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AICN COMICS SDCC 2013 Q&@: Ambush Bug talks with writer Sohaib Awan about IDW’s Genies vs. Aliens Saga JINNRISE!

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Q’s by Ambush Bug!

@’s by JINNRISE Creator Sohaib Awan!!!

Ambush Bug here with my last (but definitely not the least) interview I did at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con. Sohaib Awan was a fascinating guy to talk with. His new series with IDW, JINNRISE, has been a fantastic adventure series pitting two unstoppable armies against one another, but also having a fantastic message about the commonality between everyone and the complexities of war. Awan explained it much better as we back and forthed about JINNRISE and my own THE JUNGLE BOOK series, which seemed to have some universal things in common. Here’s what Sohaib had to say…

AMBUSH BUG (BUG): Okay, well I am here on day one, sort of. It’s Thursday of Comic Con here. I’m outside of the IDW booth and I’m talking to Sohaib Awan and you have a new series out called JINNRISE. Can you tell me a little bit about it?

SOHAIB AWAN (SA): Well, I’ll give you the elevator pitch. The elevator pitch is “Genies vs. Aliens” or “Jinn vs. Aliens,” but like so many of your fans on Ain’t It Cool News, I am a stickler when it comes to these mashups, so I know there has to be a lot more substance than what’s generally given, so for me, the reason I decided to have a genies versus aliens story was because I really wanted to delve into the mythos behind jinn or genies and we needed a big bag, a McGuffin if you would, to get this movie going and flowing. So for me it seemed fascinating to take the fantasy elements and mash those up with the science fiction elements. More than anything else it’s to establish the universe so that when I am said and done with the series, other creators can come in, maybe yourself even, and tell jinn or genie stories. The biggest thing for me was dispelling the typical myths or urban legends, however you want to put that, that have been associated with jinn or genies. I wanted to dispel those through this series and create a universe where you had these fascinating powerful characters that a lot of other creators could play with afterwards.

BUG: Very cool. So what type of research goes into making this? What did you do beyond the stereotypical stuff people know about genies, like just from ALADDIN and I DREAM OF GENIE?

SA: Yeah, and that’s a very good question. I think that sadly a lot of creators simply go the Wikipedia route, and I think if you are going to tell a story that’s representative of a particular region or inspired by a particular region you have to do that region and those people honor by doing the requisite research that’s required. So I really did a lot of research into the stories that came from that region dealing with jinn and genies and also with Islamic culture and Muslim culture, because according to the Islamic faith, jinn are real, they are actual beings that exist on another plane of existence. So I really wanted to be respectful of those traditions and those beliefs and incorporate those into the mix, because if we are going to tell a story… and that was another goal that I really set out for me with respect to this story, I wanted to tell a story that had a global appeal. It had to be something that would appeal to people here in the West, but also be embraced by people in the Middle East and the Far West as well. So I talked to scholars, Islamic scholars… I talked to people who are very well versed in Middle Eastern history and…

BUG: And you said you visited the Middle East as well?

SA: Yeah, I’ve been there quite a few times. As a matter of fact, we premiered JINNRISE at the first ever Middle East Film and Comic Con in Dubai last year, and they were so taken by the series that they used our characters in the official branding of the event and this year as well. It’s been really interesting, because some of the things that we incorporated initially we sort of had to pull back on because they said it wasn’t consistent with their beliefs and traditions. Obviously there’s a little artistic license there, and you don’t want to lose your artistic integrity by just saying “we are going to go by what the audience wants,” but I think that if it’s going to be reflective of a particular culture, and that goes for any story, you have to do it right, so here and there we tweaked things a little bit to make sure that it was consistent and so far it’s been really, really strong. We’ve had tremendous play over there and they are really excited about it. When I came back to the States, what actually happened was we didn’t have a deal with IDW and they said “what’s this JINNRISE series?” “Hey, are you interested in publishing?” We went from there and they were excited. They took it on as a creator owned project.

BUG: Cool, so the story itself…you said the basic pitch is aliens vs. genies. Are there human characters in this as well?

