Category Archives: Politics

Broken legs, death threats and fatwas: the trials and tribulations of The 99

The-99-GroupThe below is reprinted with permission by Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa, the creator of the series The 99. The series helps present modern, constructive roles for youth in the Arab world. It’s a shining example of positive engagement. The below discusses some of the attacks he has received due to his creations including a Fatwa, charges of heresy, and death threats. We stand and support Naif, condemning the threats, we ask you to join in and do so as well.

Many years ago, I was the volleyball counsellor at a summer camp in New England. It was 1990 and I was fit for five minutes. It seems there’s always an injury I can blame my (lack of) fitness on. That summer was no different.

Running into the lake, I slipped. My hands instinctively shielded my face from hitting the lake bottom and my elbows jerked back and got caught in the sand, sending my right shoulder out of its socket. I popped it back in. It was painful. I had to rest for a week before seeing a doctor. And then, on the way to the clinic, I had a terrible car accident that meant I completed my journey to the hospital in an ambulance. I’ve had my share of car accidents. Two of them were not my fault. This was one of those. It involved being shunted by a Mack truck while I was stationary at a traffic light.

At the hospital I was told that my shoulder had popped out again and that the boot of my car had been compressed to within inches of my head. I was lucky.

It was there I met an ambulance chaser, which was a first. I got his card. I got his pitch. I told him there and then not to bother: if the lorry driver who had written off my car had money, I reasoned, he would have had brakes too. I also told him I did not want to live my life by taking something away from someone else. I wanted to create rather than destroy. I did not want to be associated with a bottom feeder.

A few weeks later, a six-year-old boy sneaked up on me while I was brushing my teeth and said: “You don’t have a country … you don’t have a country …” A fellow counsellor who had roughly the same intellect as the young boy was hiding behind a tree. He had put the child up to it. It was surreal.

I called my father in Kuwait and he casually explained to me that Iraq’s invasion was a routine matter that would solve itself in a matter of days. It didn’t. The things fathers say.

Now, many years later, I have spent the summer recovering from another painful injury (giving me another excuse to explain away why I’m still not fit).

Last summer, as I was leaving my children’s summer camp in New England, I missed a step on an outdoor staircase and got my leg caught between a step and a tree root. I went in one direction and my leg in another. I broke my leg so badly my bones came out of my body for a breath of fresh air. My surgeon referred to my fracture as Humpty Dumpty. It took several surgeries and months of physical therapy to start to feel normal again.

While I recovered, another bottom feeder made his way into my life, this time forcefully. A man whose view of reality is narrow and violent, sued me for heresy and went around submitting false accusations to various institutions asking for a fatwa on my work with THE 99, a super-hero cartoon series I created based on the 99 attributes of God.

Sadly, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia and the ministry of Islamic affairs in Kuwait did not do their homework and issued fatwas condemning THE 99 based on false accusations and misstatements provided by this ambulance chaser. This is after THE 99 had been broadcast daily for two years all over the world.

The United Nations, the World Economic Forum, world leaders including president Barack Obama, the emir of Kuwait and many others endorsed my work for bridging cultures and tolerance.

In fact, THE 99 has been approved by the ministries of information in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and was funded by a Saudi Islamic Investment Bank with its own Sharia board.

This accusation opened up a Pandora’s box and led to an avalanche of extremists each trying to outdo one another. It led to fatwas and more recently death threats from Twitter accounts linked to ISIL and Al Qaeda.

You can imagine the call I had with my parents and my children when the front page of Kuwait’s leading daily newspaper quoted various death threats. Look on the bright side I told my parents. This shows the impact of THE 99.

My son, who is a summer camp counsellor this year, called me in a state of panic. His friends told him I was dead or that I was going to jail. I tried to allay his fears by telling him it was routine. The things fathers say.

But that is not the end of the story. The early 1990s witnessed Disney releasing their smash hit Aladdin. The opening lyrics of the song entitled Arabian Nights were: “Oh I come from a land, from a faraway place, where the caravan camels roam, where they cut off your ear if they don’t like your face, it’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.”

Having released it on the heels of Desert Storm, Disney thought they could get away with the lyrics. They couldn’t. Protests led to changing the lyrics on the video and DVD versions. I was among the protesters.

Last week I took my children to watch Aladdin the Musical on Broadway. And as I sat in the audience I couldn’t help wonder should those lyrics have been changed? Should I have protested against them? Isn’t someone trying to cut off my head because they don’t like the way I think?

As I write this I am considering going to Kuwait to answer charges of heresy. The ministry of information has turned a number of production companies over to the public prosecutor for violating the audio-visual media law.

May God bless Kuwait and may the forces of darkness not muffle innovation and creativity. And may the ministries start to understand that in the name of protecting our culture they are responsible for killing it by scaring off the content creators and the content investors.

Why would anyone invest in media content if the producers can be sent off to the public prosecutor’s office and potentially serve jail time. Isn’t it just easier to keep dubbing Turkish, Mexican and American dramas?

And if we keep doing that, aren’t we diluting our culture? And if we do, then whose fault is that? Perhaps the ministries were not set up to protect our culture after all.

