Q5: Meet the man behind Muslim Manga, Hamed Nouri [interview]
by Carey Finn (@carey_finn) Tokyo-based Hamed Nouri, founder of Muslim Manga (@muslimmanga), tells us how he’s using Japanese-style comics to tackle stereotypes regarding Islam, as well as to create relatable content for Muslim readers.
Q5: Could you tell us a bit about your background? How did you end up in Tokyo?
Hamed Nouri: I am a second-generation American Muslim; I was in Texas for the majority of my life. I have had an interest in Asia and Japan since I was a child, though. Oriental architecture, languages, and the popular culture of Japan intrigued me. During middle school, I found out about anime. I had always liked to draw and, around this time, anime [started to] influence my drawing style. In high school, I started watching videos about Japan and foreigners living there — that really sparked an interest. One thing led to another and, after university, I applied and was accepted to teach English at a high school in Tokyo. Prior to that, I also [visited] Japan a few times.
Q5: When and why did you launch Muslim Manga, and where do you hope to see it go?
HN: I have actually been contributing to Muslim Manga in one form or another for quite a few years. In a way, Muslim Manga was launched in May of 2009 but, even prior to that, there were a few different iterations and evolutions to the idea that became what Muslim Manga is today. Muslim Manga is an organisation and community that uses the power of Japanese-style comics to promote a positive and accurate image of Muslims. There is a lot of misinformation and fear regarding Muslims. The goal of Muslim Manga is to help be a new medium where people can learn what Muslims are really like, as well as create relatable content for Muslims. Unfortunately, there is quite a large void with regards to positive Muslim representation in popular media.
It started with a pilgrimage I [made] to the holy city of Mecca. It was then that I was inspired to combine my interests in anime / manga with my religion. In the earlier years, I focused on encouraging the community to get active and create comics, though in more recent years I have worked on releasing comics that I have written personally. I currently have two ongoing series that I write and one series that I am the editor for. I have also made various one-shot comics. I collaborate with different artists and work together [with them] to be able to release more content in a shorter period of time.
The goals for the future of Muslim Manga is to release more high-quality comics, as well as to get into the world of animation and voiceover. I have already dabbled in this medium a few times by dubbing a Japanese voiceover for three of my comics, though in the future I want to dedicate more effort and resources to this.
Q5: What has the reception been like in Japan? How about other parts of the world?
HN: The reception in Japan, with regard to Muslim Manga, has actually been quite exciting. In 2018, I was a guest speaker for a forum called Manga X Muslim World. I also made a few appearances on TV, including being interviewed by [the national broadcaster] NHK. There is definitely a lot of interest in this idea, and I am actually not the only one working on this, either. There are Japanese people who are working in this area, too.
Q5: What do you think makes manga or comics a viable platform for social change?
HN: I have always found that comics and manga are an excellent way to advance social change. Comics in general are a medium that is easy to convey information through. Compared to a book without images, comics are a quicker way to deliver information and, combined with good storytelling, which is a part of the manga style, or graphic-novel style, feelings, culture and different worldviews can also be conveyed more easily.
Of course, books with text only have a lot of value and can convey deeper information once someone is interested enough to pick them up. For some people, it can be harder to get into a book though. With comics, I feel that the barrier of resistance is [smaller]. Similar things can be said for animation or even videos, especially given that those media can combine the power of voice as well. However, comics strike a good balance between cost of production and effectiveness.
Q5: What advice would you give to other creatives, the world over, who are trying to better the representation of Muslims or Islam in the media?
HN: I think, for better or worse, there may always be people who misunderstand what you do and are trying to do. I am sure there are many others who are trying to better the representation of Muslims and/or Islam in media. My advice to them would be to do their best to be deaf to the hate and negativity that may come up. It is important to focus on making content and improve as you make more. Focusing on negativity that people may throw at you will not help you with your intention, and it won’t help you grow your skills.
Carey Finn (@carey_finn) is a writer and editor with over a decade and a half of industry experience, having covered everything from ethical sushi in Japan to the technicalities of roofing, agriculture, medical stuff and more. She’s also taught English and journalism, and dabbled in various other communications ventures along the way, including risk reporting. As a contributing writer to MarkLives.com, her regular column “Q5” hones in on strategic insights, analysis and data through punchy interviews with inspiring professionals in diverse fields.