x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

'Our heroes need not be super'

Comic books need to shift away from one dimensional superheroes, according to industry experts.

Convention goers gawk at the frighteningly realistic Heath Ledger.
Convention goers gawk at the frighteningly realistic Heath Ledger.

DUBAI // The region's comic book creators should forget one-dimensional superheroes and instead package Middle Eastern tradition with western pop culture, industry experts said yesterday.

Publishers used the second day of the Middle East Film and Comic Con to discuss the best way for regional talents to make their mark on the world stage.

"When we talk to comic fans and readers, most people associate superheroes with the comic-book industry," said Sohaib Awan, the founder of Jabal Entertainment, a comic book and alternative entertainment production company. "If the Mena region wants to make an indelible mark on the medium as a whole, I do not think it's necessary to go the superhero route."

Mr Awan, whose company supports writers in the Middle East, said local talent should be inspired by the multifaceted approach taken by modern manga in Japan. It became popular in 1945 and by 2010 generated US$2.76 billion (Dh10.14bn) in annual revenue.

The Middle East's first commercial comic book was published in Egypt in 2005, but Mr Awan said regional writers could draw on generations of oral history and myths narrated in community gatherings.

"The work needs to reflect the sensibilities and culture of this part of the world but it has to be done with the flair that is appreciated on a global scale," said Mr Awan, who is also the creator of Jinnrise, a comic book featuring the legends of the Arab world. "We have to start adopting the nuances that are brought to western content.

"It is not going to be enough to tell the stories for the people of the region if we want to grow the industry. What we need to say is, let's tell the stories in a way that will appeal to a global audience."

Jaseem Sarwar, who launched the Dubai-based Middle East and Asia Comic Collectors Club, a forum for fantasy enthusiasts, at this year's Comic Con - held at the Dubai International Marine Club at Mina Seyahi - said there was no dearth of creativity in the region.

"Anyone who is familiar with Middle Eastern or Islamic history will know that creativity is not alien to this culture," he said. "It is inherent in the region but needs only to be fine-tuned for a wider audience.

"It is even more crucial now, with the current events in the region, that people realise there is more to the Middle East than what you may see on news channels."

Ashraf Ghori, a comic-book artist and filmmaker who began his career by self-publishing, said his biggest challenge was finding outlets for his work.

Mr Ghori, who was also the creator of the UAE's first computer-generated sci-fi film, Levity - Xero Error Minus 1, which screened at the Cannes Film Festival, said there was a danger that "most people continue with their day job and this just becomes a hobby, something they do after work".

He said serious effort was needed to take comic books into the mainstream. "For starters, more people need to get into the publishing business," he said. "And, of course, there have to be more connections and conventions so that people can meet and discuss their ideas."

Mr Sarwar said his club was a good way for fans to interact.

"The intention is threefold," he said. "Firstly, to develop a community hub for people interested in comics to come together and discuss the medium. Secondly, to give an platform to locally and regionally based writers who have got the talent to exhibit their work and, thirdly, to connect them with publishers who can support their initiatives."

More than 200 people have already registered for the club.

"We basically want to raise the profile of the talent that this region clearly has," Mr Sarwar said.

For information about the Middle East and Asia Comic Collectors Club, visit www.meaccc.com.

aahmed@thenational.ae