In a world where superheroes are famously identified as fictional characters with supernatural powers in red capes, spider suits and bat masks among others, comic series Zindan: The Last Ansaars has enriched this traditional variety of comic book figures by introducing a new set of superheroes belonging to the Mughal era.
And so far, the overwhelming response to the US-based comic series, particularly after its recent launch in Pakistan, is the proof of its anticipated success and promising future.
Zindan was first launched in the US back in 2014. Since then, the comic series have been a hit among comic book enthusiasts of all ages.
Its story revolves around two brothers, Zain and Timur, who find themselves orphaned at a very early age and passed from tribe to tribe until they are rescued by a noble order of people called ‘The Ansaars’. The Ansaars are the guardians of a legendary prison known as Zindan, which houses the world’s most dangerous evils. One day, returning from a mission they find that their home has been destroyed and all the evils had escaped. Consequently, they are faced with the incredible responsibility to recapture them while simultaneously trying to find their place in a world outside Zindan.
“The story parallels the challenges that many of the young Pakistanis face post 9/11 and their struggle to find their place in the world,” comments Omar Mirza, the creator of Zindan, who is also a US-based Pakistani physician. “Our hope is that by using characters and settings distinct to the Mughal era, we will revive tales of heroism and superior moral character associated with our community,” he added.
Born and raised in the US, Omar always wanted to write a story based on characters he could relate to.
“The motivation to create Zindan as a Mughal story – as opposed to something based out of New York with a Caucasian character – was initially a selfish desire to see heroes that looked more like me,” Omar explained.
Being a comic book fan, using this medium was a natural choice for Omar.
“My inspiration for writing and creating Zindan is rooted in a deep love for comic books that began in the 2nd or 3rd grade,” he told. “A friend of mine gave me Merc #1 as a gift. Immediately, I fell in love with the world of comics. With its superlative characters and high stakes moral/ethical conflicts, I found the world of comics to resonate with the same sensibilities which move our (desis) love for Bollywood films. It is a form of escapism, and a creative way to aspire to our moral and ethical ideals. It was during the nearly three-decade love affair with comics that I had multiple daydreams about creating my own comic.”
A few years back, this dream finally became a reality for Omar when he met Sajad Shah. “The idea of creating my own comic didn’t become something I really considered until I met comic artist Sajad Shah. Meeting a Pakistani comic book artist was such a rare treat that I couldn’t take it as anything else but a sign that now was the time to create my comic book,” he said.
Luckily, the rest of the team was equally passionate about this project.
“Fortunately, I have a wonderful team including Khurram Mehtabdin, Adelso Corona and Alonso Espinoza, among others, who are working with me to bring this project to fruition. I could not have done it without their help,” told Omar.
Zindan’s unique story and its unusual setting compels one to ask what audience the writer had in mind. When asked, Omar explained: “I get this question a lot. I think there is a tendency to assume that because this book is immersed in a distinctly South Asian world that it would only be applicable to a specific audience. I will admit that when writing this I only had myself in mind as an audience so that I could never be disappointed if it never reached a wider audience. “However, as our comic has started to grow, I have realised that comic fans are the most open-minded and accepting group of people that I have come to know and for this reason I have found Zindan embraced by all sorts of different people.”
This summer, Zindan was officially launched in Pakistan on the CFx Comics App. Elaborating on the idea of launching it in Pakistan and the choice of this platform, Omar said: “Pakistan is our ancestral homeland and Zindan in many ways is our love letter to the wonderful home of our beautiful and rich culture. Thanks to our partner for helping us release it on their App and also translate Zindan into Urdu for our Urdu-speaking fans. We didn’t have many expectations as we understood the challenges of bringing a brand new comic to Pakistan with limited resources.”
Although the comics are set in a ‘fictionalised Mughal world’, Omar felt that the themes they are trying to address in Zindan are universal which is why it easily resonates with audience around the globe especially Pakistanis.
‘In our fictionalised Mughal world we are trying to help convey the richness of our culture in a way that is not often found in pop culture these days. Our hope is that Pakistanis will find our efforts authentic and true to a shared goal of bridging divides while refuting the negativity that is being projected onto our community,’ explained Omar.
Despite the uncertainty that initially loomed around Zindan’s release in Pakistan, the comics have relatively done well. Since its launch, Zindan is the most downloaded comic on the App. Sharing his thoughts on this incredible response, Omar said: “What started as a passion project has become something that people have supported not only by word of mouth but with their time, energy and money. We are extremely grateful for the support and hope to continue to create great comics for years to come. We do not take this honour lightly and do our best to continue to work hard to improve Zindan so as to be deserving of the continued support.”
Finally, while discussing his future plans for Zindan, Omar revealed some exciting updates: “Right now we are working under the guidance of Sohaib Awan (creator of Jinn Rise) and his company Jabal Entertainment to expand Zindan to transmedia properties. With his help we are in initial stages to build out our world and explore global partnerships for bringing Zindan to TV or Movies near you.”
Originally published in Dawn, September 4th, 2016