By Sohaib Umar
ISLAMABAD: Superman. Batman. Wonder Woman. The Flash. Spiderman. Hulk. Iron Man.
Everyone who follows pop culture, regardless of nationality or age, knows who these characters are and what they represent – justice, heroism and fighting the good fight. Pakistan’s exposure and obsession of these superhero icons have been mostly through the recent spell of movies and TV shows but their origin lies elsewhere – in the wonderful world of comic books.
Comic books are colourful, interconnected, serialized animated stories of epic action, fantasy, crime, drama, romance, and everything in between. Comic books can simply be called modern myths about good and evil which have since the 1930s influenced and motivated young children as well as adults worldwide. Characters such as the aforementioned Superman, Batman, etc., as well as Thor, the X-Men, Green Lantern, Spawn, Hellboy, and hundreds of others, have captured our imaginations and represented the Human Ideal for us for decades. The original format for comic books has been and still is a 32-page small magazine style floppy, but the more popular versions nowadays are collected editions dubbed graphic novels (with 5-12 issues collected in each paperback or hardcover volume).
So, where are comic books found throughout the world? In comic book stores. Most people in Pakistan might have never ever seen it (or only been exposed to it by TV shows such as The Big Bang Theory). For those who’ve seen these either abroad or witnessed the rise and fall of comic books in Pakistan in the 1990s know of the magic this place can hold. A comic book store is primarily, of course, about comic books. But a comic book store has so much more to offer too – it’s the fan culture, that geeky, irresistible joy, to be whoever you are, to completely revel in this wonderful fantasy world. From graphic novels and single floppies, action figures, fantastic looking busts, to giant posters, Minimates, t-shirts, keychains, and everything in the middle – there’s something for every fan at a comic book store.
With the exponential rise in popularity of superheroes in the past decade thanks to Hollywood, there is an increased interest in all things comic books and this culture has enraptured the world including Pakistan. Now luckily, due to one man’s dedicated mission, we can experience that joy at home as well.
Ali Tariq has held various marketing roles in leading international companies across Pakistan in the past decade, but 2 years ago he decided to pursue his dream of opening Pakistan’s first ever dedicated comic book store – and so, ALL THINGS SUPERHERO was born. In the heart of Islamabad’s Jinnah Super Market, sits this magical place unlike any other in the country – a geeky paradise for lovers of all things pop culture. “Whenever I travel abroad, I always visit the comic book store in each and every city. They are always such magical places with something for everything, especially those of us who have irrepressible imaginations. I can spend hours in one store!”
Ali’s excitement is very infectious and can be seen by how he greets and welcomes each person who walks through his store – “Welcome to Pakistan’s first comic book store – ALL THINGS SUPERHERO!”. Then he gives the often-wide-eyed customers a tour of the shop, starting from the dozens of graphic novels displayed on the racks ranging from Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, Valiant, and other top American publishers. The rest of the shop is chock full of geeky goodies not just including all things superhero, but also related to all of today’s hot pop culture properties – official Game of Thrones posters, action figures, decoration pieces; merchandise based on popular games like Halo, Mass Effect, and with new Anime related items coming in soon too. Pakistanis have a major passion for pop culture and regularly follow the latest movies and TV trends, but the comic book domain is still new to them and Ali wants to fix that.
“Growing up in the 1990s, there used to be comic books being sold at every bookshop across the nation, and I have hundreds of Superman, Spiderman and Batman issues I collected from all across Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
Unfortunately, these wonderful books faded away around 1999-2000 and the newer generations only know these wonderful characters and their shared universes through the movies (especially the very popular Marvel Cinematic Universe). So, I wanted to open up a shop for every fan, young and old, who has ever been inspired by these characters and wants to follow their stories and get their friends and family into it.”
All Things Superhero has had a very good reaction from Islamabadis, with most people who walk in with a smile plastered on their faces like 5-year-olds in a candy shop, and their first question being, “wow…when you opened up?”. But Ali has much bigger plans for ATS: “I want to become the whole country’s go-to shop for all things superhero and pop culture! We just set up our website (https://atsuperhero.store/) and Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/All-Things-Superhero), and are starting nationwide delivery to ensure fans in Lahore, Karachi, and every other city doesn’t miss out on the fun.”
If you haven’t ever been to a comic book store yet but are curious about this fantastical world, do yourself a favour and pay a visit to All Things Superhero. Not only will you find something for yourself or your friends to totally flip over with excitement, but you’ll get to experience what comic book culture is all about. “At the end of the day, the one thing I’ve learnt about comic book fans is – they’re always so much fun! Always positive, and just waiting to meet other fans to discuss their favourite heroes and stories. I can’t wait to educate and share all of my favourite stories with all Pakistani fans!”