We’ve brought you the latest in music, movies and fashion, now Urban Asian is proud to bring our readers an update on something a little different, Comics! Urban Asian’s very own host, Dr. Omar Mirza teamed up with Dr. Khurram Mehtabdin to create a new comic series titled Zindan: The Last Ansaars. Produced by Roaring Sun Studios, the comic draws upon the rich history of the Mughal Empire to bring us two heroes, Zain and Timur.
Zain and Timur are a pair of orphan brothers, living as nomads until they were taken in by an ancient secret order of noble individuals known as The Ansaars. The Ansaars held the distinction of being stewards of Zindan, a prison housing the world’s worst criminals. As the prison that Zain and Timur call home falls to a greedy king, mystical powers of evil are released into the world. With everything they once knew destroyed, the brothers must rely on each other to fulfill their guardian’s dying wish. Lucky for us we had a chance to chat with Omar and Khurram, the two talented writers, to find out more about the comic, check it out!
UA: Being doctors by profession, what led you guys towards this path of comic writing?
Khurram: We both went to medical school together and lived together through those fun four years. We made medical school fun for each other. While everyone was going crazy studying-me and Omar always found a way to make our class laugh as sort of a stress reliever, especially the night before exams. In terms of the comic book itself…Omar’s got a passion for comic books, I have a passion for South Asian and Middle Eastern history. Combine these two together and we are Captain Planet. Just kidding-we have collaborated on so many projects together over the years, we thought hey-why not combine these two passions and write a comic book that captures this rich time period of South Asian history? Kids in Pakistan, India, Bangladesh can see our characters and think, wow we really have a cool past, a cool culture, and look, there are some heroes with our skin tone. I think from that point of view, the idea for Zindan came about. The more and more in depth we studied Mughal history, the more and more we wanted to write about it.
Omar: I’ve always loved comics. Looking at my facebook profile and it makes sense that I would want to write a comic one day. Khurram is a history poly sci buff and so he really understands the region and together we can craft a really fun story.
UA: Where did you find the inspiration for the storyline?
Khurram: The inspiration for our storyline came from our own backgrounds. Mughal history is such an interesting time period in India. Depending on who you speak with, you’ll always find a different answer. Regardless of who says what, India expanded, the arts, architecture, philosophy and language flourished. We were mesmerized by the story of Shah Jahan most specifically. A king who was super liberal and super progressive, overthrown by his own son. It doesn’t get more dramatic than that. Zindan was created in that time period, and then we fictionalized the entire story. Threw in some comic book flair and magic, some old Indian folklore and mysticism, and there you have the seeds for our book. With this culture, history and time period, we really found our ideas to be limitless given how much crazy stuff was happening during this period.
Omar: The inspiration also came from Bollywood. It’s the only medium out there that truly romanticized the region. The colors the locations the stories are all so grand and exotic. Unfortunately we don’t get much of that here in the west and certainly not in comics so it only made sense to use the Mughals as our story.
UA: How much of it is based on actual Mughal history?
Omar: There is certainly some creative liberty we took with character details but a lot of the characters and the drama are real.
Khurram: The time period. Shah Jahan was overthrown by his son, Aurangzeb AKA Alamgir. Alamgir had sided with his two younger brothers, Murad Baksh and Shah Shuja against their father, Shah Jahan, and the rightful heir Dara Shikoh, the eldest brother. The stories of betrayal and murder from within Mughal royalty is something rarely talked about, let alone popularized in a series. Shah Jahan, the creator of the Taj Mahal, the defender of a cohesive culture that bonded all the religions of the nation was betrayed by his own kin, and spun India into a period of military expansion, darkness and religious persecution. Why not tell a magical story to take place during this dark period? So the time period is correct, the background and context is true, however the story of Zindan itself is fiction.
UA: Tell us about the heroes Zain and Timur, How hard was it to develop each character?
Omar: Timur and Zain are like any brothers. In creating them I drew from my relationship with my own brother Nadeem as well as my brother from another mother Khurram.
Khurram: Zain and Timur represent what a younger and older brother tend to be. Zain is quiet, stays strong for the sake of his younger brother Timur and is really an introvert. He is the glue that keeps what is left of his family together. Timur is guided by his emotions, externalizes everything. You can read his next move from a mile away. Their brother-brother dynamic is key to the story of Zindan.
UA: The sexy villain Tara seems to be quite popular, tell us about her! Is there any person or character that was your inspiration for Tara?
Omar: Tara was based off a cover from FHM Europe or Russia. I envisioned a strong powerful attractive female.
Khurram: We wanted a strong female lead in our book. An independent woman who’ll be playing a prominent role in the story. Along came the idea for Tara. My hopes are to develop her into a powerful lead to dispel some stereotypes of South Asian women. There’s a sneak preview of her in a frame escaping from Zindan in Issue 0, you’ll get much more of her background in future books.
UA: Tell us about the man who brought your vision to life, the artist! Was it hard to determine what each character would look like, how did you all work together?
Omar and Khurram: We found Sajad on DeviantArt. Found out he was coming to New York Comic Con in 2013 and contacted him. Hung out, the chemistry between all of us was amazing and we discussed our idea for creating this franchise. After much collaboration, tossing out many drafts, Zindan was created. Sajad was the first person to read the script and gave us the confidence to throttle forward. The rest is history. Now we’re all like family. He brought on his team, Adelso Corona for inks and Alonso Espinoza for colors. We reached out to Sabine Rich for this series and now she’s a part of #TeamZindan as well. Jessica Jimerson does all of our strategic lettering as well. There’s so much that goes into a comic, I don’t think even I realized it until we started. The process is really amazing from start to finish. There’s the creating, the writing, the penciling, the inking, the coloring, the lettering, the editing, the finishing. It’s such a beautiful process, and so rewarding to hold the final copy in your hands. We’re really proud of our team, a lot of hard work and dedication went into this. Our families, our friends, everyone has played such a supportive role as we took on this project.
UA: Why should our readers check out this comic, what makes it different than others?
Omar and Khurram: Readers should check out this comic for so many reasons. For one, the story is just so much fun. Issue 0 really sets up the storyline for the reader and involves a lot of action and adventure in an old Indian setting. Another reason the reader should check this comic out is the art. It’s incredible. We haven’t seen art this good in any contemporary comic book. The amount of detail, the amount of time spent on each page is truly amazing. A year went in to developing Issue 0, every single line was meticulously paid attention to. And lastly, we want people to realize the richness of Mughal history. South Asia is such a fascinating place. We encourage everyone to read about it. Visit it. Be proud of it.
ZINDAN: THE LAST ANSAARS ISSUE #0 is currently available for pre-order HERE! Check out more on Zindan and it’s creators on their website! You can keep up with the team with their blogs and shop the site!