Last night I saw the beginning of the Magic of Creative Imagination comic book/manga panel, a discussion about the art and the business of comics and manga, and how it relates to the Arab world.
Dr Naif Al-Mutawa is an academic and successful comic book writer. After early career success, his third book got banned (for political reasons) and he stopped writing at the age of 27. However, he came back five years later with an even more powerful politcal statement, and the ideas and tools to effect immense social change.
“All you have to know is that something is possible to be able to do it,” he says.
In the aftermath of September 11, the whole world was looking at the Middle East as terrorists. So Naif set out to use his art to spread a message of peace. His ambition was to create a comic that would be as big and wide-reaching as Pokemon.
“The only way to beat extremism is with arts and culture,” Naif said.
Thus The 99 was born, a comics series featuring 99 heroes from 99 different countries who are going to save the world.
It has been an enormous success. The comic book was published in many languages (Arabic, English, Spanish and Turkish to name a few), a tv animation is in productionwith Endemol, and the series has been endorsed by Barack Obama. Understandably, Naif is incredibly proud of his project. There are 88 people employed working on the project and over $40 million of capital has been raised so far. But the most important part of The 99 is the message:
“Something that came out of the Gulf was able to go global and spread a message of peace.”
Marcia Lynx Qualey wrote about Dr Naif and the political possibilities of comic booksat last year’s Sharjah Book Fair.
The 99 is a mind-blowing comic and a great example of the transformative power of literature. Hear Dr Naif al-Mutawa’s inspirational TEDX speech. And of course, check out The 99 for yourself! A free download and more info is available at the99.org.