_______
Naif Al-Mutawa is a Kuwait-born, U.S. educated psychologist who created “THE 99,” a comic book about a group of superheroes based on Islamic archetypes. See http://www.al-mutawa.com/

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Eco Comics Reveals the Scotsman in Time for the Scottish Independence Vote

SCOTSMANIn anticipation of Scotland’s historic independence referendum today which will decide if Scotland becomes an independent country, publisher Eco Comics has unveiled a new super hero character, Scotsman.

The publisher has yet to reveal whether the Scottish hero will star in his own comic book or appear in its recently launched series, Englishman.

Whether Scotsman will be an ally or enemy of Englishman has also yet to be determined.

When it comes to the big vote today as far as Scottish independence, the publisher said:

Is Scotsman on the Yes or No side of the referendum? No to independence will certainly make him an ally of Englishman, but will Yes result in him being ally or enemy?

The character will embody Scotland, and that extends to the surrounding cast. Many Scottish legends will appear, and so far the publisher has revealed early concept art for Robert the Bruce.

SCOTSMAN 1 SCOTSMAN 2 ROBERT THE BRUCE

Dragon Con 2014: U.S. Rep John Lewis and Andrew Aydin Discuss March

Congressman John Lewis was joined by his co-author Andrew Aydin to discuss their graphic novel March at this year’s Dragon Con. We’ve got audio of the panel which was moderated by Tom Heintjes, publisher of Hogan’s Alley magazine.

(via Cartoonician)

There’s a Klingon Running for Senate

David-Waddell-jpgYou might remember politician David Waddell. He made national attention when he resigned from the Indian Trail town council, writing the letter in Klingon. For those who might not know, Klingon is a language (and alien race) from the science fiction series Star Trek.

Now Waddell is an official write-in candidate for U.S. Senate in North Carolina. It took him about four months to collect the 500 signatures needed to be recognized in the race. Candidates who aren’t able to collect the signatures have their votes not counted. There’s actually two other official write-in candidates so far.

Waddell is a former Repbulican and left the party due to the party’s nominating rules. He felt they were changed to keep candidates like Ron Paul from “having a chance.” Waddell is running as a constitutional conservative advocating for a shakeup of the status quo and advocating for limited intrusion from the federal government.

Brazil’s Politicians Channel Superheroes

While here in the United States politicians tend to hide their goofy side, in Brazil, it’s a whole other situation. There, politicians have no problem channeling their inner superhero to court voters. Via the New York Times, there an auditor flies through the air like Superman, shooting laser beams from his eyes while using font last seen in He-Man. The candidate for a Catalão City Council seat dressed as Spider-Man and vanquished scoundrels in striped prison uniforms with well-aimed body blows.

This is all a move to cut through and grab voters’ attention. With over 20 political parties, you need to do whatever you can I guess.

If only our elections were this entertaining.

Doraville, Georgia SWAT Think They’re the Punisher

I was watching Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, and while he was discussing the militarization of police he showed a controversial training video for the Doraville, Georgia SWAT team. Oliver highlighted the video used heavy metal music, and started off with the Punisher logo…. what!?

Well I did some digging, and found out, according to this CBS 46 Atlanta news report, the video was modified adding heavy metal music and the logo by an individual…. which the Doraville police then posted on their Facebook page.

Tip for the police, when looking for comic characters to emulate, the Punisher is not one of them, and linking to videos like this isn’t the best of ideas. There’s that whole vigilante killing thing you’re supposed to be opposed to.

Check out the full video below.

They Speak English in What?

storm“What country you from?”  “”What?”  “What ain’t no country I ever heard of. They speak English in what?” Samuel L. Jackson’s memorable phrase from Pulp Fiction is humorous but also highlights an interesting aspect of pop culture when it comes to our own perception of other places in the world, including through the medium of comics.

In the ongoing wake of All-New Marvel NOW! the first issue of Storm was recently released (the second issue is in stores this week), the first for the heroine in her own self-titled series. After surviving a brief encounter with a tidal wave, Storm finds herself in the small country of Santo Marco. Santo Marco has some history with the X-Men and by extension Storm, having been the small country which the Brotherhood of Mutants once overran and ruled before being driven out. Storm arrives to find herself welcomed by the locals, some of whom seem to worship her. Soon the army show up and engages in some subtle sabre-rattling against the heroine informing her that she cannot use her mutant name, as mutant names are not allowed, and then informs her that mutants aren’t Storm_1_Preview_2allowed either. This leads to her departure and inevitable return to stand up to the army brutes.

It is an interesting episode and one which digs a little deeper than most comics do for context. Instead of some supervillain having a plan to destroy a city (or the world) the threat here is not something which can be easily overcome. There is no power punch or melding into shadows which will help the island of Santo Marco, instead it requires a long-term approach, and to its credit that is part of what Storm returns to do. Before the army intervenes she is seen helping to clear the beach of the village from debris.

