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Meet UAE’s extreme hobbyists

From owning Dh1 million worth of Japanese anime figures and 1930s’ Archies comic books to turning a geeky passion into a career, these UAE residents are a breed apart

Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/XPRESS
Omar Sharif of Geeky Lizard
01 XPRESS

Dubai: Overindulgence may be a vice, but for some hobbyists it’s a maxim they live by. They take their fascinations and geeky fantasies to such extremes, they are rightly labelled ‘extreme hobbyists’ and a bunch of them are right here in the UAE.

Marwan Al Khaja

Believe it or not, 36-year-old Emirati Marwan Al Khaja owns the first edition of the Archie’s Girls Betty and Veronica comic book published in March 1950. He also owns the first edition of the Harry Potter series (1997), the first Ninja Turtles book (1984) and a 1930s edition of Archies (worth around Dh15,000).

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Marwan Al Khaja with one of his prized possessions. Supplied


“Back in the 1990s, reading comics, playing videogames and watching television were what we did as teenagers. My first comic book was a Batman which I bought from a Choithrams supermarket near my house. This was really the start of my love affair with comic books,” says Al Khaja, who has been collecting vintage comic books, board games and action figures since his teenage years.

“My collections, worth over Dh1 million, are in a safe, although some are on display at my house. But none of them is for sale,” adds Al Khaja.

Mohammad Hamoda Ghaith

Jordanian Mohammad Hamoda Ghaith, 37, has over Dh1 million worth of Japanese anime figures and statues. Like most boys who grew up in the UAE in the 80s and 90s, Ghaith said he was fascinated by Japanese anime. “I was very young when I first started collecting figures and statues, but it turns out I am still collecting them even today.”

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Mohammed Hamoda Ghaith, toy maker and a big collector of statues, in his store in Oud Metha. A.K. Kallouche/XPRESS


Ghaith’s favourite character is a super robot Grendizer of whom he has over 200 statues in his private collection. “I hope to set a Guinness World Record for the most Grendizer statues.” The most expensive statue he owns is a Getter Robo bust created by Medicos and valued at Dh55,000.

A mechanical engineer by profession, Ghaith also makes figures. His achievements include designing the unmasked face of Sasuki, a ninja warrior in the Ninja Turtles series. “There was no face to this character until I made one. I contacted the company that owns Ninja Turtles and had the face of the Sasuki statue approved and registered.”

Faisal Qassim

Emirati Faisal Qassim, 34, is the brainchild behind Hobby Nation – a Facebook group that aims to bring pop culture enthusiasts and gamers under one platform. The group currently has 2,600 members. “The focus is to bring people together so they can share their crafts, games and toy collections. We have a live session every Friday at 5pm to discuss new topics,” he says.

Faisal Qassim (left) with friends

Faisal Qassim (left) with friends. Arshad Ali/XPRESS


Qassim collects vintage games and premium figures and his collection is worth over Dh600,000. “I have a rare ZX Spectrum – a home computer that plays old games on cassettes. Another prized collection with me is a NEO Geo AES – a Japanese console that plays arcade games. My premium figure collectibles are mainly of characters from comic books and video games.”

Nadim Nehme

Nadim Nehme, 37, Lebanese has a collection of Magic: The Gathering trading cards worth over Dh300,000. The most expensive non-promo card he owns is The Tabernacle at Pendrell Vale valued around Dh5,000. Another card, Mishra’s Workshop, is valued around Dh3,670.

Nadim Nehme with some of his collections of Magic the Gathering cards

Nadim Nehme with some of his collections of Magic the Gathering cards. Virendra Saklani/XPRESS


Nadim is an adult fan of lego (AFOL) and owns over 90 sets which he built with his two children. He also owns 18 hand-held sets of Nintendos and Gameboys.

“I owe much of my geekiness to the friends I had while growing up. One of them bought a Gameboy which he brought to school and my life changed after that. I knew I had to have one and on one of my trips to USA, I bought my first Gameboy. It was the most exciting day of my life,” says Nadim. “Today, my hobby is a legacy for my children who seemed to have got my geeky streak.”

Qais Sedki

Emirati Qais Sedki, 41, has carved a profession out of his hobby. “I was inquisitive as a child and loved all things that looked strange and mysterious. In school I had an Emirati friend whose mother was Japanese. I used to visit him often and got introduced to Japanese toys and anime. Soon I fell in love with them. Later I started reading a lot of Japanese Manga (comic books). Then one day a thought struck me: why don’t I create my own comic books series,” recalls Sedki.

