x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Female-oriented graphic novel Blades of Hope launched at Middle East Film and Comic Con

Sohaib Awan, founder of Jabal Entertainment and publisher of the new graphic novel Blades of Hope talks about the growing demand for strong female characters and how the new series represents the strength of women in society.

Ara. Handout photos of a new comic book, Blades of Hope, about a female-orientated young adult novelthat was launched at Comic Con April 4, 2014 (MEFCC).

The book has been published by Jabal Entertainment — and I have spoken to the founder Sohaib Awan, shown in black Tshirt. 

CREDIT: Courtesy Jabal Entertainment
Ara. Handout photos of a new comic book, Blades of Hope, about a female-orientated young adult novelthat was launched at Comic Con April 4, 2014 (MEFCC). The book has been published by Jabal Entertainment — and I have spoken to the founder Sohaib Awan, shown in black Tshirt. CREDIT: Courtesy Jabal Entertainment

The role of female comic book characters is slowly but surely changing from playing second fiddle to being at the helm. Independent comic book creators have made strides in altering the stereotypical portrayal of female characters to represent their strength and progress in society. Even Marvel Comics is taking baby steps in the direction of diversity with the release of Ms Marvel this year (she is a Muslim American teenager who can shape-shift) and popular characters Black Widow, Elektra and She-Hulk slated for their own books.

US- based publisher Jabal Entertainment is furthering the trend by supporting women writers and female orientated comics. The company released a teaser for their new graphic novel Blades of Hope at this year’s Middle East Film and Comic Con. The young adult novel is about six female martial artists selected through a competition to bring peace to the world after a devastating event. It has been co-created by US-certified school counsellor and Tae Kwon Do enthusiast Paige Hartman.

Sohaib Awan, founder of Jabal Entertainment and creator of the comic book series Jinnrise, tells us how the new graphic novel reflects today’s impression of women and their critical role in society.

When where you approached with the concept for the novel?

Ashley Eckstein, voice actress behind Ahsoka Tano on Star Wars: The Clone Wars, is a good friend of mine. She’s the founder of Her Universe (geared towards female genre fans) and is a real champion of strong female characters. This inspired me to tell a global story reflective of this notion. I approached Paige Hartman because I knew she could tell this story with the necessary nuances.

Can you tell us about the creative process and role of each contributor?

Unlike on Jinnrise, I simply laid out the basic plot points for Blades of Hope. After the initial world building took place, Paige took over from there. She wanted the characters to be reflective of their individual cultures, and specifically chose the regions that best illustrated the wide scope of worldwide martial arts. This tied in nicely to the goal: celebrating the inner strength of women through martial arts.

Can you tell us about the story and what drew you to publishing it?

The story takes place in a world fallen into ruin after an unexplained supernatural event. With society on the brink, a tournament is held to find potential members of a global police force. Six young female competitors find themselves thrown together. They are the “blades of hope” in a world sorely in need of it. The potential theme of gender-blind heroism was something too exciting and important to pass up.

Why did you decide to launch Blades of Hope at MEFCC?

Launching my first series, Jinnrise, at the event two years ago was a resounding success. Not only were we able to have the series published by one of the world’s largest comic publishers (IDW Publishing), an animated series based on the comic is in the works. A forum like MEFCC has proven to be a fertile ground for introducing new intellectual properties, and I’m excited to do it again.

Are you seeing a demand for female orientated stories in the Middle East?

If you look at the success of projects like The Hunger Games and Disney’s Frozen, it is clearly apparent there’s a demand for stories with strong female characters. From my experience, this is not a region specific phenomenon. Until recently, female genre fans have been ignored. While not neglecting our male readers, we hope to buck that trend and fill that void.

Has the scope for story development and creating complex character in graphic novels changed over the years?

It has indeed. One has to be aware of the many channels of storytelling distribution now available. Mediums like film, animation, apps, and the like allow creators to expand the story beyond the printed page. If one is telling a story through comics, one cannot ignore these potential opportunities. And as digital becomes more ubiquitous, this will be even more so the case.

You will, for the first time, sell the comic book merchandise. Why did you decide on creating a line based on this novel?

It seemed natural for us. Blades of Hope is more than a story. It’s also a brand, and the merchandise is simply a way to allow our readers to enjoy the storytelling experience beyond the printed page.

What items will be sold?

The clothing will be unlike Cosplay or costume in that it will be designer-centric with a focus on popular fashion. Hip meets practical laced with genre flair. That is the goal.

aahmed@thenational.ae