "I tried to imagine how an Emirati family would react to sci-fi superpowers."
The concept of presenting a novel as an art exhibition is said to have originated in Japan, and will be displayed for the first time in the Middle East through Nasser's Secrets.
Bin Hamad, who from a young age developed a passion for Japanese anime, manga and other art styles, was also inspired by artists such as Salvador Dali. Having been raised in the UAE, he was driven towards drawing more traditional subjects. It was during a two-year stay in Japan while studying for his Master's degree that his love for anime and manga was reignited. Bin Hamad was captivated by the Japanese artists Hayao Miyazaki and Takehiko Inoue, which helped refine his talent and widen his imagination. He also credits last year's inaugural MEFCC for giving him the platform to follow his dream.
"This is what MEFCC is all about: nurturing and generating a platform for the next generation of creators in the Middle East," says Ben Caddy, the director of MEFCC. "We've always had faith in the amazing talent in the region and it's inspiring stories like this that prove Dubai is becoming a true creativity hub."
The idea is to turn the graphic novel into a possible TV series that would appeal to an international audience. "MEFCC was a huge step for me - there is such a huge market for comics and talent who just need a small push. I was very surprised at the level of fan base in the region and I've come across many on social media still talking about the effects of the Comic Con and making plans," says Bin Hamad.
The opening night of the exhibition is by invite only, but the exhibition will be open to the public from tomorrow until January 25. For more details, visit www.facebook.com/KhaledBinHamad or www.mefcc.com