Comic Genius

Words by Chris Anderson

Photography: Borna Ahadi

8 min read

From specialist shops to comic-cons – how Dubai channelled its inner geek, with a little help from the city’s own creative comic book talent

Dubai is the kind of city that could have been plucked from a comic book. There are tall buildings at every turn, perfect for superheroes to swing or fly between, and iconic locations, ideal to use as a backdrop for a battle with an arch villain.

Plus the city itself is developing its own love for comic books – speciality shops and cafés have opened up for fans in recent years, there is the Middle East Film & Comic-Con every April, and among its mild-mannered civilians is a growing community of writing and drawing talent. As Andrew Clemson, cameraman by day and writer of the space saga Star Bastardby night, confirms: “There is a growing interest in comics in Dubai – there are more places to buy them, as well as graphic novels and merchandise, and three or four books I know of being worked on here, other than my own.”

Sachi Ediriweera, writer and artist of the graphic novel Lionborn, agrees. “It’s great to see how the interest in comics has developed in Dubai,” he says. “I think the Middle East Film & Comic-Con had a huge role in this, bringing together people with similar interests.” Local writer Khaled Bin Hamad has also seen a surge. “The interest is there for sure,” he comments. “People in Dubai are more knowledgeable about comics and manga now than ever. The Middle East Film & Comic-Con gave us a platform for fans to express themselves, and it’s great to have stores here like Comic Stop.”

The Dubai comic book community has grown to the extent that it even reacted when Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee passed away last year. “I met him a few times,” reveals inker and Comic Stop founder Saeed Arjumand. “I told him how his characters changed my life and how I’m on this path because of him. He was very kind and supportive.”

So there are already Dubai cons and comic books, with a Batcave full of possibilities for the talent behind them. Let’s find out more about how their work comes together.

KHALED BIN HAMAD, writer

Khaled has illustrated, but now prefers to focus on writing

“I’m working on a comic book called Man Fearing Death– I actually wrote and illustrated the first issue, but my plan is to focus just on the writing now, with someone else on the illustration. It’s a mix of Game of Thrones andBreaking Bad, set in the Arab world of the 1500s – a dark story based around an historical event in that period. “It’s an international concept with an Arabic identity. We’re lucky in this day and age that good content does not speak one language. If your content is good, people will appreciate it, no matter where you are from. “Comics aren’t my full-time job, sadly. In this region, it’s challenging to turn comic writing into your career. It’ll happen eventually, and I’m hoping to be part of it. But currently, I work in Dubai Studio City.

“When I was young, I read Egyptian comics, and some were in the style of James Bond, very exciting. I stopped for a while, but the passion came back when I readPlanetary by Warren Ellis. I also like [writers] Grant Morrison, Scott Snyder and Geoff Johns, as well as Joe Hill, who writes Locke & Key.

Characters from Man Fearing Death, Khaled’s own comic book

“To succeed in comics here is tough. Artists and writers should go international. Once we have stars that succeed around the world, the local market will rise. “Stan Lee was the rock star of the comic world. It’s sad that he passed away, but I’m thankful for what he gave us. The movies based on characters he helped to create are the biggest on the planet, and we are not geeks anymore, just the guys who knew it was cool before everybody else.”

SACHI EDIRIWEERA, writer and artist

Sachi reworked a Sri Lankan legend for Lionborn

“My debut title is a graphic novel called Lionborn. Since the release of the book in August 2017, I’ve been working on a few digital comics. In each case, I’m the writer and the artist.
“Lionborn is a re-imagination of the legend of Sinhabahu: a historical Sri Lankan tale, similar to the west’s King Arthur, reworked into a detective noir. It has a ‘Gladiator-meets -True Detective’ vibe, which I like. “An important part of telling a story is to be passionate about it in the first place. It needs to excite you. With Lionborn, I wanted to tell a story that was familiar to my core audience, who are Sri Lankan, but I also wanted it to work internationally.

“Writing and drawing comics is my hobby, and I work as a production designer for the events industry. I’ve always enjoyed visual storytelling. Even though I’ve been drawing from an early age, reading Garfieldand Archie, the thought of making my own comic didn’t cross my mind until my early twenties. I’m definitely glad I did it.

From left: Sachi’s depiction of Doctor Strange | A peek at one of Sachi’s digital comics

“My all-time top comic book influence is Batman: Hush by [writer] Jeph Loeb and [artist] Jim Lee – it made me understand how powerful comics could be as a storytelling medium. But I also like [writer] Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force, Tokyo Ghost and Gotham Central. “In the future, I’d love to develop creator-owned stories with major publishers. I’ve got several ideas in the pipeline, and I can’t wait to explore them.”

SAEED ARJUMAND, artist and inker

 

Saeed also runs Comic Stop in Dubai’s Jumeirah

“I’ve worked as an inker on a few projects now – inking over the pencil work of another artist to add depth and perspective. I have two main projects: PopApocalypse, about a war between these big pop industry brands in a post-apocalyptic future, and GWAR, a one-shot for Dynamite Publishing, based on the heavy metal band of the same name. “Kickstarter is good for promoting and funding your work, if you want to break into comics. I’d also recommend pitching at conventions, and using Instagram and social media.

“As well working as an inker, I opened the UAE’s first proper comic book store, Comic Stop on Al Wasl Road, in Dubai’s Jumeirah. It’s been my dream to do that since I first discovered comics as a kid. Today, my favourite titles include Y: The Last Man, Saga, and anything [writer] Scott Snyder does on Batman.

From left: Saeed’s take on Skeletor | It would be Saeed’s dream to draw Batman full time’

“Comic book talent in the UAE is growing. My advice for people wanting to get involved is to study. There are many self-taught artists out there, but nothing compares to learning from an established master. The interest in comics, generally, is increasing here too. I get to see that as I have a shop, but it’s the hype of the movies and TV shows driving it. “My dream job in comics? Easy. I want to draw Batman for a living. If I ever get a chance to work on some Batman pages for DC Comics, that would make my dreams come true. But honestly, I’d take any other character I loved growing up.”

ANDREW CLEMSON, writer

Andrew would love to write a story set in Dubai

“I’m working on three books at the moment – my first series, Star Bastard, with artist Jethro Morales; a second book, Bete Noir; and a graphic novel, Child of the Machine.

“Star Bastard is an action-comedy homage to series like Lobo, Starjammers and Guardians of the Galaxy, crossed with a bit of Red Dwarf and Spaceballs. I self-published the first two issues, and then it was picked up by a publisher, Scout Comics, and is now available worldwide. Bete Noiris a Taken-style revenge story set in a world where superheroics have been outlawed, and that’s on Kickstarter. Child of the Machine is a sci-fi mystery about a group of kidnapped children in the style of Stranger Things.

“Crowdfunding is great for getting a comic book off the ground, and I don’t think we would have the current variety of work or talent if it wasn’t for platforms like Kickstarter. I promote my work on social media and exhibit at comic-cons, including the Middle East Film & Comic-Con in Dubai.

From left: A sample of Andrew’s work | Andrew’s book cover, Child of the Machine

“I’d love to write something set in Dubai – I’ve lived here for 30 years, so I definitely have ideas. But I still have to fit in my day job as a director of photography, shooting video content for brands and companies, as writing itself doesn’t pay the bills. “The comics I grew up on were Kraven’s Last Huntin the Spider-Man books – my son’s middle name is actually Stanley, after Marvel’s Stan Lee, Spider- Man’s co-creator – and Lobo and Judge Dredd are among my favourite characters. For a good series, I’d recommend checking out Y: The Last Man, Preacher and Invincible.”

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