x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

'I created an Arab comic book heroine'

The National reporter Mai El Shoush talks about her latest venture into publishing: the new fantasy graphic novel series Drawn, featuring a strong female lead.

Mai El Shoush with a teaser for her forthcoming comic book, Drawn. Jaime Puebla / The National
Mai El Shoush with a teaser for her forthcoming comic book, Drawn. Jaime Puebla / The National

When I covered the first Middle East Film & Comic Con (MEFCC) in Dubai last year, I came across amazing talent including manga artists, fantasy book writers, illustrators, action figure creators and, of course, the odd Superman and Captain America in full costume.

During one of my conversations with the organisers, Extra Cake PR, they said "you have to do something for next year" and were very encouraging. They suggested I find an idea that could be different. So I went and brainstormed.

I've grown up around henna. In Sudanese culture - and Middle Eastern culture as a whole - it's a big part of your everyday life. I believed it would be something unique, something that wasn't done before.

When I spoke to one of MEFCC's main featured guests, the US-based Jabal Entertainment founder Sohaib Awan, the creator of the comic series Jinnrise by IDW Publishing (GI Joe, Star Trek), he said he was trying to find home-grown comic book characters and stories. Sohaib is enthusiastic about exposing writers and artists from this region with new stories to tell of the various traditions and legends of Arabia, intended for international appeal. When I showed him my idea, he was confident it would be a hit and this feedback turned into a publishing contract with Jabal Entertainment. So here we are: this weekend I'll be in a booth at Comic Con with the teaser issue for Drawn, a graphic novel series exploring the complex history and mysticism surrounding the henna plant. The series follows the lead character Rayann Lawsonia as she unlocks a centuries-old secret following an encounter with an enigmatic henna artist. Rayann discovers the symbol woven on to her hand goes deeper than the aesthetics and it opens a doorway into another world.

I wanted Rayann to look distinctly different to other female characters. When I began browsing other comic books - and when you look at how the female characters are portrayed - you can see that they are very much objectified. The majority of the time, it's about their physical appearance. But with Ryannn, her strength isn't about her physical beauty or her sexuality. It's beyond that; it's about her inner strength.

After Comic Con I'll be hard at work on issue number one, which will be about 50 pages, and we're hoping to release it just after the summer.

I never thought I'd be writing a comic book. I've always wanted to do something in creative writing, because I've had a passion for it ever since school. But comic books? I had never even read a comic book before. It's great because Sohaib really got me outside my comfort zone.

Sometimes, when ideas cross our minds, we tend to say: "Oh, I'll never be able to do that," but until you really test yourself and are put in that situation, you don't know what you are capable of. Only you tell yourself whether you can or can't do something.

The extremely humbling experience has allowed me to work with some of the most amazing comic illustrators and artists such as Mark Torres (The Walking Dead 100: Hero Initiative, Conan the Barbarian), Siya Oum (Heroes), Paige Hartman and Ed Brisson to bring my characters to life. Jabal Entertainment aims to turn stories such as Drawn into a TV series or even full-length feature films - and we have already seen film producers express interest.

So, if you are attending MEFCC, make sure to stop by the Jabal Entertainment booth for a copy of Drawn.

For Details visit Facebook.com/DrawnTheSeries or www.jinnrise.com

melshoush@thenational.ae

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