SA: Basically, what I thought would be interesting would to bring East meets West into the picture, so we have a young student by the name of Andrew Marcus. He’s studying in Morocco at the time of the story, and an alien invasion makes its way to earth with goals that are obviously nefarious in nature. They are very akin to the barbarian hoards that you find throughout history. They believe that might makes right and the only thing that can stand up to these beings are a long-forgotten and despised race, because jinn are actually very much feared in the Middle East as well. The first jinn that Andrew comes across is in the hands of a ten year old Moroccan farm boy named Yunus. So they have to work together and ultimately what they have to do is they have to travel the world to release the seven great jinn leaders in bottles in different parts of the world. So we travel to China, we travel to Greece, and interestingly enough, those regions have their own jinn stories as well, so the jinn from those regions are reflective of their cultures as well. Hopefully that’s what Andrew and Udis hope, that these forces will be large enough to take on this race known as The Kibrani, and Kibrani is actually derived from the Arabic word “kibr,” which means arrogance.

BUG: Very cool. It sounds like you’ve developed this whole world. Do you have a personal bible for this world? Or is that what this first series is?

SA: Well there’s a beginning, a middle, and an end and at the same time I really wanted to lay the foundation of the jinn universe, so that when people like yourself or other creators take that baton, they can tell stories that take place in the past, the present, and the future. For me, I’ve been covering Comic Con for the last five or six years for the radio show Fictional Frontiers, and I love my zombie stories, I love my vampire stories, but at the same time I think there are so many other myths that have been untapped. Your JUNGLE BOOK series was a perfect example of that.

BUG: Thank you.

SA: Seriously, there’s a lot out there that could be revisited, and not only could it be revisited, there could be takes that could be brought to the mix where people could delve into other areas. I think there’s so much of Middle Eastern culture, there’s so many myths that can be brought into the mix, just different vehicles of storytelling even though at heart the stories are all pretty much the same. They are all about the human experience.

BUG: You hear things, like with IRON MAN 3 they filmed additional scenes to show in China, and other films have additional scenes that involve people from all around the world, just to get those markets. That was pretty attractive for IDW knowing that you had those connections and the appreciation of that country. Was that a plan for you, or was this just a happy accident that you’re interested in?

SA: It’s funny, because I think things happen for a reason. I’m an attorney by trade and I was an immigration attorney for a long time, but then I took this project on as a hobby and then it took on a life of its own, so much so that I founded a company called Jabel Entertainment and our mandate or mantra is “Bridge-building through storytelling.” Again, you have probably gone through the same process, but one thing that’s great about the comic book industry is that it’s very unique in that you can have collaborative projects that really lend themselves to bridge-building with people from other parts of the world, so not only can the story be reflective of the global pop culture extravaganza we are seeing here, the process itself can be as well, and that’s what I have found. That’s what we ultimately want to do. We want stories that can be enjoyed by everyone worldwide, but we also want the creators themselves to learn from one another, so that the end product is something that they could stand by and something that will stand the test of time, not something that’s disposable or can be chucked away. “Here today, gone tomorrow”--we don’t want that.

BUG: Did you find yourself developing a manner of storytelling that was more universal than your typical Hollywood version of a story that you often see in comics or a comic book version? Is there a typical comic in the Middle East?

SA: That’s an excellent question, because like I said we want this story to do well in the Middle East, but I was really shooting for a story that would resonate with fans everywhere and I’m sure as most of your visitors to Ain’t It Cool News are aware, the global box office totals are really starting to skew to a global market vs. a domestic market. So what does that tell you? That tells you that on the one hand those fans like the same things that we do, but the on the flipside as well as that changes, they are going to want to hear their voices more strongly. So that has been a challenge. I’m trying to balance it in such a fashion that the fans there will enjoy it and they can pick it up, but again, I don’t like it to be labeled as a “Middle Eastern comic.” That was one of the things I definitely did not want to shoot for. I wanted it to be a global comic. So there are winks and nods to popular culture here, but I think if anyone from that part of the world, and I mean the Far East or even Latin America picks it up, they can appreciate the story and it’s not something that’s so insular that they will be left out of the mix. It’s a balancing act.

BUG: It makes me think of films like STAR WARS or AVATAR, something like that which is really about everyone and really includes a variety of different races and a variety of different people, but they are basically talking about the same type of myths and the same types of hero myths and things like that.

