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Wafa Al Marzouqi will set up Character Factory. Antonie Robertson / The National
Wafa Al Marzouqi will set up Character Factory. Antonie Robertson / The National

Picture of passion with designs on success

The Life: Wafa Al Marzouqi, who left her job as a research analyst to become a full-time illustrator, talks about the challenges and opportunities of setting up a cartoon company.

Wafa Al Marzouqi left her job as a research analyst with the Prime Minister's Office in Dubai in March to pursue her passion as an illustrator full-time. Ms Al Marzouqi, 23, an Emirati, is now hoping to get her cartoon company, Character Factory, up and running by the end of the year.

Here, she talks about the challenges of setting up her own firm.

How did you get the idea of a cartoon company?

After studying media at Higher Colleges of Technology-Dubai Women's College, I joined the Prime Minister Office in Dubai. But I was waiting for the perfect moment to take up illustration as a job. That came with my first solo exhibition at Dubai Mall in January/February in collaboration with Sheikh Mansoor bin Mohammed Award for Photography. The event was called Bidaya or 'the beginning'. I showcased 30 illustrations on the UAE such as the Emirati identity. And everybody was talking about it. The exhibition ended one Sunday and the next Sunday I submitted my resignation. I was afraid of my family's response but they were very supportive.

How challenging is it to launch your business?

It is a very long process to set up a company. My plan was to set up in October or November. Now it seems the company [will be live] by the end of the year or early next year. The cost is also too much. It takes Dh15,000 (US$4,083) to Dh20,000 to register a name. I have not done it yet because the process is very vague. I started the process two months ago and have already spent Dh30,000 but have not got anywhere. A lot of agencies promise me help but then I do not get a response.

What kind of projects are you working on now?

I have three projects. Two for a large entertainment company and one my personal project on character design tutorials. I gave some design tutorials in Arabic on Twitter three to four weeks ago, and now I have 5,000 followers.

What will your company do and how do you plan to expand?

I will start with character designing for companies and government agencies and then I will offer merchandise. I will give workshops on character drawing on demand and give tips in Arabic. That's because most of the tutorials are in English. After a few months of setting up the company, I will hire a marketing person and, after a year or so, hire animators for video animation and copyrighters for children's storybooks. Eventually, I want a character design and book publishing company.

Are you trying to develop a distinct Emirati style for your characters?

I have tried a lot of drawing styles and now have developed my own. I would say my drawing style is more Disney than, say, [Japanese animation style] Anime but I have my unique style. My characters are Emirati by the way they look - dark skin and broad eyebrows, the dress and the background, which always has the UAE flag or Burj Al Arab or other [well known images], as well as the ideas such as our daily lives or celebrations such as Eid, Ramadan, the National Day or New Year.

What are the business opportunities of a cartoon company?

No one specialises in character design. And the people who do character designs, there are not many locals. Also, international agencies [their characters] are not representative of the local culture.

* Sananda Sahoo

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