Spreading Islamic values through Comics
By Shaik Zakeer Hussain, TwoCircles.net,
Banglore: For their living, the brother duo Ali and Arif Vakil work for their family owned real estate company Vakil Housing. However, it is not their entrepreneurship that makes their story interesting, but it is their fascinating creation called Sufi Comics; a fruit borne out of their lifelong passion for comics and Islam.
With an impressive combination of the increasingly popular medium of comics and the treasure trove of wisdom found in the Islamic traditions, the brothers have carved a niche for themselves and have set a new benchmark in this genre.
In this Interview with TCN’S Shaik Zakeer Hussain, Ali Vakil, the younger of the two, talks about the idea behind Sufi comics and more.
Could you tell us something about yourself and what Sufi Comics is all about?
Our roots are from Gujarat. We grew up in Dubai, but for the last 10 years we've been in Bangalore. We used to run a mailing list prior to the blog. However, after we came to Bangalore we converted that list to a blog www.vakil.org. We used to put up comics on this blog, and realized that it's getting popular and deserves its own website, that's when we started suficomics.com.
If I have to describe what Sufi Comics is, then the short version would be "Comics for the soul". A slightly longer version is "They are short spiritual anecdotes from Islamic history & tradition." After every comic we've got verses of the Qur'an and traditions on the topic of the comic.
So if my understanding is correct, through these comics, you are trying to present Islam to the world; to both Muslims and non-Muslims?
In a way yes, but we are more focused on the spiritual values taught in Islamic teachings rather than explaining the rituals of the faith.
Mohammed Ali Vakil (right) & Mohammed Arif Vakil at the Comic Con Express Exhibition
And is that the reason why it is named Sufi Comics, or is there other reason for this name?
Yes exactly, that was the reason for naming it Sufi Comics.
Great! What made you brothers take up comics to spread Islam's spiritual teachings? Had you seen others doing this before? Where did you get your inspiration from?
As Indians growing up in Dubai, our introduction to Indian culture came from comics like ACK (Amar Citra Katha), we also read a lot of other comics like Tin Tin, Asterix, Phantom etc. Looking back we realized that the medium of comics is very powerful, and can have a more lasting impression than just text (especially for the younger generation). These days learning has become very visual.
Islam also has a very rich tradition of art, so we thought of using an art form to narrate these stories. In our latest book the inspiration came from Persian & Turkish miniature paintings. The Qur'an & Hadith are written by hand in Islamic Calligraphy. And no, we had not come across anyone putting these stories in comic format.
Your latest book is on Rumi I suppose?
Yes, in our next book we are going to illustrate the poems of Rumi.
40 Sufi Comics
That’s interesting. Are you brothers the only two behind these comics or do you get assistance from others? And also how do you decide which anecdote or which Hadith would go into the comic? Could you throw some light in that direction?
The art in the second book was done by Rahil Mohsin, and the calligraphy was done by Muqtar Ahmed. The content is done by my brother and me, many of the stories we learnt when we grew up in Dubai at our Madrasah. We also read a lot and looked for stories that resonate with us. I & my brother select the Qur'an verses & Hadith.
Talking about the art: Did you brothers go to an institute to learn how to draw comics?
Both me & my brother are Chartered Accountants, and had no formal training in art. I got interested in art while I was reading the book "How to think like Leonardo Da Vinci". In the book it encouraged learning art 'cause it helps to improve the power of observation. I started learning from YouTube videos. I really enjoyed art, and wanted to do something useful with this skill, that's when I thought of drawing Sufi comics.
Do you both draw and are your illustrations hand drawn or are there any special tools that you use?
Yes, we both draw. Some of my brother's comics are available on our website http://www.suficomics.com. The illustrations are all hand drawn. I first would do it on paper & then scan it. Later on I got a tablet pc and started drawing directly on the computer.
The Wise Fool of Baghdad (Excerpt)
How did you brothers market your books, apart from of course publishing these strips on your popular blog?
We used to spread the word on Facebook, and participate at Comic Con exhibitions. These were the two primary ways. We participated at Comic Con San Diego in 2012, which is the biggest in the West. We became the first Indian publisher to participate.
Great! How has the response to your books been so far?
The response has been really good. We got orders from several countries including Tanzania, Pakistan, US, UK, Australia. What is very encouraging is that our comics have been translated in 9 languages. It's done by volunteers. Once the comic gets translated we put it up on our website. You can browse the languages from the top bar on suficomics.com.
So what's next for Sufi Comics? Do you brothers have any specific plans for it?
Our next project is Rumi, and most of our efforts are going into that project. But we're also working on coming up with the 2nd volume of "40 Sufi Comics".