Tuesday, December 21, 2004

AK Comics' 'homegrown heroes'

Lebanon's Daily Star spotlights the Middle Eastern superheroes of AK Comics. Here's publisher Ayman Kandeel, an economics professor at Cairo University:
They are Middle Eastern heroes, period. We didn't want to start identifying them with one culture -- I think that's one of the problems in this region, it's a symptom of the social decay that has set in.
The article points out some of the "constraints" the company faces publishing in the Arab world:
The company had to make some allowances for the cultural conservatism of the region when it reprinted the first few issues initially released in the U.S. For instance, whereas in the American version Jalila's body-molding outfit reveals her chiseled abs, in Egypt her midriff is covered. Certain sensitive topics, such as religion, are also avoided.

"We avoided completely talking about religion," says Marwan al-Neshar, AK Comics' general manager. "You never know the religion of characters."

This avoidance can seem a bit odd at times considering the omnipresence of religion -- and external signs of religious belonging -- in Egypt as well as the rest of the Arab world.

"The whole point is that people's religious beliefs are between themselves and God," Kandeel argues, "and that people need to stop focusing so much on these labels."

As their main target is the 8-13-year-old market, sexuality also doesn't feature -- even if AK Comics has borrowed the American conventionality of depicting its characters as brawny and shapely. The heroes do not even seem to have love interests. What they do have, though, are troubled families, with siblings drafted into fanatical movements or becoming addicted to drugs. Sometimes the character itself offers a moral lesson: Rakan, who was paralyzed as a child, manages to overcome his disability and develop super-human strength through persistence and training.