x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

After seven seasons, creator of Shaabiat Al Cartoon knows what works

The animated show's creator and lead illustrator Haidar Mohammed discussses one of the most talked-about shows on television.

Haider Mohammed, the creator of the cartoon series Shaabiat Al Cartoon. Jeff Topping / The National
Haider Mohammed, the creator of the cartoon series Shaabiat Al Cartoon. Jeff Topping / The National

Since 2006, this wildly popular animated series has been topping viewers' lists with its blend of humour and cutting social commentary.

Shaabiat Al Cartoon is in its seventh season now. Are you surprised by the programme's success?

To be honest, I did aim and expect the programme to reach this far. While a lot of shows in the Arab world didn't last past two seasons, our show continued because we are always looking to improve in terms of stories and presentation. This is what keeps us and the show going.

As an animated show, what do you pay more attention to? The animation itself or the scripts?

The stories; maintaining high quality in scripts is the biggest challenge for us.

But don't you get most of your stories from your viewers themselves?

That is true, but the challenge is in terms of how we present it. Locals love our show because they experience, in their own way, a lot of the things that we discuss in the show. Some of my favourite comments from viewers are that they see themselves when they watch the programme. This, I think, is the secret to the show's success.

How did you create the crusty but loveable soul that is Shambee?

Ten years ago, me and my friend Mohammed bin Fadel, who is the voice of Shambee, were in the car and he put on this cassette of some funny voice segments he was working on and in it he was using Shambee's voice. I remember laughing and I asked for the CD and I kept listening to it all night and it inspired me to draw a picture of what I thought Shambee would look like.

Did fellow Emiratis criticise you for painting their community in an unflattering light?

That happened a lot, especially in the beginning, because our concept was new and people were not used to it.

So how did you deal with it?

I would tell them the stories are not made to embarrass people. I am talking about qualities that all of us have as people. Now some of these things are positive and some are negative. I ask some critics: "Are these things I am talking about, do they happen in our society or not?" When they say yes, it does occur, then I just say that I did my job as an illustrator.

Is Shaabiat Al Cartoon a window on the real lives of Emiratis?

Not at all, because Shaabiat doesn't talk about Emirati society as a whole. The show is based in a small neighbourhood and stories are based on what happens in that small community. The stories are not meant to act as a reflection on what is happening in larger Emirati society or its history. It is just a fun show.

A lot of viewers of this season complained about the number of adverts contained between episodes.

I agree with the audiences but this issue is more related to the television channel than us. All we can do is tell them what the audience think and to be fair to Sama Dubai, they said they were looking into it. But at the same time, the number of adverts during the programme is evidence of how strong the programme is.

What's next for Shaabiat Al Cartoon?

We started working on Season 8 already. There are lots of things on the way.

Shaabiat Al Cartoon is shown daily during Ramadan at 7.40pm on Sama Dubai