“The game of life’s about us all…wherever we are or wherever we’re from.” Jinnrise, my comic book series published by IDW Publishing, was inspired by this mantra and line from issue #1. The best of stories, those that resonate throughout the ages, start with the seeds of a theme.
Informed by the writer’s passions and experiences, the essence of the story springs forth. Such was the case for me.
Growing up in a mixed heritage household, I found myself drawn to novels, comics, and films that celebrated our common humanity. Fears, hopes, nightmares, and dreams: the ties that bind were what fascinated me the most. The outer trappings and vehicles of storytelling? In the short term, they didn’t really matter.
As I became a more discerning fan of genre entertainment, I grew less and less excited about the tentpole projects being announced year after year. Conventions like San Diego Comic-Com were no longer celebrations, but yearly commentaries on the growing stagnancy in science fiction and fantasy.
How many stories with zombies, vampires, robots, and wizards could one enjoy without being overwhelmed by déjà vu?
I began to wonder. Was it laziness on the part of the creators? Ambivalence? Even though there are only a handful of tales that can be told (some say 7, others say more), I was surprised by the lack of diversity in today’s worlds of the fantastic.
Aside from a random Kaiju here or magic carpet there, Eastern European tropes and staples seemed to dominate popular culture.
Thanks in large part to the quality and ubiquity of Western films, television shows, and video games, it was clear why transmedia continued to be informed and inspired by the myths of Europe and the Americas. Analogous to Nike’s retail dominance, modern fiction’s shelf space could only handle so much. Until now.
With web-based technology opening the lines of access and communication, artists and writers from around the globe can now share their cultures and beliefs. They can introduce culture-specific nuances to the mythmaking mix. A prime example: my series Jinnrise, the first project from my company Jabal Entertainment.
“Genies vs. aliens.” That was the elevator pitch. While the potential conflict between science and fantasy was exciting, there had to be more. So I looked at the pop entertainment landscape for inspiration. Actually, I looked at what was missing: cultural diversity. With the express purpose of addressing this absence, I trudged ahead.
I’ve always been interested in Middle Eastern culture and history, and cursory research would not do the trick. If I were going to tell a comic series with jinn (or genies), the story had to honestly reflect the morays of the MENA (Middle East North Africa) region and not long-established stereotypes found in film and other media. So I pored through definitive texts and spoke to noted scholars to ensure that Jinnrise reflected the storytelling traditions of the Middle East.
The biggest challenge for me was creating a global tale that wasn’t simply a retelling. I decided to start with the common jinn stories and pose questions the modern mind might ask. How do genie bottles work? Where do magic carpets come from? In essence, I was deconstructing the jinn mythos by explaining the science behind the “magic.”
From production to narrative, I’m pleased to say that Jinnrise was a truly international collaboration. The lessons I learned mirrored what Jinnrise‘s lead character, Andrew Marcus, discovered on his journey.
Comic books are prime examples of how success is often determined by the team rather than the individual. Each component and contributor is essential to the final product, and the game of comics is often akin to the game of life… really about us all. Jinnrise’s characters (yes, even the aliens) learn this valuable lesson in my series. I hope readers walk away with this appreciation as well.
The response to Jinnrise has been tremendous. In addition to serving in the official branding of the first ever Middle East Film and Comic-Con in 2012, Jinnrise became the first-ever comic book series based on Middle Eastern themes to be published by a major U.S. publisher (IDW Publishing, known for publishing comics based on Transformers, G.I. Joe, Star Trek, Doctor Who, Godzilla, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and many other noted franchises).
In the end, what ultimately makes genre storytelling so unique? One can be enlightened while being entertained. You really can have the sizzle with the proverbial steak, as one’s imagination breaks free from the bottles of our minds. And we’re all better for it.
Sohaib I. Awan is the Host of Fictional Frontiers with Sohaib and CEO/Founder of Jabal Entertainment, LLC. Prior to Fictional Frontiers and Jabal Entertainment, Sohaib was the founder and managing partner of The Law Offices of Sohaib Awan. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from the University of Richmond, his Juris Doctorate from Rutgers School of Law-Camden, and Management Certification from The Wharton School of Business (University of Pennsylvania).