SA: Definitely. I’d like to really point out another thing about the culture as well, because I think your visitors would find interesting similarities there, but Middle East Film and Comic Con, I went there and didn’t know what to expect. There’s this perception that it’s a very conservative society and that things are not going to be similar to what you have here, but I’m telling you, that con itself was so well run, it’s almost like this. You had people wearing burqas next to cosplayers next to a Stormtrooper. There’s actually one or two members of the 501st that are there and they are all enjoying the same things together. It’s just really wonderful to see that these stories can actually bring people together. Maybe some of their core values are a little bit different, but at the end of the day the human experience is so similar. We have the same dreams, the same fears, the same hopes, the same aspirations, and that’s what draws us together, so we can still enjoy the same things--it’s just the outer trappings are a little bit different. That was what it was like there, so if someone came from here in San Diego to Dubai, they’d feel right at home.

BUG: That’s cool. I would love to someday try to get out there. That would be amazing. So as far as this book is concerned, how many issues is it going to be? You said it started out as a smaller series, but it kind of grew from that?

SA: Yeah, it was going to be a five issue series at first, but I think that if you’re really going to tell a story of weight and are willing to put your money where your mouth is, you really need to invest the time, money, and energy to telling a complete story. So for me, going back to what I was saying about not telling a story that’s just disposable, ten issues was the very minimum that we needed for this story and IDW was so wonderful in working with us. Chris Ryall and some of the other great people here at IDW have been so supportive of everything we’ve been doing. They don’t do many creator owned projects. This is actually the first time ever that a major publisher in the history of the comic industry has ever told a story based on Middle Eastern themes--I’m talking main stream publishers. So for them to get behind it, I felt that I needed to do them honor as well. So I said “Let’s do this in ten even though it might cost a little bit more”, and we want to tell it well, but it’s going to be ten issues initially and hopefully we will be telling more jinn stories. The talents that have been involved with this have just been so strong. Tony Vesallo who was the artist on the first four issues, Mark Torres who did an incredible job on the other issues and now Andrew Huerta who did the work on PATHFINDER for Dynamite, he’s just knocking it out of the park. He’s doing a great job, and as a matter of fact we have a panel tomorrow on global comics talking about all of this stuff with Viz Media, Greg Broadmoore from Weta Worshop is going to be on the panel and it’s great, because that’s exactly what I want. I want comics to be that bridge and for me if I have to put a little more time, a little more energy into ten issues in order to facilitate that so that we can have these cons and conversations, if we can grow this industry, that’s what I’m all about.

BUG: Fantastic. So other than this, what other projects do you have going on?

SA: Well, we have another project called DRAWN, which was proposed to me from an Emirate writer who worked for THE NATIONAL, which is the largest English-speaking daily in the Middle East, and it’s about a young girl who discovers this amazing power through henna. It was a really interesting story with a lot of potential, astrong female character, and I thought that was another thing that was really appealing as well, because in that part of the world they really want strong female characters, so that’s great, and then we have another series we are announcing hopefully by New York Comic Con, but we’re starting to work on it now. It’s called BADES OF HOPE and it’s an all girl team with characters from all over the world and Omar Dogan, who is no stranger to the fans of STREET FIGHTER and Udon Entertainment and all of their wonderful work, is going to be the illustrator on that, and I’ve already seen the character designs of some of those images and oh my gosh it’s crazy. We are looking at every other iteration for JINNRISE as well--film, animation, we are open to all of that. We actually have a figure that we are going to be producing for New York Comic Con, a tie in action figure that I’m excited about. We are just going to keep it growing and try to produce intellectual properties that really do stand the test of time. Not so much that we are interested in all the different types of toys and ancillary items that come with those; we really want to tell stories that stand the test of time regardless of the medium.

BUG: Very cool. It sounds like a really fascinating book and I can’t wait to check it out. You were nice enough to give me the first couple of issues here, and I will be chugging through those very soon. Anything else you want to tell the guys at Ain’t It Cool News?

SA: Be a little easy with me when it comes to the Talkbacks. (laughs) It’s funny, I think that the passion is evident and I try to put myself in their position. I think that being critical is a good thing, and I think that ultimately it just makes a stronger product. That’s why when we went in with this story, when you have COWBOYS VS. ALIENS…there’s all this “versus” and even when I started this story I’d just say “aliens vs. jinn.” If I’m going to tell this story, I don’t want just this race of beings that’s going to come in and wreak havoc and then the jinn come in there and fight them. For me it had to be a lot more than that. So even with the aliens in the story, the aliens learn lessons as well, and if I have to say one thing about JINNRISE, the underlying theme of the story is the game of life, or existence is about us all wherever we are or wherever you’re from, whether you’re a student from the States or a farm boy from Morocco, whether you’re an alien from the stars, that was really important for me. So whether or not I was able to pull it off, I just hope at least at the end of the day…I know there are strengths and weaknesses in every series, there are at least some kernel or seeds there that your visitors can say “I’ll pull from that and it will give me some food for thought with more important issues that are very important to us all today.”

