Everything you need to know about Middle East Film and Comic Con 2016

It’s a good time for Middle East Film and Comic Con 2016. “Batman V Superman” is still dominating the UAE’s cinema screens, Captain America is about to unleash his own fraternal duel with Iron Man and the internet tremors with excitement any time a new picture of “Suicide Squad” – out in August, everyone! – is strategically leaked. But then, there aren’t many inopportune moments to celebrate all things graphic, comic or remotely cartoonish these days – if box office figures, mall displays, Christmas wish-lists and theme park plans are any guide, the nerds have well and truly inherited the Earth.

From its very first event in 2012, Comic Con underlined just how huge this subculture had become in the region; generations raised on cartoons, video games and the first batch of superhero blockbusters now had an outlet to express their love for their favourite fantasy worlds. In just five years, it has become an annual magnet for artists, cosplayers, actors and amateur enthusiasts.

ShortList donned the cape, grabbed the lightsabre and met some of those who will be flocking to Dubai World Trade Centre.

The tutor
Saeed Arjumand hosts a comic book structure workshop.

“We’re tricking you, really,” says Saeed Arjumand, a comic book illustrator who will be hosting a session called “Comic Book Panel Phasing and Inking” on Thursday.

“It’s all about structuring the illustrations on the page in such a way that the eye automatically follows the narrative flow the way you want – like using Thor’s hammer to subliminally direct the reader. It’s about setting up an entire page and making it work.”

Saeed is one of Dubai’s foremost exponents of comic book illustration. A specialist in inking, he and San Francisco-based Matt Harding have recently completed the third instalment of their critically acclaimed, crowd-funded PopApocalypse series.

“I had dyslexia growing up, so comic books were my way into reading,” he says. “My parents saw how focused I was when either reading them or drawing characters from them, so they encouraged it from the beginning.

My father would go on business trips to the States and come back with piles of Batman and X-Men!” It’s those illustrators Saeed continues to admire the most, names like Bob Kane, the guy who created Batman, Jim Lee, Adam Hughes and Brazilian Rafael Albuquerque – “if you asked me who is the person I most want to draw like, it’s Rafael,” he says.

“I hope people come to the session, but if not I am around for all three days at my booth, so everyone is welcome to stop by and ask me anything they like.”
Visit Saeed Arjuman’s stand at AA12

The exhibitor
The Middle Beasts, the Dubai-based graphic art collective with a love of superheroes.

“I think pop culture is going to save the world,” says Rami Afifi, one of the founding members of The Middle Beasts, a loose collective of like-minded illustrators who produce graphic prints of superheroes, fantasy figures and homages to their favourite comic books. The Saudi-born, Jordan-raised Dubai resident believes few things unite people quite like a good guy in a cape. “It transcends borders – everyone loves Batman, whether you’re from America, Russia or Palestine.”

Rami will be showcasing his striking prints and posters alongside his Middle Beasts colleagues Momad and Naimi at Comic Con for a second successive year.

Where did the love of graphic art and comic books come from?
It started with kids cartoons. Growing up I used to go crazy for Transformers and Ninja Turtles and then I got into video games, maybe aged five or six, with my Atari. I think I first knew I’d be a designer when I got mad at my brother for not properly matching the colours on his Lego creations.

Which artists or graphic styles have most influenced your work?
So many! If I were to name the top ones right now, I’d say Moebius, Frank Miller, Eduardo Risso, Frank Quitely, Jamie Hewlett and KAWS – if those names mean anything to anyone! Plus my Middle Beasts crew. There is so much great art out there at the moment. It’s a great time to be inspired.

Talk us through your latest work?
Fan art is basically about paying tribute to the characters that have inspired you. At last year’s Comic Con, I did prints of Grendizer, a cartoon I’d grown up with and the first bit of Japanese anime that I’d fallen in love with. He was a national hero because as kids we always thought he was an Arab! This year, though, I’ve done something with Furiosa because she really left an impact on me in “Mad Max”. She was female but was much harder than Tom Hardy – who has “hard” in his name! I had a daughter recently and that has really opened my eyes to trying to find her great female role models.

Why is Comic Con a big deal to you and the other Middle Beasts?
It’s a place where you get to share your love for everything that makes you yourself. It’s awesome seeing so many locals cosplaying and geeking out over stuff that was traditionally difficult for us in the region to come by. You realise you’re not alone.
Visit The Middle Beasts guys at stand AA161

Middle East Film and Comic Con 2016
When: April 7-9
Where: Dubai World Trade Centre
Price: AED130 at the door

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