Brothers Mohammad Ali Vakil and Mohammad Arif Vakil chose the art style of Turkish miniature paintings for their recent comic book, The Wise Fool Of Baghdad

The Vakil Brothers, Mohammad Ali and Mohammad Arif, of 40 Sufi Comics-fame, adopted a new style for their recent comic book, The Wise Fool Of Baghdad. They considered the American and Japanese Manga styles, before they settled on art work based on Islamic miniature paintings and architectural Mosque-designs. At a recent Comic Con workshop held at Mocha, Mohammad Ali spoke of the various sources they studied. “We adopted the art style of Turkish miniature paintings, which is both artistic and can be adapted to a comic book form,” Ali says while referring to a display of beautiful paintings of sophisticated lines and muted colours. So, the brothers teamed up with Rahil Mohsin for the art work.

The duo was also inspired by Islamic calligraphy. Each of the paintings was accompanied by verses from the Koran written in calligraphy. “We decided to incorporate Islamic calligraphy, perhaps the highest form of its kind. Muqtar Ahmed, one of Bangalore’s best calligraphers, graciously agreed to do it for us,” Ali said.

The story of The Wise Fool Of Baghdad is just as interesting as the art work. “Although the story of The Wise Fool… has been translated into English, this is the first time that it has been published as a comic book version,” Ali said. “It tells the story of Bahlol, whose real name was Wahab bin Amr and who lived in 7th Century Baghdad. He was a pious person and a social judge of the times. But he didn’t get along with the king, who wanted to execute him. To save himself, Bahlol met a spiritual master for advice.

His master answered him with the letter “jhin”. Bahlol derived the meaning Junoon from the letter jhin, which means to go insane. From that time onwards, he acts mad, and so the King is unable to execute him as it is unlawful to do so. But in his madness, he would teach the people of the city lessons of wisdom.”

The brothers, who run a real estate business, traced their creative journey as comic book artists. “We were born and brought up in Dubai,” Ali explains. “Our days were divided into segments, we went to school in the morning and in the evenings we attended a Madrasah where we learnt wonderful stories on love, bravery and sacrifice from them.”

The brothers took time out to read comics too amid their busy schedule. “Amar Chitra Katha was among the many comic books we read,” Ali says. “Though we lived far from India, it introduced us to Indian history and culture.”

These abiding boyhood memories provided the impetus for the duo to start their blog The niche blog was so well-received that it inspired the brothers to write 40 Sufi Comics, tales of “eternal spiritual truths from Islamic history”.

Ali says that publishing a comic book isn’t that difficult. All that is needed, he says, is a great idea. “One doesn’t necessarily have to be a great artist or even a lot of money to publish a comic book. 40 Sufi Comics is self-published,” he informed an audience of comic-book enthusiasts.

The informative content in 40 Sufi Comics has has found favour with teachers from Madrasahs. They requested the comics be used as teaching material. The comics were also appreciated by people from across the world, leading to its translation into Tamil, French, Russian, German, Indonesian and Malay versions.

The brothers were invited to the San Diego Comic Con conference, a privilege accorded to the best in the business. Arif recounted the experience, characterised by anecdotes and memorable moments.

The first road show of Comic con express will be held in Bangalore from September 8 to 12.

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