x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Jinn and the art of comic book magic

Jinnrise, due to launch early next year, combines old-world Middle Eastern myths with science fiction and a good dose of fantasy. Maey El Shoush finds out why it is expected to be a game-changer.

Jinnrise, due to launch early next year, combines old-world Middle Eastern myths with science fiction and a good dose of fantasy. Maey El Shoush finds out why it is expected to be a game-changer.

Rarely are tales of Middle Eastern myths and beliefs handled in mainstream comic books, but a new series due to launch in January is set to shake up the international comics industry.

One of the fastest-growing US comic publishers, IDW Publishing, which is behind titles such as Transformers, GI Joe, Star Trek and Dungeons and Dragons, has announced they will launch Jinnrise with another US company, Jabal Entertainment.

The companies launched a digital edition of the series in April at the first Middle East Film and Comic-Con in Dubai.

Sohaib Awan, Jabal's founder, says the upcoming release of the new books speaks volumes about where the comics industry is headed. It is also an ideal example, he adds, of what could potentially be done through global entertainment, with more companies more likely to reach out to international talent.

Awan is also the founder and host of Fictional Frontiers, a weekly radio show dedicated to discussions on pop culture.

Inside Jinnrise

The plot is simple: interstellar forces invade Earth and tear apart the world of Andrew Marcus, an international student. But just as all hope seems to be lost, humanity's last chance rears its head in the form of a "long-feared and forgotten race, the jinn".

With a unique blend of old-world myths, modern-day fantasy and science fiction, each month the comic series will ask: What is the nature of true power?

"Rather than a modern retelling of ancient fables, Jinnrise is a completely fresh spin on a fantasy staple. Most importantly, our story demonstrates the inherent potential of humanity when myopic beliefs are abandoned by all sides," says Awan.

The origin of myths – such as the genie in a lamp who grants three wishes – will also be studied. "There are many misconceptions, and we hope to educate Western audiences and familiarise them with jinn," says Awan. "Muslims believe in their existence. Jinn in Islam can be good or evil, and Jinnrise will reflect that."

Original twist

For Chris Ryall, the chief creative officer and editor-in-chief of IDW Publishing, the story feels original.

"I love the way the story blends old-world myths and cutting-edge science fiction," says Ryall, who also hosts a bi-weekly segment called Ryalltime on Fictional Frontiers. "I've always been a big fan of the world's mythologies and have rarely seen Middle Eastern myths featured in comics. Jinnrise feels like the right place to do that."

Both companies hope to work alongside more talent from the region, with Jabal Entertainment welcoming top artists and storytellers interested in contributing to the project.

"We want to create stories that resonate everywhere. The best stories are those that celebrate human nature and warn us about the dark side of humanity," Awan explains. "IDW Publishing is looking for fun, original and fresh material. And unlike zombies and vampires, jinn have not been touched upon."

Cultural bridge

Although Middle Eastern culture and characters have appeared in many comics from other publishers, they usually feel like "an appropriation of visual elements or parts of a myth used improperly", says Ryall, adding that many attempts to "blend other cultures with our own mythologies or heroes haven't always gone so well".

"In the case of Jinnrise, I think readers – both here and abroad – will see a story that makes use of Middle Eastern myths properly, in a way that drives the story as the writer intended, and not simply as a means to use something that seems visually appealing," says Ryall.

New titles such as Jinnrise could be what readers now turn to for something new.

The partnership between Jabal Entertainment and IDW Publishing came on the eve of the Comic-Con International in San Diego last month. "The response has been extremely positive. We wanted a publisher who would not turn Jinnrise into another 'product'," says Awan. "IDW has diverse stories, artists and writers producing amazing books – they always put in their best effort."

Working on the art are the top graduates from The Kubert School (New Jersey, US) – Tony Vassallo, Carli Ihde and Timothy Yates – and the founder of Daxiong & Flag Studios, Daxiong Guo.

Escape and explore

Awan believes that the demand for comics will continue because of the "universal love of escapism". "The nature of reality can be dark and cynical, and people look to escape and switch off through comics, as they do with movies," he says. "We are drawn to the impossible, and these comics draw us into a world where humanity is trying to achieve the fantastic."

Awan is also working on a comprehensive jinn anthology in the form of a series of short stories from the past, present and future – the company is already in talks with well-known industry professionals. Awan believes the anthology will also be another good opportunity to involve the best international talent.

"We want to build a playground where creativity can flourish. It's an excellent chance to tell a story through art, with different takes on the human experience – this is where all the magic comes from."

Visit www.jinnrise.com and www.idwpublishing.com.

melshoush@thenational.ae