Comic-Con headed for the Middle East

With growing Arab interest in comics and anime, Abu Dhabi hosts its own version of the San Diego convention.

stormtrooper comic con 311 (photo credit: AP)
stormtrooper comic con 311
(photo credit: AP)
Fans of comics, sci-fi and fantasy in the Middle East will now have their own comic convention. In March 2011 Abu Dhabi’s National Exhibition Centre will be the first in the region to host its own version of the San Diego Comic-Con International.
The event in San Diego started in 1974 as a meeting point for people interested in science fiction, comic books and movies. It has since grown into a four-day event with over 140,000 visitors and important industry events involving computer games, pop culture, Japanese cartoons known as anime and sale of memorabilia and merchandise.
The organizers of the event in the United Arab Emirates are expecting 10,000 to 15,000 visitors.
Arafaat Ali Khan is the managing partner at ExtraCake PR, which is organizing the event.
“We have been thinking about this since we were in diapers, so it’s been going on for a long time,” Khan told The Media Line.
“What we see now is that there is interest in the infrastructure as far as stores over here stocking anime, [Japanese] manga [cartoons] and comics,” he said. “It’s all coming together at the right time.”     
“The genre is exploding in the Middle East. We have a growth in the sales and bookstores are dedicating entire shelves to comics,” Khan said.  
“Then there is the latest trend in this part of the world – that is the talent of artists and writers that have no outlet for their passion and to become serious artists,” he said.
Khan said that the convention would be similar to the ones held in the U.S.
“The main difference will be the market but we will follow the tried and tested international ideas,” Khan said. “We are going to have expos, merchandise, games and show classical movies and hopefully some new trailers.”
Today the American comic and sci-fi events are used as major marketing platforms for feature films. Movie stars, both past and present from various genres attend to promote their latest works.
No special guests, however, have been announced for the Abu Dhabi event as of yet.
Local comic book fan Saeed Sabbagh said the event would be a good opportunity for networking.
“I hope to get awareness of a comic book I am producing and networking within the comic book industry,” Sabbagh told The Media Line. “I am looking forward to interacting with everyone and seeing what’s out there.”
Nitin Mathew, a marketer of video games based in the United Arab Emirates said that he   was also very excited about the event.
“The United Arab Emirates is host to many international events in the fields of business, technology and sport,” Mathew told The Media Line. “The Middle East Film and Comic Convention will add to that with a bit of culture, not just putting Abu Dhabi on the map of pop culture, but also exposing the residents of the country to some of the most iconic pop culture brands and products in the world.”
“The video game industry, of which I am part of, will keep a keen eye on how this develops and will look for opportunities to participate as well,” he said.
“I know some of the guys at ExtraCake and they are very passionate about this concept and I think we can look forward to seeing that passion come to life and will go a long way in making this a success,” Mathew added.
Filmmaker Ashraf Ghori said that he hoped the fair would provide an opportunity for him to screen his latest film.
“Being a regular at Comic-Cons in Texas in the early 1990s and also featured as an artist at many, I am thrilled that something this ambitious is happening in this part of the world,” Ghori told The Media Line. “I say ambitious since there is no particular demand for comics and collectibles in this part of the world as there is in the United States.”
“Conventions in the United States arise out of demand, a necessity to promote an already thriving industry,” he said. “In this part of the world, however, it will be the opposite, more about educating and creating a demand through the Middle East Film and Comic Convention.”
“That said there are quite a few people I know who are just as excited as I am about the Comic-Conand would attend it for sure,” Ghori said. “This could be the start of something really big here.”
“Personally some of the organizers have approached me and I will be meeting with them,” he said, “possibly to talk about promoting my film 'Levity - Xero Error Minus1', a sci-fi short about a super-heroic cyborg on a journey through time.”
One example of the new regional interest in comics is the success of “99”. It has been labeled the world’s first superhero comic based on Islamic culture, featuring 99 characters each with a skill set inspired by the 99 names traditionally assigned to Allah in Islam.
Another success story is “Freej”, an animated series about four grandmothers living in Dubai, trying to adapt to living in a modern city that was just a small village when they were young. When the Cartoon Network announced earlier this year they would open an office in Abu Dhabi, they also announced a distribution deal with the local production house behind Freej, Lammtara.