Chances are you might have come across CFx Comics. It is a Pakistani startup that is bringing writers, artists and creators together, and providing them a platform to tell their tales far and wide.
Now, why is this important? Besides the fact that this is Pakistan’s sole comicbook-centric platform for creators, CFx is a rarity in more ways than one.
I’ll explain how.
Pakistan’s Sole Comic Creator
Creative Frontiers was founded by Mustafa Hasnain back in 2013. They describe themselves as “an award winning Creative Agency focused on creating social impact.” CFx Comics is basically a part of them.
Initially, Mustafa Husnain along with Gauhar Ayub and Yahya Ehsan, took on religious extremism in society with their first comic series Pasbaan (Guardian in English). In fact, Pasbaan was originally written by Gauhar Aftab. Later the others made adaptations and translated the comic into Urdu, hence we were introduced to Pasbaan from Guardian. The popularity of that series made them realize that there’s no one in Pakistan who is educating youngsters through this visual medium.
Since then, they created CFx Comics, which is probably the world’s first Urdu comic platform.
Over the years, they have published a lot of stuff, but their most recent initiative looks to be the most promising one yet.
The company is launching five new comics that tackle everyday, contemporary issues. As part of their upcoming ‘Comics for Peace’ banner, these comics have been created and geared for Pakistani audiences, and that too by university students.
Comics For Peace
‘Comics for Peace‘ initiative is the kind of soft power we need in the digital age. This is a new project by CFx Comics to create social change through comics.
For Comics for Peace, they got together university students from across Pakistan, to create five comics.
Through these comics, these students highlighted social issues that they cared about. From discrimination, hate, violence to extremism, they used the graphic medium to tell stories that could resonate with Pakistanis from all around the world.
“Stories that shatter boundaries, break taboos, fight against discrimination and hate and make Pakistan a better place!”
So basically, we have university students who share a passion for the comics medium. These first-time comic creators want to bring their worlds to life with great art and story-telling. Cfx Comics ensured that these budding comic creators in the making had the professional help and mentorship they need to spread their message. They did a pretty fine job given all the hype around these five comics.
Female Comic Creators are Rare but CFx Comics Has Many
Female comic creators are not as common as you’d think. There’s no disputing the fact that women are as much comic fans as men and statistics prove that. There just aren’t as many creators.
A lot of comics are created by men for men. So to solve the problem, why not just hire more female creators?
That’s exactly what CFx Comics did.
We spoke to two female members on their core team, Maham and Samia, both of whom have made a splash with Comics for Peace.
Believe it or not, these girls stumbled onto comics creation accidentally. When asked how they got into this as a career, the girls say that ‘it was their first job and eventually became their passion.’
Now mind you, these girls are not your average female comic creators. They’re actually in it for the social change.
While they do describe their job as ‘really fun’, it’s the impact they create that made these girls own their role and identity as a comic creator.
Maham, the more charismatic of the two, says that “it was understanding her role that made her appreciate what she was doing more.”
“At first it was just a job. Now that we understand the impact we really enjoy what we’re doing.”
Meanwhile, even the quiet and thoughtful Samia had a lot to say about what it meant to be a female comic creator.
“I’m more passionate about working on this now that I know how important it is. I was overwhelmed by the response that Comics for Peace received. Makes you realize how big an impact this has.”
Creating a Market, not Profits
Another thing that really sets CFx Comics apart from the others is the fact that they’re not a publishing group that’s concerned with making profits.
CFx Comics is concerned with creating a market rather than catering to one.
Comics for Peace Project Manager, Ahmad Almakky said that:
We’ll start selling when people start buying.
He explained how there’s not a huge market but CFx Comics is working on growing it. Since most of the comic-fan community consumes content in English, Ahmad says that ‘the language is also a factor’.
As pioneers of the comic creating community in Pakistan, Ahmad laughed at the idea of corporations hijacking the scene once there’s a market.
“No one is concerned with hijacking because it’s not an established biz yet.”
Since they’re establishing a market, who exactly is their market?
According to Ahmad, there is nothing on the content market for Pakistan’s Gen Y, and Gen Z. He pointed out how contemporary media in the country is doing such a bad job at providing quality content.
“Contemporary media is doing a bad job. So we created this for the progressives who do not watch the typical superficial stuff that’s often sexist and propagates prejudices.”
