|Promo poster of 'Team Muhafiz', illustrated by Indian artist Roy Soumyadipta|
To create entertaining, but meaningful, stories with larger-than-life local heroes. That was the passion that drove Imran Azhar back to Pakistan after spending 20 years working in the hospitality field in several countries. Now his company Azcorp Entertainment is about to launch its first initiative called Team Muhafiz.
On first glance, Team Muhafiz may appear to be just another Pakistani comic but a closer look suggests something different: it is hopeful, and subtly encourages young people to follow their dreams and stand up against what's wrong.
|Illustration by Roy Soumyadipta|
The comic's main characters are inherently ‘Pakistani’ yet distinctive. They include a Hazara girl who is a junior league football gold medalist, a Pashtun girl who is a Tae Kwon Do and kick boxing enthusiast and an aspiring fashion designer.
“The characters are every-day young teenagers doing great things. The main idea is that they love sports and music and want to give back to the community,” says Azhar.
“A Hindu character will also be introduced... We have tried to subtly show diversity by bringing in different cultures, without pushing it in the readers’ faces,” he adds.
|Illustration of the characters by Babrus Khan|
The artwork for the comic is being done by Babrus Khan from Pakistan and Roy Soumyadipta from India – both of whom are inspired by Japanese manga and anime styles of art. Team Muhafiz also follows a similar style.
Roy has worked on several huge international projects including one with comic book legend Stan Lee. For him, this is not about India-Pakistan. “When I was approached to work on this, it never occurred to me that this was 'Pakistani'. It has been a pleasant experience working [on this project],” he says.
Even for Roy, this comic is different from the ones he has worked on in the past. “Team Muhafiz raises a lot of social awareness and is very educative, which is something that makes me want to work for it. Almost all of my past projects were commercial ventures.”
The first chapter, set to be released next month, is about the “mysterious” disappearance of the Mangrove trees, while the later chapters will touch upon on other issues like pollution, substance abuse and gang wars.
|Sneak peek from the first chapter. Illustration by Roy Soumyadipta|
Azhar's aim of spreading "socially relevant messages" among teenagers will not only be done through the medium of comics. Team Muhafiz, with the same content and characters, will gradually be expanded to other mediums through animations and pilot IVRs (interactive voice responses).
He chose comics as the first medium to work with because it was the cheapest option and also something that teenagers would love to connect with. “I know the comics might not sell much... but what's more important is the message being spread.”
“The soft launch of this comic series will be in March, where we will test the product in public schools and other institutions and the big launch will be in April," says Azhar.
Since the initiative is in its early stage, it has only appeared in the form of a Facebook page so far, but Azhar says work on its website and a free mobile app for Android, IoS and Windows is also underway. The comics will be available for free on the website and the app.