If you were at the 2016 Middle East Film and Comic Con (MEFCC) in Dubai, you will have heard the buzz surrounding the Arab world’s newest superhero – Wayl. A collaborative effort between creator and writer Zaid Adham and artist Yasser Alireza, the comic book garnered much attention before its unveiling and an already growing fan base after a successful debut at MEFCC. FACT’s Shabana Adam caught up with the two co-founders to talk all things Wayl…
It’s not often that you hear of a superhero comic book that is created and set in the Middle East, in fact, pop culture in the Arab world isn’t really famed for offering up strong, heroic protagonists to capture the minds and hearts of readers and viewers… yet. Well, that’s all about to change. Enter Wayl (meaning Woe), a story about Sufyan El-Taher, a man who has recently returned to his hometown of Amman, the capital city of Jordan, from a long life abroad, only to find the city in ruins with crime and corruption taking over. Sufyan, who ultimately becomes Wayl, is tasked with saving his city from this bleak reality.
It’s a refreshing concept, one that the Middle East and international audiences are ready for, and it’s made all the more authentic as we learn that Zaid Adham, Arab-Canadian writer, producer and director, and the man behind the storytelling of this comic, was actually born in Amman – where Wayl is set.“There were many inspirations behind Wayl,” he says. “You see, the spiritual atmosphere that I had intended to showcase stemmed from the visions I had in my head of my hometown of Amman, which I had always felt had a unique aura to it. If there was one place in the Middle East that could truly be home to a comic book superhero, regardless of the medium, it would be Amman.
“Writing the stories came from different places, but the underlying bond between them all, I guess, would be that atmosphere and the need to distinguish Arab comic art as something more than just derivative or stereotypical – sword-wielding nomads in the desert or genies fighting demons in the sky,” he continues. “I wanted this to be a pure form of entertainment, and set out to write this way.”
The foundation of Wayl’s incredibly powerful plot is one that resonates, deeply, now more than ever before, as talented people from the Middle East region strive to break into a competitive regional and and global creative market. And, though the comic book will not intend to enter into political or religious realms of the region, its message of ethics, morals and the pursuit of justice will, to a certain extent, also help to eliminate any negative stereotypes of Middle Eastern culture.
With its many characters, Wayl helps to educate, inspire, and prepare, as well as entertain, a whole generation of young Arabs on the truths of the “real” world, including the kind of people you might encounter on a daily basis. Saudi illustrator and writer, Yasser Alireza, who makes up the second half of the creative team behind Wayl, explains: “It [Wayl] is very real and relatable. This is the whole point of the comic. The story, the atmosphere and the art draws on insights that are local but told from a worldly point of view both in terms of story and art.
“Most people who read our comic will see the characters and find equivalents in their daily life. These characters may not behave in such exaggerated ways, but the essence of each character will be recognisable to readers, especially those who are active in the work force and are exposed to life’s challenges,” he adds. “Like most story tellers, we do have an objective with readers: we want the late teens who are heading off to college or 20-somethings joining the workforce to understand the complex types of people they will be dealing with and how every decision is not black or white, and that mistakes will happen with long-lasting impact.”
The first issue of Wayl develops the introductory story of Sufyan’s return to Amman and begins developing the series of events that led to the creation of the superbeing Wayl. Zaid tells us: “The Wayl character as an Arab superhero and the supporting characters who are with him in the story were inspired by the evident reality many Arab people live today: bi-lingual, dual-nationality, dual identity. “There is a large palette of characters to choose from that can be rooted in the city of Amman, but the fact that Sufyan is the son returning from abroad, who can be described as a Third Culture Kid, is a reflection of the sort of culture shock many people experience when going back to their hometowns if they haven’t lived there most of their lives,” Zaid adds. “I certainly have that culture shock, and it’s easy to draw inspiration from that.”
One of the interesting things that strikes us about Wayl, is its looming storyline and the way in which Zaid and Yasser have worked to create something that can be relatable to a wide spectrum of audiences. Zaid’s background as a writer director of psychological thrillers will, no doubt, have been a big influence in this. But, also, the way in which Yasser has visually developed the world of Wayl, adds to the darkness created in the comic book. “Wayl’s unique positioning is that, it is an adult-targeted series framed as a caper story with a psycho-thriller theme – one of the few, if not the only in the region, hence the 16+ rating on the cover,” Yasser explains. “With that in mind, it became important for Zaid and I to portray this series in a manner that would appeal to an older audience. “Visually, the comic is filled with dark tones rigid lines and breaks from conventional drawing styles seen in most superhero comics. Panel layouts shift from simple to complex depending on story tension as we took liberty with adding a surreal feel to the comic, ntending an eerie atmosphere. Keeping in mind that Wayl is a superhero comic at heart, we maintained some basic elements seen in superhero comics to keep it recognisable and relatable to readers,” he says.
Both Zaid and Yasser make it a point to note that, even though Wayl has an edgier side, it doesn’t, in any way, champion hopelessness. Actually, it’s the very opposite. Wayl addresses some of the dark realities about the world we live in, as an importance to build the foundations for a hopeful outcome and a better future. After hearing about the work process behind Wayl, it’s no secret that Zaid and Yasser’s working relationship is based on trust, respect and mutual understanding for one another’s craft. Add to this their personal friendship and you’ve got a recipe for creative success. Two things set Wayl apart from other comics: it’s a superhero story with a completely localised angle and with sophisticated design. But, it’s winning factor has to be the two incredibly passionate creators at the helm. We can’t wait to see what the future holds for this talented duo and their comic baby!