Launched in 2005 by Suleiman Bakhit, Aranim is fast becoming a Middle Eastern media powerhouse, with comic books, online games and websites serving a new generation of Arab consumer.
A growing empire of comic books, animated films, online games and, latterly a new Arab-language web portal for all things animé might not be the obvious business for someone who was told by his art teacher he should really pursue other interests. And by pursuing a Masters in HR Development at the University of Wisconsin, Suleiman al-Bakhit clearly agreed. But then came 9/11, and the subsequent negative portrayal of Arabs and Muslims in the media motivated the young Jordanian to offer America a different perspective. A tour of schools in his state brought him face to face with thousands of children – and an almost ubiquitous obsession with superheroes.
“It all began as a response to a question from a 7-year-old,” says Suleiman, from behind a desk strewn with illustrations, sketches and notepads at Aranim’s offices in Amman. “I was president of the International Students Association and was really trying to convey to school kids the best aspects of Arab culture, countering the image of al-Qaeda and terrorism. Then one kid asked ‘What superheroes do you have in the Middle East?’ And it got me thinking – what positive figures do we have in our culture? That was when I started to sketch out some characters.”
Of course, before Aranim was born, Sulieman had to learn how to draw, which he managed via online tutorials. He was then able to unleash his first character, Nar, who leads a group of youngsters in a post-apocalyptic, adult-free Middle East. “The storylines revolve around the opportunity for these kids to shape the world they want to live in,” Sulieman says. “It really mirrors the struggles in the region today, and the kids really identify with this character with a snarl on his face! Adults think he’s angry, but he isn’t; he’s determined and strong.”
Like all good entrepreneurs, Nar soon spawned other characters, those spawned new books and longer series, and with some funding and a network of illustrators, he was able to announce in early May that the first two issues of his comics published in 2010 boasted circulations of 320,000 copies – mostly handed out to schools. In a country of just 5.5 million, that’s impressive.
Check out this cartoon video by Kharabeesh, a Jordanian animation studio, detailing the adventures of entrepreneurs in the Arab world.
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