Before Bahrain I had never experienced a dust storm or even raging winds,” says artist and illustrator Anna Thackray. “Until one day, a dust cloud appeared over the horizon and engulfed the island. I asked a Bahraini friend what it was and he said it was the north-westerly wind Shamal.”
This was the inspiration behind the protagonist Shamal in her series of comic books, which are the first of their kind set in Bahrain and have now been turned into an omnibus called The Chronicles of Shamal, released in April.
Thackray tells us she first realised she wanted to be an artist at the age of 11, when she got her first tube of oil paint from her father. “It gave me a means of expressing myself and communicating my feelings. Later on I studied a BA in Fine Art and set about starting on the hard journey of becoming a professional artist.”
This journey began as she started painting commissions and then, when she moved to Bahrain, she was asked to illustrate a guidebook. “It was while doing this assignment that I started to scribble drawings of superheroes in the margins of my sketchbook. And so Shamal was born.”
Shamal is a complex character, she explains, who was essentially a villain and a merciless man but, because his life was spared, he now feels compelled to save others from evil and misfortune. “I have always been fascinated with people, their milieus and the stories that they tell,” Thackray explains. “There is a special kind of magic that happens when you have people in their natural surroundings – they open up, and here in Bahrain their pride for their history and their country was evident since I first stepped foot on Bahrain soil.
“All artists are storytellers – they observe then comment via their art. I chose to use comic books as my medium.”
The first three books, which are available to buy in bookstores across Bahrain, are based here on the island, but the next installation, which Thackray is already working on, sees him take on Dubai to save and restore harmony.
“The book starts off in the Dubai Creek and moves across the UAE. After the UAE, the story continues to another GCC country, eventually covering it all.”
It’s taken 39 months to bring Shamal to life, and Thackray has done everything from creating the storyline to the illustration, colouring to production, herself – a massive undertaking for just one person. And it’s not been without its challenges, she says, especially as Bahrain has limited bookstores and distribution points. “I will never forget getting that first box of books and the feeling that I had achieved something... but trying to get the book to the readers remains a challenge.”
Despite the difficulties, now Thackray is also focusing on distributing to the UAE and UK, as well as expanding into merchandise. “Ultimately, in the future, I would like to develop the franchise into a movie, animation or even a game,” she tells us. It’s a regular seven to seven job, but she still takes on some painting jobs here and there to keep the fine artist in her alive. “There is nothing like the smell of linseed oil to get the creative juices flowing,” she says.
Luckily, all the hard work has paid off and, since the first book launched, Thackray has gathered quite a loyal following.
“This fictional tale has given me the chance to meet some amazing, talented people,” she says. “I am hoping that the great constructive feedback will continue and that Shamal will ultimately become an iconic Bahrain product.”
BD6. Available to buy from Words Bookstore, Virgin Megastore, Jashanmals stores and online at www.desert-comic.com.
The Three Synopses
The Awakening of Shamal
The beginning of the adventure follows a mysterious man, an ambitious British archaeologist and the legend of the Tree of Life, which all make for a supernatural quest that will ultimately affect everyone in the land, because there is evil on the way.
The Feuding Shamal
The Shamal saga continues when Dr Lorna Carse and Professor Ahmed find answers to the seemingly supernatural happenings occurring on the island. But a terrifying incident halts Dr Carse’s research. Awal the evil has claimed her and further mystery ensues…
The Conquering Shamal
Shamal has to face his past and save Dr Lorna, but loses his best friend and faithful companion to another evil. The terrifying “Mother Donkey” from Middle Eastern folklore arrives and disappears just as quickly. All the while singing her eerie song…