Bangalore-based Vakil brothers, Mohammed Ali and Mohammed Arif, are property developers who moon-light as comics writers and illustrators. They brought to life a first-of-its kind comics series, hugely popular Sufi Comics that bring to life spiritual tales and values of Islam in a simple, fun manner. It started as web comics, and their first book, 40 Sufi Comics, was translated into over ten languages. Their second book, The Wise Fool of Baghdad, was released at the recent Bangalore Comic Con fest. Mohammed Ali Vakil tells DNA how the duo spent a lot of time experimenting with different styles before arriving at their style of story-telling.
How did the idea of Sufi comics come to you?
We grew up reading comics like Amir Chitra Katha, Tinkle, Tin Tin and Asterix. We found the comics format to be a wonderful way to express stories, thoughts and ideas in an appealing way.
As Muslims we grew up learning about Islam, and were inspired by the spiritual stories in its history and traditions. The lessons from the stories became a source of guidance. Though there are several books on Islam, we felt it would be great if these stories were illustrated in the form of comics.
The journey so far.
I didn’t know how to draw comics, but the motivation gave the energy to study the art of comics and put them in practice with Sufi Comics. We used to post the comics on our blog and Facebook. The response we received was highly encouraging, which spurred us to compile them into our first book “40 Sufi Comics”. In 2012, we launched a website http://www.suficomics.com.
What was most difficult about conceptualising and telling the stories in this format?
As far as we knew, no one had presented these stories in comic format. So we didn't have a reference to use when working on the art. In our first book, 40 Sufi Comics, the drawings are very simple. But in our second book, we spent a lot of time experimenting with different styles. We wanted to adopt a style that would reflect the time, place and culture of the period which the story takes place. The inspiration for the style for the second book came from Islamic miniature paintings.
Tell us about working together as a team.
We both enjoy drawing and are very happy to tell stories that are meaningful to us. My brother Arif and I work on the content together. I did the illustrations for the first book, and those in the second were done by Rahil Mohsin.
Who/what are your literary influences, and how?
In recent times, I've been influenced most by Seyyed Hossein Nasr. He's a philosopher and one of the foremost experts in Sufism and Islamic Art. Arif and I enjoy reading fiction and non-fiction, which I think subconsciously help us to structure the stories we work on.
Who is the reader you had in mind?
With Sufi Comics, we combined spirituality with comics. The values expressed in the stories are common in all faiths in general. This is one of the reasons why we have a very diverse readership across different faiths, and nationalities. So far Sufi Comics has been translated by volunteers in French, German, Indonesian, Russian, Spanish and Tamil. Translations are in progress for Norwegian, Finnish, Kannada, Bengali, Hindi, Malayalam and Turkish.
I think everyone at some point in their lives ponder over questions like “Why am I here?”, “Why do people suffer?”, “How do I deal with suffering?”, etc. Sufi Comics answers these questions from the perspective of a great living tradition of our times.
There's a renewed interest in comics among adults since graphic novels became popular. What is your take on the relevance of this genre?
As computers, smart phones and tablets have become popular, a lot of content that is consumed has become visual. For example, the most popular content on social media websites are images and videos. People are more engaged with visual content instead of just text. I think this is one of the reasons why the medium of graphic novels are becoming very popular.