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Bangladesh, Asterix Comics & Feeling Marginalised: A Conversation with Iqbal Ali, Creator of Aya Begum: Paranormal Investigator

You may recall myself reviewing Aya Begum: Paranormal Investigator, a spooky tale that carried with it a lot of heart and strong character relationships whilst confronting a creature setting its gaze on their home. We were lucky enough to ask Iqbal Ali, the creator and writer behind this tale, a few questions behind the scenes of the development process, as well as what may next be in store for our paranormal investigator and her village’s inhabitants…

AP2HYC: Where did the love for creating comics begin for you? What were some of your favourite titles?

Ali: My love for reading comics began when I was a kid, growing up on the likes of Transformers (UK), Dragons Claws, Death’s Head and Asterix.

My love of creating comics not only originated from reading the aforementioned books, but mainly from playing Dungeons and Dragons (the roleplaying game). Some friends and I used to play it during our school lunch break and I think creating comics comes closest to that buzz I got escaping into that imaginary world every lunchtime.

Having said all that, it did take me a while to get started creating books. I found it hard to find the motivation getting started at first. And in case you’re wondering, this book specifically owes a big debt to Asterix and it’s style of storytelling (I think).

AP2HYC: What was the source of inspiration for this comic? What made you want to tell this particular story?

Ali: The village is based on my Mum’s village in Bangladesh. I spent a school summer holiday there, walking around the village, imagining stories in this setting – there wasn’t really much else to do. The stories I imagined back then mainly involved a green Spider-Man (no, I don’t know why) as well as imagining that the forest next to our village had become inhabited by a weird monster.

Years later, I was watching the show Justified and felt the urge to write something with a strong sense of place like that show. Except, of course, the setting I wanted to use was that village in Bangladesh. I also wanted to write about forgotten/marginalised members of society and there was/is a sense when you’re out there that you’re among people who have been left behind by the rest of the world.

AP2HYC: Themes of family and remembering the past are quite strong in the story, what was the artistic reasoning behind this?

Ali: The fact that writing this was driven largely by nostalgia on my part meant that the themes of memories and the past naturally worked their way into the story. In terms of the themes of family, the fact that Bangladeshi culture is largely family centric meant that those themes had to feature in order to maintain authenticity of the setting.

AP2HYC: Your story is brought to life by the wonderfully talented Francisco Maldonado, how did you two come to meet and have you two worked together in the past? Did Francisco have much influence in the story-building process?

Ali: Francesco Maldonado is fantastic. And I’d love for there to be a really interesting story about how we met, but the truth is that we haven’t met yet! I hired him through a website and we communicated entirely through online chat with scripts, sketches and photography. I’ve never actually spoken to the guy.

Our working relationship started after I had finished drawing this book myself. I then realised that if I were to continue on the art duties myself then I wouldn’t be able to work on anything else. I decided the best thing to do was to hand my pages over to a new artist who could redraw these themselves. I could also hand over art duties for future books in the series to this artist. Book two is the first book that Francesco worked from an actual script, along with copious notes and references for the setting – Francesco has never been to Bangladesh.

Overall, I was lucky to find Francesco because I think his style matches Aya Begum perfectly. And he is a great visual storyteller – a talent that not necessarily every comic artist has.

AP2HYC: The design of the monster is quite unique to say the least, what made you choose this design? What were some of the ideas that didn’t get past the drawing board?

Ali: The story is about people who are forgotten and marginalised and so the idea of the monster came as a result of visualising this theme, i.e. the response to becoming forgotten is to become so large so as it’s not possible to be ignored. So the monster design seemed to be the natural choice.

I actually had plans for longer sequences with the monster where we’d see more of it – a massive foot here, huge internal arteries and organs there etc. But I wanted to keep the story contained to within sixty pages, so there was only space for so much.

AP2HYC: What are your future plans for the series? What may we expect to see next? (No spoilers)

Ali: The second book is almost done and is about teachers becoming possessed. It also develops the over-arching mystery a little further, while still (hopefully) giving you a complete story to read in a single issue.

I have Aya Begum planned as a six book series – each book is a sixty page issue with a self-contained story within. It would be nice to explore the other characters in the story more and develop other aspects of the world that the series takes place in, but whether I do that will depend on how successful this series is.

Artwork on book three should begin soon, and I’m writing the fourth book at the moment. So far, book four is shaping up to be my favourite!

AP2HYC: And what is next for yourself? Any future titles that you wish to talk about at the moment?

Ali: Plantlife is almost finished. It’s set in a world where plants and humans have a ‘strained’ relationship. Plants have become toxic to humans and as a result, humans have branded them illegal to own.

The story itself is a procedural crime drama where the suspect of a murder is a plant and the key detective in the case is a “plant sympathiser” (she also illegally owns a plant – one that’s really sick).

Thank you Iqbal Ali for the time to answers these questions and we wish you all the best in the future of this series and other projects. Don’t forget to show your support by checking out Mild Frenzy Comics for more on this series as well as other works by Iqbal. Also, you can check our review of the first issue here! And when you have the chance, tell us what you thought of Aya Begum: Paranormal Investigator by sounding off in the comments or send us your thoughts on Facebook or Twitter!

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Connor Filsell

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