It’s a bird. It’s a plane. No. It’s a guy in a green suit sporting a wicked moustache, a poorly sketched logo and a cape!
Meet Pakistan Man — the latest comic superhero to emerge as part of a growing trend of desi comics spilling over from the virtual world into print. Dubbed Pakistan’s first superhero, a claim some in the local community of amateur illustrators would dispute, Pakistan Man is the brainchild of 24-year-old Hassan Siddiqui, a marketing graduate from Iqra University, Islamabad. The self published comic is the logical final culmination of a childhood passion for drawing cartoons. The road to Pakistan Man was paved however, as it does for many aspiring young Pakistani cartoonists — on Facebook.
“HS comics were launched on Facebook in 2011. I’m the owner and artist,” Siddiqui says, narrating how the social network helped him build a fan base and improve his skills. “Facebook is a great way to show your art to people. It is a very important tool for any artist to start-up because it gives you instant feedback from your fan. You also have to be careful not to make mistakes in your work and deliver something which is on trend.”
Honing his art on social media, Siddiqui developed a fan following of over 13,000 on the HS comics Facebook page. While most of his toons were simple one-liners or 2-3 panel affairs on local politics and culture, the young illustrator/writer decided to work on a larger creative project around a local superhero, an idea he had first conceived in college.
The first issue of the comic is a fairly simple origins story, though its message is somewhat convoluted, something that perhaps unintentionally reflects the very real issue of existing conflicting narratives about Pakistan and national identity. While Pakistan Man seems to be an everyman superhero with a democratic bent, he also seems comfortable toppling the government. An overly simplified messiah, he is determined to save the homeland from all forms of injustice, including Meera’s English.
The son of a poor family, living in a small village called Sastapur, Pakistan Man dons his heroic avatar after a chance encounter with iconic hero Sultan Rahi. Five years of rigorous training and moustache growing later, armed with a superhero costume and the ability to fly, he is ready to save Pakistan as instructed by his mentor Sultan Rahi.
In the ensuing adventure, the man in green takes down pagal Sikandar, smacks a renowned female celebrity with an English dictionary, and then goes on to defeat The Corruptor, an evil super villain who is naturally a fraudulent politician sitting in the Parliament.
The drawings are basic, the inking is digital and the plot is predictable, but perhaps necessary for an origins story. “Pakistan Man is meant to represent the Pakistani people, showing how anyone can become a superhero,” Siddiqui explains. The fact that Meera is assaulted with a dictionary is “just a joke”. The Corruptor is an amalgamation of Pakistan’s leaders, and the fact that he is forced to flee the Parliament is a playful spin. “I wouldn’t say it is meant to send any big message about democracy. I don’t want people to take anything too political from my comic book, it is meant for people to have a good laugh and enjoy a good story which they can relate to,” explains Siddiqi.
The young creator points out that one of the biggest challenges to drawing comics in Pakistan is trying to tackle any issue without offending people. The lack of knowledge about comic books as an alternate form of creative expression does not help the situation either. Fortunately, the challenge of finding a publisher for the comic was bypassed by going the self-publishing route. “I had wanted to publish a comic book for the longest time. The total cost was about Rs25,000... I covered this with the help of a friend who also worked on it,” Siddiqui says matter-of-factly.
While inspired by the recent launch of Umro Ayar, an Urdu Comic book by Kachee Goliyan, Siddiqui set aside aiming for any monetary gains from the first issue of Pakistan Man.
“We felt it would be hard to convince paying sponsors for the first issue. Hopefully seeing our success we can get some sponsors for our next issue. Any profits generated from the first issue will go to the Edhi Foundation,” he says.
Whether Pakistan Man sees a second or third issue or ends 16 pages deep depends on how the current version fares with the audience. “Depending on the success of the first issue, Pakistan Man’s story may continue… hopefully in the future there will be more issues,” Siddiqui says.
While the dedication to publishing comics in the face of multiple hurdles is impressive, at the end of the day, Pakistan Man offers little that is not amateur or already seen before. The drawings are just a step above high school doodles and not in a self-deprecating, ironic way. The plot is tired, while the writing and jokes are childish, and unlikely to appeal to anyone over the age of 15. If our man in green does return, here’s hoping he works on his one-liners more than his punches.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, November 17th, 2013.
Pakistan Man is available at The Book Shop, Jinnah Super, Islamabad; Famous Books, F6, Islamabad; Idris Book Bank, Rawalpindi for Rs90. The comic can also be ordered online from the HS Comics Facebook page for Rs145, including delivery charges.
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How can it represent pakistani people? it is in english...slavery is embedded in the english-medium riffraff..the westoxicated ignorants of pakistan.
"Pakistan Man is meant to represent the Pakistani people, showing how anyone can become a superhero"
Hope he belong's to the right sect.
Dont let someone's words keep you down! good for you to follow your passion
At least I give Hassan Siddiqui marks for effort and if nothing it will be an invaluable learning experience.