‘Less villainous’ Umru Ayyar launched
KARACHI, April 14: It was one event where grown-ups were excitedly sifting through a comic book, while the children looked on blankly. The tales of Umru Ayyar, the famous vagabond, have once again been revived by a team of young entrepreneurs known as Kachee Goliyan. But this time around, Umru’s character is not a cunning assassin or a thief, rather a hero, out to make a difference with the help of his Zanbeel (sack).
Organised at T2F on Sunday, the launch of the comic book Umru Ayyar, the awakening, saw more adults than children — a fact that co-founder of KG comics, Nofal Khan, attributed to the older generations’ acquaintance with Umru’s character. And the fact that Umru’s tales of adventure gradually disappeared from the market, making way for the Harry Potter series etc to make an impact on the younger generation of readers.
While paying for the comic book, a mother said that she wanted her 14-year-old son to “read and discover” the character she grew up reading. “Also, he will get acquainted with Urdu, which seems like a foreign language to our children, anyway,” she added.
With an aim to promote Urdu reading and writing, the KG comics, as they are famously known on social networking websites, Facebook and Twitter, have come a long way within a span of just two years.
Created by Ramish Safa and Nofal Khan in 2011, the comics usually had a humorous and often satirical take on daily life in Pakistan. This fetched them more than 100,000 fans, or ‘Pankhas’ as they call them, on their Facebook page alone.
On why they felt the need to revive Umru, and that too as a Hero, KG member Hareem Tayyab, a bright girl in her 20s, said: “Most of us grew up watching Iron Man and Superman, and felt that we don’t have a ‘desi’ super hero of our own. And that’s when we came up with the idea of making a hero out of Umru instead.”
The new Umru is not just powerful but also beefed up, like most superheroes in Marvel comic books.
Concept artist with KG comics, Saad Hassam, said that they worked on making Umru seem “less villainous” and more hero-like. Also his age was also reduced from 40 years, as was the case in the older version, to 35 in the upgraded one.
However, Mr Khan said that the research was the most difficult part of creating Umru’s character. “We checked out every market in the city, but couldn’t find the older pocket books of Umru’s adventures. Rather came across books like, The Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” he added with a smirk. Finally, a friend’s uncle, having a huge collection of Umru Ayyar books, came to the rescue.
Keeping in mind the ongoing competition with English books and less use of Urdu language by their fans, the KG team decided to publish the comic book in both Urdu and English. Hareem explained the reason was to keep the originality of the comic book in Urdu, while making it understandable to the English-speaking readers in Pakistan as well.
At the same time, Umru’s character has been toned down. When countered why they felt the need to do so, Ramish Safa said that Umru Ayyar’s character was part joker, part thief and part assassin, and going by the current situation in our country, and the gore children were used to seeing, it didn’t seem proper. For this reason, Umru, who in the original version worked for money, is working for the welfare of the people, while taking on the bad guys, in KG comic books.
Also, he looked at the gradual unavailability of Umru Ayyar’s adventure stories optimistically and argued that if there was no dearth of the original, his team would not have got the space to publish their work.
The comic book will be sold through Liberty Books and through the Facebook fan page of the KG team.
Mr Safa added: “For the two books that our fans and friends buy from us, one will go to the underprivileged children in poorer towns of Karachi, for free.” This aspect of marketing will be looked after by KG members Mateen and Hassan Ansari.
Umru Ayyar — The Awakening, is going to be the first proper Urdu comic book coming out of Pakistan. After Karachi, the team plans to launch the comic book in Lahore and Islamabad. For Mr Safa and his team at KG, creating comics is not just a ‘side job’ rather a serious business.