In 2010, Sedki published his first comic book titled Gold Ring. It fetched him the Shaikh Zayed Book Award in Children’s Literature that year. “The illustrations for the book were done by Japanese artists,” he says.

Qais Sedki at his store, Otaku

Qais Sedki at his store, Otaku. Clint Egbert/XPRESS


However, his visits to Japan in search of illustrators led to another chapter being opened in his love affair with Japanese toys.

“During one of my trips, I came across Gundam super robots and was totally fascinated by them.”

Today Sedki not only collects Gundam super robots but also runs a store, Otaku ME, selling Gunplas (plastic model kits), tools, paints and other accessories for Gundam robots. “Children grow up with hobbies, but few stay in touch with them. I am just glad I did,” he says.

Marija Stojkovik

There are five things that you will always find in Serbian expat Marija Stojkovik’s living room - a ‘hot-glue gun’, Worbla, duct tape, spray paint and a stash of chocolates. The 29-year-old’s fascination for all things geeky is thanks to an artistic family she belongs to. “My dad ran a video and game store. He is very creative and talented. My grand-mother is a painter. So a lot of my creativity has to do with the genes I have inherited from them.”

So what does Marija do besides work as a Business Development Manager for a construction materials company?

Marija Stojkovik dressed up as Loki

Marija Stojkovik dressed up as Loki. A. K. Kallouche/XPRESS


“I cosplay my favourite comic heroes and characters. Cosplay is the practice of dressing up as a character from a film, book or video game,” she explains. Lady Loki, a fictional character from Marvel comics, and Sub-Zero, a half-American half-Chinese warrior are two characters she likes to cosplay.

But in her case, she doesn’t pick up the costumes from a shop – instead makes them herself. Not just that, she also makes replicas of the weapons and accessories for the characters.

“I grew up with a remote control in my hand and watched cartoons and fantasy movies throughout my childhood. My parents always let me be myself. If they had stopped me, I would not have been able to pursue my geeky fantasies,” she says.

Yasser Alireza & Zaid Adham

Saudi expat Yasser Alireza, 39, has been creating comic or cartoon characters since childhood. Today he is the co-creator of Wayl comics – the Middle East’s first homegrown classic superhero – which has sold over 800 copies in the UAE.

“As a child I used to watch Woody Woodpecker and draw the characters on paper. It inspired me to create my own characters. A chance meeting with my future partner (Canadian expat Zaid Adham), at a comic book store, however, enabled me to live my dreams. Zaid had come up with the idea of Wayl and needed someone to add colour and letters to the book. I just fit the bill,” says Alireza.

Yasser Alireza and Zaid Adham

Wayl creators: Yasser Alireza and Zaid Adham. Supplied


Zaid on his part says: “My passion for comics started at an early age in Jordan. From a young age, I was recognised as a creative storyteller and was encouraged by my teachers to write fiction in English and Arabic. In university I specialised in media and went on to become a TV producer, director and host.

“In 2011 I came up with the idea of Wayl as I felt the need to tell a homegrown story from the region. Hobbies can be turned into serious pursuits if people are given space and freedom.”

Omar Sharif Al Ali

Emirati Omar Sharif Al Ali, 35, is probably the head of all geeks in the UAE. He is the first Emirati to start a registered gaming store in the UAE.

“Geeky Lizard is a community game store where people with niche geeky hobbies and passions meet and make new friends. As a child I was a huge fan of fantasy, movies, video games, comics, anime and more. And although I have a full time job, my gaming store keeps me connected with my hobby and childhood fascinations.

Omar Sharif of Geeky Lizard

Omar Sharif of Geeky Lizard. Virendra Saklani/XPRESS


“I am a fan of Magic The Gathering, Warhammer, Pokemon, Dungeons and Dragons, Pathfinder, Vanguard. I am currently learning Yugioh. My collections are bits and pieces from everywhere. I don’t mind investing in limited edition statues but by no means will I get a bronze statue of Batman for Dh200,000. My collections are on sale at the store as I want people to have a chance at playing different games.”

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Latest Comment

On behalf of several of the featured people in this article, I would like to complain about the negative tone in which the "geek culture" is being portrayed by the writer. Rather than giving a profile of a positive hobby or culture shared with millions of other people around the world, the writer seems to imply that we are a some sort of circus freak show in the city. I'm pretty sure that the rest of the community will be voicing their complaints soon, as much about the attitude of the journalist in interviewing the subjects, I'd like to add, as about the content of the article.

zjordana83

20 July 2017 10:26jump to comments
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