Arts, Culture & Media

Geo answer / Comic books in the Middle East

For today's Geo Quiz we're looking for a country - with a twist. The country we're looking for belongs in a list that includes these other states.

Tropidor is a country in Central America - it was the subject of illegal U.S. Government arms trading many years ago.

Kooey Kooey Kooey is an island in the South Pacific, in case you didn't know.

Ah, yes, Pokolistan. Pokolistan is a former Soviet republic. It used to be a military dictatorship ruled by General Zod. And General Zod, you might recall, was killed by... Superman.

Superman: Cover for Action Comics #1 (June 1938) Art by Joe Shuster.Superman: Cover for Action Comics #1 (June 1938) Art by Joe Shuster.

See - Tropidor, Kooey Kooey Kooey and Pokolistan are all fictional countries you'll find in the DC Comics universe.

We're looking for one more. Couple of clues:

In The Adventures of Superman, it was occupied by U.S. military forces. Reporter Lois Lane was shot there while embedded with troops. And finally -- this fictional country is supposedly in the Middle East -- near some other comic book countries - such as Qurac, Syraq and Bialya.

See if you can name it. This time, your Atlas won't help.

The answer's here...

We asked you to name a fictitious Middle Eastern country in today's Geo Quiz. It's a country that features in a recent Superman comic book.

The answer is UMEC.

That's UMEC. It's an acronym - it stands for 'unnamed middle eastern country'.

Now - as reporter Cyrus Farivar will tell you -- reports, it's not just fictional countries that could use a little superhero help.

The new French-Iranian film Persepolis has just been nominated for an Oscar. It's based on a series of comic books of the same name by the Iranian author Marjane Satrapi. She's one of the first generation of comic authors from the Middle East, where a small but growing community of cartoonists is emerging from places like Lebanon and Kuwait. Cyrus Farivar reports.

Of all the places in the world that needs a hero, Lebanon is probably high atop the list. After an Israeli invasion in 2006, and a 15 year civil war before that, much of the country has been wracked by war. So in many ways, just as the United States had Superman and Captain America in the 1950s, Lebanon now has Malaak.

�Malaak is basically the Lebanese superhero, super heroine I should say, as we never had one in Lebanon.�

MalaakMalaak

28-year-old Lebanese artist Joumana Medlej created Malaak -- a new online and printed action comic.

�Actually we've never had an action comic in Lebanon. She was born of the situation where everybody was starting to wish we had some kind of superhero to come and fix things once and for all.�

Medlej says Malaak -- whose name means angel in Arabic -- fights against supernatural and evil beings -- known as "jinn" -- that are creating a war in this fictitious representation of Lebanon.

�She definitely has powers, but she's discovering them as the story goes. So we don't know the extent of them. But so far she can generate some kind of energy that destroys the jinn that are responsible for the war.�

While Malaak is clearly drawing from elements of Lebanon's recent past, another comic has a much newer take on a significantly older story -- Islam. "The 99" is a comic with wide distribution throughout the Muslim world. It's almost like a religious version of the Justice League. Naif Al-Mutawa is the CEO of the Teshkeel Media Group in Kuwait, which publishes "The 99". He explains that the name refers to the 99 attributes that Muslims believe come together in Allah -- and which in turn give Allah power.

�Things like generosity and strength and wisdom and foresight and mercy. And dozens of others that unfortunately are not used today to describe Islam in the media. So, the idea, very simply is a series of heros, each of which embodies one of these traits. And they need to work in a team of three to solve a problem.�

Al-Mutawa says part of the reason comics haven't taken off in the Middle East before is government censorship, which restricted what could and couldn't be published.

�The problem isn't so much why are there no comics available for kids before we came around? Why is there no literature that kids gravitate towards in general? That's the bigger question. What happens is that the stuff that's interesting to read never makes it through. And so you end up with stuff that nobody really wants to read that's being subsidized by somebody who has some kind of agenda. �

Most recently "The 99" has spread beyond its origins in the Middle East, and just got deals for distribution in India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Jeet Heer, a Canadian journalist who specializes in comics, says that the medium is rapidly maturing and is just now starting to spread worldwide.

�It's very interesting that this isn't just a phenomenon in the Middle East but in India there's a bunch of new companies that have sprung up both to republish American comics, like Spider-Man, but also to do new indigenous comics.�

The popularity of comics like "Malaak" and "The 99" may also inspire new ventures for their creators. Look for "The 99" to pop-up somewhere in the Middle East as a new theme park. Negotiations for that are already underway.

For The World, I'm Cyrus Farivar.