x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

UAE women are rising stars on the manga art scene

Two cousins turn their childhood passion for Japanese cartoons into a profession through online tutorials, perseverance and talent

DUBAI // Shaima al Malik is a loving wife, mother of two and manga artist.

One of the few but growing number of Emirati women who have a talent for drawing the Japanese cartoon characters, Shaima, 26, said she fell in love with the art form at a young age.

“In secondary school, I filled my school books with sketches and drawings,” she said. “Especially when I was bored during the lesson.”

Gradually, and on her own, Dubai-based Shaima began to develop her passion into a career.

“I started surfing the internet, reading online comics and tutorials,” she said. “I had to depend on myself since there aren’t any good schools that teach manga in the UAE yet,” she said.

When Shaima enrolled at the Dubai Women’s College, she decided to study graphic design. “My teacher supported me a lot. I got inspired by many creative artists and I loved collecting graphics and art books.”

Some of Shaima’s favourite cartoons include Kimi ni Todoke, Fullmetal Alchemist and One Piece. But making an impression on her in the world of manga is not easy.

“I’m very picky,” she said. “The story is very important to me and so is the artwork. If the manga lacks the story and art, it’s not interesting to me.”

Shaima’s artistic skills go well beyond the manga spectrum and into computer graphics, where she often experiments with funky art forms to keep things “fresh”.

“I usually mix design with art; it makes it more fun,” she said. “I love doing random drawings because I try out different techniques and experience something new every time.”

Shaima now freelances, choosing the most exciting jobs to work on, such as drawing illustrations for the Ministry of Education and manga characters for Sogha, a gift-wrap store in Dubai.

Aisha al Ali, the owner of Sogha, chose Shaima from dozens of applicants when she was looking for someone to create the perfect character to use on her advertisements.

“I saw her samples and I immediately knew I wanted to hire her for the job,” she said. “I remember she gave me more than 10 complete options to choose from and would make suggestions about what would work well for my business.”

But Shaima’s character did not only shine through her work. Her personality also endeared her to her clients.

“I loved dealing with her, she was always very friendly and was willing to make any changes,” Ms al Ali said. “I’m truly proud of her. She pursues her dream from home while still dedicating time for her home and family.”

The fascination of manga cartoons seems to run in the blood of the al Malik family. Shaima’s cousin, Alia, is just as intrigued by the art form.

“It all began from the dubbed Japanese cartoons we watched regularly when we were kids. They were interesting enough to spark my curiosity and search for more,” she said.

“My love for manga also grew thanks to my cousins. My older cousin already had a manga collection and even drew her own comics. I remember every time I visited their house I would spend hours reading and even practising drawing with them.”

Also relying on her talent and online tutorials to develop her skills, Alia, 23, blossomed into a professional artist.

“My style slowly took its own shape. Now I draw in a variety of styles: realistic, cute, and even fashion influenced,” she said. “Yet even though it’s a variety you can still see the Japanese influence. Manga is still the style that shaped my drawings to what they are now.”

When it comes to her work, Alia is a perfectionist. “I rarely produce finalised drawings that I am pleased with, maybe just three or four each year.”

Also a freelancer, Alia is open to recommendations – but she prides herself on her originality.

“A client should always know that an artist has a distinctive style that cannot be completely changed or to be asked to imitate another person’s style,” she said.

Still at the beginning of her career, Shaima’s ambitions go well beyond the home.

“I’ve always dreamed of my own boutique where I can sell my own designs on T-shirts and merchandise. I hope that it comes true.”

Ben Caddy, the managing director at ExtraCake PRA, a Dubai-based events management and advertising agency, hopes to make such dreams a reality at the Comic-Con convention in Abu Dhabi in April.

The three-day event, internationally renowned for recognising talent and being the ultimate destination for fans of comics, sci-fi video games and television shows, also provides a platform for aspiring artists to promote their work.

“No such outlet really exists here yet and we want to tell these young artists that, yes, this does have career potential,” he said.

“The Emirati culture is usually talked about in a very serious manner. But every Emirati I’ve met was a warm person with a great sense of humour.

“This is an opportunity for Emiratis, and artists from all nationalities, to share this with others by showcasing what they love.”

mismail@thenational.ae