By Sumayyah Meehan, MMNS
The word â€˜superheroesâ€™ conjures up images of Superman â€œâ€¦leaping over tall buildings in a single boundâ€ or Spiderman swinging through the skies by his webs to save the latest damsel in distress. Perhaps the last concept that many people would associate with superheroes, or even with comic books for that matter, is Islam. However, a new breed of entrepreneur from Kuwait has turned the global comic book industry on its head by creating one of the first Islamic themed comic books that the World has ever seen.
Naif al-Mutawa, CEO of Teshkeel Media, is the mastermind behind â€˜The 99â€™ comic book series, which is taking the Middle East as well as the rest of the World by storm. And giving more mainstream comic books, like Archie and others, a run for their money!
The inspiration for â€˜The 99â€™ actually came from Mr. Al-Mutawaâ€™s sister, â€œ She asked me to return to a writing career after I had finished my MBA. She got me thinking about the lack of positive modern day Islamic role models for children and I decided that I wanted my children (and children everywhere) to have heroes that they could call their own. Thatâ€™s why we have 99 characters from 99 different countries. To show kids that heroes can come from anywhere and to counterbalance the negative depictions of Islam that are too prevalent in the entertainment field these days.â€
Characters depicted in â€˜The 99â€™ represent Muslims from all over the globe each one having their own superpower whether it is a physical power like growing to a gargantuan size in the flash of an eye or mental powers like being able to tell whether or not someone is telling the truth. Mr. Al-Mutawa has really covered the bases with his characters to give them mass appeal as readers can find one or more that they can identify with. The characters of â€˜The 99â€™ also bring a strong sense of Islam to the storyline, which is unique given that other comics in the Middle East do not possess the finesse that Mr. Al-Mutawa has to make room for Islam in their storyboards. All the characters in â€˜The 99â€™ are the epitome of kindness, generosity, wisdom and honesty, which are core Islamic values. Further, Mr. Al-Mutawa uses â€˜The 99â€™ to spread a message of peace that the World really needs to hear, â€œHuman beings have so much more that unites us than separates us. All cultures should be valued and respected. Tolerance and understanding are more powerful than force and conflict.â€
â€˜The 99â€™sâ€™ storyline begins with the sacking of Baghdad by Hulagu Khan. â€œWe have rewritten history,â€ says Mr. Al-Mutawa, â€œto say that the Mongols invaded Baghdad specifically to destroy the great library, the Dar Al-Hikma. The librarians use a special solution of Kings water and manage to save the wisdom of the ages in 99 gemstones. The gems are taken to Andalusia where they remain safe until Ferdinand and Isabella attack. At that point one of the descendants of the librarians tries to use the power of the stones for his own purposes and the fortress guarding the gems is destroyed. The gems become scattered around the world, lost until the present day. Now they are being rediscovered, one by one, and each new gem gives special powers to a worthy recipient. Now itâ€™s a race between Dr. Ramzi and the heroes of THE 99 and the forces that want to use the gems for their own selfish purposes.â€
The creative forces behind â€˜The 99â€™ are just as diverse and multi-talented as the superheroes themselves. â€œWe didnâ€™t have an existing comic book culture here in Kuwait,â€ shares Mr. Al-Mutawa, â€œso we went out and found top-level talent from around the globe.â€ The creative team of â€˜The 99â€™ includes artists who have worked on other popular comic books like X-Men, Pirates of the Caribbean and The Incredible Hulk. Team members have come from all over the World to bring Mr. Al-Mutawaâ€™s imagination and characters to life. The nationalities represented in Mr. Al-Mutawaâ€™s creative team include Irish, Spanish, Argentinean, Turkish, Canadian, Iranian and British. Although Mr. Al-Mutawa is very keen to hire homegrown Kuwaiti artists, however, the existing talent has not produced itself as of yet.
Mr. Al-Mutawa has not spared any expense or effort to ensure that â€˜The 99â€™ can go head to head with fierce competition from the likes of the bigger comic giants like Marvel or Disney. The uniqueness of the characters has proven to be the key to â€˜The 99â€™sâ€™ success as both Muslim and non-Muslim fans devour issues of the comic book as they come out. â€œOur goal has always been to tell entertaining stories first and foremost and I think thatâ€™s been a big part of our acceptance among non-Muslim readers,â€ reveals Mr. Al-Mutawa.
â€˜The 99â€™ is currently being published in the US, Kuwait, Indonesia, Malaysia and will be launched in India this spring. Teshkeel Media has also appointed licensing agents in the UK, France and Spain. So, it is only a matter of time before comic book aficionados in those regions can get their hands on a giant dose of â€˜The 99â€™.
The future for â€˜The 99â€™ and Teshkeel Media looks very bright. Mr. Al-Mutawa has already begun talks with other media moguls around the World to take â€˜The 99â€™ to the next level. â€œWeâ€™ve had some very interesting discussions with potential partners about everything from animation to theme parks and I expect we will be making some announcements very soon. If all goes as planned 2008 will really be the year of THE 99!â€
Get your FREE copy of â€˜The 99â€™ online by visiting: www.the99.org Download â€˜The 99-Origins-Issue Zeroâ€™ and discover why Forbes Magazine calls â€˜The 99â€™ one of the Top 20 trends sweeping the globe!