Imran Azhar moved back to Pakistan last year after spending almost 20 years abroad, and opened a small company that produces ‘Team Muhafiz’, a comic book series about a group of ethnically and religiously diverse teenage athletes who fight injustice in the city of Karachi.
The many topics the series touches upon include child abuse, drug abuse, kidnapping, corruption and environmentalism. In addition to promoting the multiethnic aspect of Pakistan, Team Muhafiz also seeks to promote ideas like women empowerment and positive body image.
Q: What motivated you to create a comic, specifically?
A: I moved back last year, and have a lot of nephews and nieces. I could never find them local, interesting content; it was always very preachy or very educational or foreign-based. And I always liked to write comics and read books.
When I was growing up in Pakistan, there was nothing else. There were no smartphones, no good movies, and there was only one TV channel. We grew up on books and comics. Another thing was that, from a business point of view, it’s a cheaper way to start before going for investors to pitch for animation.
The idea was to start with comics because it’s cheaper. We also want to translate it into regional languages, but we are looking for demand. It’s very expensive to self-publish: we write in English and Urdu, and we are pitching to investors to finance translations since it is very expensive.
Q: Are you interested in expanding ‘Team Muhafiz’?
A: We are already pitching to big brands for animation. Visual storytelling has always been strong, since the age of cavemen - visual storytelling has always been powerful. So the idea is to take visual and audio - because a lot of people don’t have access to the internet, and they can’t buy the comics, even though we’ve tried to make it cheaper and we give them to public schools and jails for free.
The second issue we’re taking to the Edhi Rehab Centre, but we can only do as much as we are sponsored. This is for-profit, so we’re looking for sponsors all the time. And we’re making it for different platforms, so the content remains the same, but it will be marketed on different platforms, like audio, animation, you name it.
Q: How have children responded to Team Muhafiz, especially regarding the mix of ethnicities and religions in the characters?
A: Amazing. Children’s minds are like a sponge; what we feed them, they will take in. The problem is that there are so many hate messages and one narrative - a rightwing narrative - going on, so we need a different narrative and let them choose, afterwards, what they want.
Published in Dawn, October 22nd, 2015