Manga and anime are as much a pop culture phenomenon as Disney comics are, say top creators

Manga and anime are as much a pop culture phenomenon as Disney comics are, say top creators

Animators and illustrators discuss the popularity of these comics and art forms at discussion forum held during Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival 2023

Sharjah, May 08, 2023

Luminaries from the fields of manga and anime led an insightful discussion at the 14th annual Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival (SCRF 2023) on Sunday, charting the growth and popularity of these forms worldwide.

Famous Japanese manga artist and animator Yoshiko Watanabe, who was instrumental in creating the “Astro Boy” series; Emirati mangaka and art educator Asmaa Al Remeithi; and Iraqi artist and illustrator Ali Almandalawi got together in a session moderated by UAE-based Palestinian creative Faisal Alqedra on what makes manga and anime of profound importance and value to its fans everywhere, while speaking about their own growth journey in these fields and their creative processes.

Watanabe recalled the start of her career, working with Osamu Tezuka, widely known as the “father of manga”, in the 1960s. “He was the one who created the famous Astro Boy series, which set the standard for manga comics. In 1971, I moved to Europe, first to Paris and settled down in Italy in 1973, where I met my husband. The Japanese cartoon boom was more or less taking off then,” she said. “And in the ‘70s, there weren’t many people who could do animation art. So I was creating about 200 drawings per month, then I started a graphic novel and my work just underwent a huge progression from there.”

Al Remeithi spoke about her creative process, saying: “I learnt entirely through observation and practice, and did not go to art school or take courses. I wanted to create an original character that people would remember, so I did and called her Asami (which is also my nickname), the purple-haired girl from the UAE. I devised storylines that people here would identify with and relate to. I even made the character quite different from the usual: she has sharp teeth and displays a lot of extreme emotions.”

Almandalawi was a pioneer while growing up in 1960s and 70s Iraq, where comics and illustrated works were not common. “I read Arab comics from Lebanon and other countries at newspaper kiosks. But I had this incredible passion for them. After seeing Superman, I was inspired to draw my own adventurous characters,” he said. “At 12, I thought of creating a magazine of my own, and so I did, writing stories, creating scenarios and drawing the illustrations. Soon I was featured on television as this creative child prodigy and it all began from there.”

Watanabe says that manga and anime saw quite an organic growth in popularity around the world. “Japanese comics were like none other, often tackling hard-hitting issues and presenting them to young readers while still packaged in fantasy and visual elements.”

“These are quite popular in the Arab world as well, in that they are different from western comics,” said Al Remeithi. “Manga and anime are as much a pop culture phenomenon as Disney comics are.”

Almandalawi says that the UAE is giving great impetus to young creatives through initiatives like the Sharjah Children’s Reading Festival. “It is heartwarming to see the exposure and opportunities available to children and young people here, to learn from artistic works worldwide and to promote their own talent. It paints a very happy and optimistic scenario for the creative future of this country,” he said.

SCRF is the region’s largest festival of its kind, dedicated to stimulate creativity in young minds and bring them closer to books. The event is running until May 14 in Expo Centre Sharjah with the theme ‘Train your Brain’.


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