BUG: I really like the message you’re talking about. You see so much cynicism in comics and so many negative things, and it’s good to hear something positive, that that’s a theme that you’re working on with this book.

SA: Let me ask you one question actually, now that I have you here. When you wrote your JUNGLE BOOK series…I mean, for me the biggest challenge was trying to tell a story for…we want it to be something that the younger set can enjoy, but at the same time you’ve got certain, I don’t want to say “violent” elements to it…what did you find to be the biggest challenge in trying to balance that, because you were asking about trying to tell stories for a global audience and who you are writing for, I mean we are really writing for a younger, but at the same time we want the older crowd to enjoy it. How did you balance that?

BUG: You know, I really took a lot of inspiration from animal documentaries and things like that and saying “This is stuff that happens out there in real life, animals battle each other. It’s for food, not like wars…” I took those documentaries like CHIMPANZEE or whatever other millions of documentaries that are narrated by Samuel L. Jackson or somebody like that…I felt like I didn’t want to get gratuitous with it, but I also didn’t want to make it where somebody bites someone and there’s no blood. So you want to try to keep it real, but without it being as shocking. I totally understand trying to make it as universal as possible, so that more people can read it.

SA: I think you pull it off, and that’s why I wanted to ask you, because again when you think of THE JUNGLE BOOK you think of Kipling’s work and not just the Disney iteration of it. There are these preconceived notions that people are bringing to the story, certain expectations, but then at the same time you don’t want to get trapped and hit that demographic only, especially with a story like that that has so much potential. It’s a challenge, but it’s a fun challenge.

BUG: Definitely. Well, it’s great talking to you. Best of luck at the Con and at the panel tomorrow and yeah, I can’t wait to read these books and see this world that you’ve built here.

SA: Thanks a lot. Maybe down the road we’ll see a Mark L. Miller- penned JINNRISE story.

BUG: Hey, that’d be fantastic. I’d love that.

SA: One other point I’d like to make. This is not just to solicit work from people, but I would love for the people in the Talkback…if they want to approach me about stories or even jinn stories, I’m open to that. I would love to see anything they have in mind and if they want me to sign an NDA, I’m cool with that too.

BUG: Cool. Do you have a website that you can guide people to?

SA: Actually the best way to reach me is, because I do the radio show out of Philadelphia, is just My email address is and because I’m so busy with that, that’s probably the best way to reach me. So yeah, if anyone has anything, I’m open to everything and we’re really looking for storytellers who want to tell stories with global appeal, whether it’s JINNRISE or it’s something else. So yeah, keep it coming!

BUG: Great. Well, thanks a lot and take care. Have a great con.

SA: Thanks, I appreciate it.

BUG: JINNRISE comes out monthly from IDW Publishing. Find out more about the series on its Facebok page here and you can follow Sohaib’s other projects at Fictional Frontiers!

Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of AICN COMICS for over 12 years & AICN HORROR for 3. He has written comics such as VINCENT PRICE PRESENTS THE TINGLERS & WITCHFINDER GENERAL, THE DEATHSPORT GAMES, & NANNY & HANK (soon to be made into a feature film from Uptown 6 Films). He has co-written FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND’s LUNA: ORDER OF THE WEREWOLF (to be released in 2013 as a 100-pg original graphic novel). Mark wrote the critically acclaimed GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK from Zenescope Entertainment & GRIMM FAIRY TALES #76-81. Look for GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS THE JUNGLE BOOK: LAST OF THE SPECIES available in February-July 2013 and the new UNLEASHED crossover miniseries GRIMM FAIRY TALES PRESENTS WEREWOLVES: THE HUNGER #1-3 available in May-July 2013! Follow Ambush Bug on the Twitter @Mark_L_Miller.

Editing, compiling, imaging, coding, logos & cat-wrangling by Ambush Bug
Proofs, co-edits & common sense provided by Sleazy G

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