The modern content consumer is not consumed by the ‘typical saas-bahu tales of old‘. The market is there and just waiting to be developed.
For Peace and Reforms
Ahmad Almakky says that the objective behind this initiative is to create social change.
He explained that they selected their target audience accordingly. The reason they’re catering to millennials and young adults is that they’re educated, rational and not rigid.
“Our audience is basically educated young adults. They’re not too young that you can’t explain these ideas to them; and not too old that they’re too rigid to change personal views.”
Maham opened up about how careful she is, now that she understands the impact of Comics for Peace.
“I’m a lot more careful now that I understand the impact of my message. More proud of my work too.”
While explaining the plot of their comic series Raaz, which features a transgender protagonist, Ahmad explained how much care was taken to explain a taboo theme in a manner that could appeal to everyone.
In a way, this is why they chose comics, and not some other medium to tell their stories. As Ahmad put it;
“Comics have more impact than film.”
Not Your Typical Western Comic
The subjects that the five comics under the Comics for Peace banner breach are not something you may find in your typical comic saga from western companies. While social dynamics do play a part in this, it was a conscious choice by CFx Comics.
For instance, Raaz by CFx Comics has a trans protagonist who fights for their identity. This is a theme that resonates not just in third world countries, but in the West as well.
This is something that CFx Comics hopes to leverage at the San Diego Comic-Con (the biggest comics show on Earth!).
Ahmad Almakky explained that this was indeed an important milestone and how excited the team was to make it to Comic-Con.
The most important thing he talked about was their unique choice of themes and subjects for comics.
Almost all Western comics revolve around crime fighting, vigilante justice, protecting Earth, etc. No one really touches on contemporary issues that concern the general public. That’s where CFx wants to make their mark.
“Really excited about San Diego Comic Con,….Bringing these five comics to the world, because we know that no one breached our issues. Western comics have this set of subjects they create around. What we’re doing no else has done.”
Given the objective of the comics, it makes sense that they opted for relatable protagonists. All the comics have a hero that might as well be ‘the girl/guy next door’.
Their protagonists are mostly normal people doing heroic stuff rather than superheroes. (like even Jessica Jones and Punisher have special training. They’re not ordinary people).
Comics for Peace‘s protagonists are more like your everyday Javed and Javeria, citizens who are spurred into taking action. That’s why even when they collaborated with foreign comic creators, the team stuck to their own ideas.
As Ahmad put it, foreign creators have their own ideas and attitude to approach things. That’s why they created heroes for causes they can relate to and care about.
Since foreign creators do not understand our dynamics, it becomes more important to have people from our own backyard. That’s the only way western creators could understand the limitations or consequences in certain situations.
While Maham and Samia worked on all the comics, we all have certain causes that are closer to our hearts. Both girls felt that the comic which resonates most with them is ‘Mehtab‘.
Mehtab tells the story of a female doctor with a troubled past. The way they framed the story and brought out the heroine in this ordinarily extraordinary female, no one else could have.
Maham’s other favorite comic Raaz took up transgender issues the way a ‘1st world artist’ would not see it. Raaz has a transgender protagonist Nasra.
“I liked the character and the social issue, it was interesting to develop.”
The taboo themes did not deter the team. Ahmad explained that since most initiatives in Pakistan are received with hate right off the bat, they were prepared for the negativity. Fortunately, though the comic was positively received.
“The social issue was one that needed coverage. In Pakistan,a lot of things are first of received with hate. Once it gains traction people actually start considering it based on amiability. So wasn’t too concerned with breaching taboo, but it was done carefully not to take away from the message.”
In case you didn’t know Pakistan has its own comic-con. Under the banner of TwinCon, the comic book fan and cosplaying community have been organizing comic-cons in Islamabad and Lahore for five years now.
CFx Comics was involved with the event this year in Lahore. They knew they had a readership and a potential audience. They just didn’t realize how big.
“The response was overwhelming. Didn’t know we had such a huge community……All kinds of people were there. For some they love comics at age two, some grow into it.”
So with all this attention, what has CFx Comics planned next? Quite a lot actually. The company is expanding and working on more original content for Pakistani comic readers.
Perhaps in time, Pakistan will have a vibrant homegrown comics community. Companies like Cfx Comics are hoping to make this push happen sooner rather than later.