An interesting question though is where is Santo Marco? The medium of comics has a tendency to make up places as a necessity to replicate modern conflicts, but is there any benefit in that? Based on its name and the representation of its setting, Santo Marco would appear to be either in the Caribbean or in South America somewhere, but its name is generic enough, as is its setting, that it could really be anywhere in the region (or even potentially further away.)  DC Comics does a similar thing with some of its own countries – in the 1980s Kahndaq became a substitute for Iraq and later the home of Bane became an equally obscure and non-existent country known as Santa Prisca.

In current events right now, the world is seeing a fairly tumultuous period, with tensions running high in Gaza, Iraq and Ukraine, while in North America, usually considered benign by world standards, the race riots in Ferguson are igniting an underlying dialogue which is rarely spoken about the state of racial relations in the United States. Ferguson is an especially interesting case though, as many have heard of Ukraine, Iraq and Gaza, but how before last week had ever heard of Ferguson? Other than residents of Saint Louis, the name probably meant nothing and might have been mistaken for a number of other things than an actual place.

Comics is perhaps more than most mediums one of absolute escapism. There is very little basis for superheroes exhibiting super abilities as it relates to the modern world in most senses. Is the realm of escapism so entrenched though that it is unable to tackle current events in their actual setting? In a historical perspective of the medium, the answer would be no. One need not look farther than the first appearance of Captain America to see that heroes could and did attack real world problems (even if at the time that this was being used partially as a propaganda tool.)  There are two approaches to the problem of the non-places. The first is that they don’t exist and therefore they don’t actually represent real-world problems, and by extension that they are more easily disregarded as just more comic fluff. The evil dictators and army generals are just exaggerated versions of real life people, and the caricatures are so over-the-top as to be unbelievable. The second approach to this would be that the in being nowhere that these places could in fact be anywhere.  That Santo Marco could be Gaza or Crimea and that it forces people to think outside the box of what they perceive to be the ills of the world.

Of the two approaches, the end result probably comes down to the individual reader. Some readers look for pure escapism in comics and don’t want to face real world problems when trying to escape.  Others look for something deeper in their reading and look for more connections. Interestingly though, that both possibilities exist is an indication that the comic book companies are trying to play the middle ground, being neither too ignorant nor to divisive. Perhaps once again the bottom line determines the finished product, but I think in either case that it is time for the valuable medium to stop playing pretend and to get real.

Comic Pros Speak Out on Ferguson

With news locked down, reporters being arrested, air travel over the area blocked, and protests being met with guns and a militarized police, Ferguson, Missouri should be the center of national outrage and discussion after the police shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown.

The discussion that’s lacking in national media is instead being held on social media being passed along from eye-witness accounts on the ground. While a city is in chaos numerous “comic professionals” took to Twitter to raise awareness, and vent their frustration at absent leadership, and heavy-handed military response police.

Below is a sampling of the stream that filled our feed. We want to thank everyone who is speaking up and standing up for justice. Many individuals don’t like to mix politics and business and as many use their Twitter feeds mostly for business, they are putting themselves out there.

There’s not many things that are clearly right and wrong, this is one of those few instances when things are pretty clear. If you’re unaware what’s going on, please just do some simple Googling, get educated, speak out, and get involved.

Ready 4 Vader 2016? The Sith Lord Polls Better than Potential 2016 Presidential Candidates

On Tuesday FiveThirtyEight released a poll on various Star Wars characters and how popular they are. Jar Jar Binks is the most reviled character in the series. That’s not surprising at all. But, with a net favorability of -8 that makes the least likeable character still more popular than the U.S. Congress, which currently has a net favorability rating of -65.

What’s fun though is The Washington Post decided to compare the favorability of all of the various Star Wars characters with that of potential 2016 Presidential candidates and other well-known politicians. Not shockingly, there’s a lot of Star Wars characters who might have a good chance getting elected.

Darth Vader has a net favorability higher than all of the candidates and he killed younglings! Emperor Palpatine also has a better result than the majority of the potential candidates. I base that on the fact he could efficiently get the Death Star built.

Check out the full results below and get ready for Ready 4 Vader, Darth Vader for President!

star-wars-fav

PETA and Bluewater take on SeaWorld at SDCC

Tens of thousands of individuals head to San Diego this week for the geekfest that is San Diego Comic-Con. And while much of the show will revolve around fantasy entertainment, that doesn’t mean some real world messaging can’t be included too. As fans de-plane, the first thing that they’ll see won’t be a promo for The Avengers or The Walking Dead but a huge graphic cartoon of a captive orca with SeaWorld‘s CEO in his mouth. The provocative display, which urges convention-goers to steer clear of SeaWorld because of marine-mammal cruelty and confinement, is a joint project between Bluewater Productions and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).

The installation cost $24,000, and greets passengers on their way to baggage claim at the center of Terminal 2 at the airport.

Bluewater designed the cartoon in the wake of last year’s hit documentary Blackfish. The film—viewed by 21 million on CNN alone—explored SeaWorld’s capture and confinement of orcas, which led the whale named Tilikum to kill three people.

The documentary isn’t without controversy, and ever since SeaWorld has been in damage control as attendance has dropped since.

petaSDCC

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