Jeddah: Samah Hashim Kamil fell in love with anime and manga when she was just a little child.
“I was obsessed with it. As a little girl, it was the character’s adorable, cute face with huge hair and big eyes that attracted me to anime,” the Saudi mangaka (manga artist) told Gulf News.
Anime (cartoons) and manga (comics) are the Japanese art of storytelling.
Most animes are usually based on popular mangas; and sometimes vice versa.
Saudi Arabia got its first taste of anime in the early 80s and 90s, when the local Saudi channel aired a few anime series dubbed in Arabic like Captain Tsabusa, Grendizer, and Lady Lynn among others for a few years.
The series was quite popular with young children, but it wasn’t until 10 years ago that the first anime craze really gripped the country.
This was when Naruto and Dragon Ball—both animes based on popular manga comics—first aired in Saudi Arabia.
The craze also brought in high demand for figurines, merchandise, accessories and manga comics.
“It is nothing short of an addiction among Saudi youth today. They are popular because of their strong, meaningful plots and relatable characters. Each manga has a deep social message that is presented in a light-hearted manner. I feel the audience strongly sympathises with the characters and that is what keeps us hooked on to it,” says Kamil.
Her passion inspired her to start drawing.
“As a young teenager, instead of doing homework or studying, I focused on perfecting my drawings or creating imaginary characters. All my notebooks were filled with character sketches,” she said.
“Needless to say, my mom wasn’t happy about it.”
Her mother would hide her sketchbooks so that she could concentrate on her studies, but this did not stop Kamil from pursuing her passion—she wanted to become a commercial manga artist.
Eventually, Kamil’s parents supported her decision after she received her first pay cheque from Kadi and Ramadi publishing house for a children’s manga story ‘The Cat Said’ while in university.
She became the first Saudi to base her master’s research project on manga, which shed light on manga’s historical developments, drawing techniques, and the best manga artists around the world.
Among her favourte Japanese manga artists are Mihona Fuji, Kaoru Mori and Osamu Tezuka, considered as the God Father of manga and the Walt Disney of Japan.
Kamil also created her own version of manga art by incorporating popular traditional Saudi proverbs in some of her drawings.
She went on to publish her drawings in a book entitled Tale of Proverb.
“It took a lot of time for me to research the proverbs and build the characters in manga style in a manner that would reflect Saudi identity,” she explained.
“I also had to be careful not to distort the proverb while conveying the message through my drawing on one page,” she added.
“It was labour of love”.
After her book was published, Kamil’s work gained more prominence in society and more doors opened for her.
She went on to make colouring books for school children, which allowed her to make some small earnings.
However, she was later approached by big companies such as Ikea and Nahdi to draw storyboards and characters.
But just how much work goes into such a project?
“Imagining and building a character can take a few hours, but adding details and colour to it based on the concept provided can take a day or two,” she explains.
“But building a storyboard can take weeks because I have to tell and sell the story visually with few words,” she said.
Imagining and building a character can take a few hours, but adding details and colour to it based on the concept provided can take a day or two.”
- Samah Hashim Kamil | Manga artist
Kamil was also invited to teach manga drawing workshops at the Comicon 2018 held in Jeddah in April.
“The huge turnout of both men and women interested in becoming manga artists was quite surprising,” she said.
Kamil is optimistic about the future of manga in Saudi Arabia, especially with the establishment of Manga Productions, an affiliated company of the Prince Mohammad Bin Salman’s Misk Foundation, which will focus on creating and producing indigenous animation content for locals.
She hopes to be part of the production team.
“My goal is to build characters and stories by portraying Saudi Arabia’s values, culture and heritage in a positive way through manga art,” she said.