Jinnrise: How Sohaib Awan blends Middle Eastern myths with Western fantasy

Wharton alumni Sohaib Awan’s debut comic book series Jinnrise is released in the UAE this month. The American CEO of Jabal Entertainment talks to Nitin Nair about blending Middle Eastern myths with Western fantasy and the region’s growing comic book industry

Sohaib Awan
Image Credit: Supplied picture
No, Sohaib didn’t learn to dress like that at Wharton.
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Tell us about the conception of Jinnrise. Why jinns? How long did it take to finish the first book?

Jinnrise sprang from my desire to blend Middle Eastern myth with Western fantasy. Jinns – otherwise known as genies, which are staples of definitive works like Arabian Nights – have never been the focal point of storytelling. Instead, zombies, vampires and the like have served as vehicles of modern fiction. I believe stories inspired by Middle Eastern culture can and should follow suit.

Jinnrise follows international student Andrew Marcus, whose world is torn asunder when interstellar forces, the Kibrani, invade planet Earth. With all hope seemingly lost, Andrew discovers that humanity’s last chance may be a long-despised and forgotten race: the jinn.

Not many people decide to pursue a career as a comic-book writer after a business degree from Wharton. What brought about this change? Or do you see the comic book industry as a business opportunity?

If you look at global popular culture (take international box-office totals for example), you’ll find that Western-produced projects have been embraced worldwide. Much like sports, entertainment can bring people together. Jabal Entertainment’s stories will be a blend of the visceral aesthetics of Western entertainment with the nuances of Eastern and Middle Eastern culture. What’s the ultimate goal? Collaborations that celebrate our common humanity. Not a bad reason to pursue a career in comics, right?

Fantasy fiction seems to be a major influence in your writing. Are you a fan of JRR Tolkien? Who are your big influences?

I’m a huge fan of The Lord of the Rings, and Tolkien’s work has had a definite influence. How could it not? It is the template for modern fantasy. As evidenced by Peter Jackson’s groundbreaking iterations, I’m not alone in recognising the richness of Tolkien’s Middle Earth. I have to confess, I also have a soft spot for the ‘myth of my age’ too: Star Wars. As for my individual influences; Christopher Nolan, Naoki Urasawa, George Lucas, and Akira Kurosawa have been the biggest.

How difficult was it to get IDW Publishing to print your work? How do you plan to promote it in the Middle East?

Not difficult at all. Once I presented Jinnrise to IDW and explained the premise of the story, they enthusiastically worked to green light the series. They said it was unlike anything they’d ever seen before, and were very impressed by the quality of the work. Most importantly, the story fell in line with their belief that comics and stories can be  international in their breadth and scope. As for promotions in the Middle East, I am planning seminars, lectures, and workshops centred on intellectual property creation.

I want to not only introduce Mena readers to Jinnrise, but actively develop talent here, as well. I believe the region has much to offer genre fans around the world and we hope to become the first transmedia company in the Middle East. This requires grassroots efforts and social media pursuits, as well as speaking to schools, universities and other cultural institutions. We will pursue all these avenues.

What’s next for Jabal Entertainment?

We’re already working on a second series. We will launch that series at the second Middle East Film and Comic Con in April 2013. It’s called Drawn, but I can’t reveal much more right now. The creator is from the UAE, and when it was pitched to me, I knew we had to publish it. I can’t think of a better follow-up effort to Jinnrise.