Meet the Emirati who brings stars to Comic Con

Al Farooq's passion for comics began at the age of 9

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Published: Thu 3 Mar 2022, 5:20 PM

Do a Google search for “comic books in Dubai” and you will find a host of places. However, Speedy comics in Dubai’s City Walk is not your average comic store. It specialises in vintage comics and memorabilia: everything a true fan or collector would describe as a ‘treasure chest’. It is a place every comic book reader or cinephile should visit at least once to get a taste of popular culture in one spot. This year, they are the ‘Meet the Stars’ sponsors at the Middle East Film and Comic-Con (MEFCC) which begins on Friday, March 4 at ADNEC (Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre), Abu Dhabi.

Rashid Mohammed Zubair Al Farooq opened up this chain in 2016. The Emirati says his passion for comics began at the age of 9, when he was living in the UK. His father went to study medicine and they were among the first families to have gone abroad for educational purposes. He refers to London’s Oxford Street and the famed Forbidden Planet comic book store as an inspiration. He would see several toys and figurines but his father would not allow him to splurge on the most expensive items. He would subsequently return (often with his allowance to buy more comics). Farook also mentions a kind, older Jewish gentleman who gave him free books during visits which fostered his interest.

Rashid Al Farooq (L) with 'Aladdin' star Mena Massoud (C)
Rashid Al Farooq (L) with 'Aladdin' star Mena Massoud (C)

Over time, Farook acquired over 40,000 comic books for his personal collection. Then six years ago his wife said it was cluttering up their home. His son then suggested that he get involved at MEFCC (Middle East Film and Comic-Con), and start selling comics. Heeding family advice, the first store was opened in 2016, followed by the City Walk flagship store in 2020.

Farook stated that he “wanted to do something unique”. This is reflected by the fact that everyone working in the store can converse with visitors about comics in depth. Farook gradually became the ‘Meet the Stars’ sponsor at MEFCC, better known to most as Comic-Con and is responsible for arranging celebrity visits to the event. Farooq has hosted famous personalities including Brandon Routh, who portrayed Superman in Superman Returns, Atom in Legends of Tomorrow, and Kevin Sussman from the Big Bang Theory in 2020.

In 2021, Comic Con was scrapped on account of the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the first digital Comic Con in the Middle East was hosted with many famous names including Jon Bernthal (Marvel’s Punisher) as attendees. It garnered around 190 million views.

Celebrities at 2022 Comic Con

Charles Martinet (voice of Super Mario)

Ming-Na Wen (Fennec Shand/ the voice of Mulan)

Michael Rooker (Yondu)

Kevin Conroy (voice of Batman in the animated series)

Barry Keoghan (Druig in Eternals)

Jon Bernthal (Marvel’s Punisher)

Charlie Cox (Marvel’s Daredevil)

Nathalie Emmanuel (Game of Thrones’ Missandei)

The store probably has the biggest number of vintage comics in the region and is a one-of-a-kind experience in the Gulf, if not the world. The Vault is a comic book museum within the store. For Dh100, you can get a tour and a discount of 20% on books.

Some items are first appearances such as from the first Superman solo series (a single piece is valued at 2.6million dollars). They also hold ‘silver age’ first appearances of Thor and Captain America. There is a funko-pop Batman with a signature of every actor who has played the role except the late Adam West from the 60s show. Farook hopes to add Pattinson’s signature after the actor’s latest project as the Caped Crusader in The Batman, out today in the UAE cinemas.

There are memorabilia with signatures from household names such as Robert Downey Jr. (Iron-Man), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Tom Holland (Spider-Man) and writers such as Stan Lee, Jack ‘the King’ Kirby, Joe Simon and Schuster, the creator of Superman which came out in 1940. He also has memorabilia relating to his good friend, legendary artist Bob Layton, co-creator of the household names: Iron-man, Ant-man, DC comics’s Huntress, Bloodshot and the Valiant universe.

Many are classified as “Blue chip books”, books of the highest and rarest qualities whose prices go up with time. Some are even ‘Graded’, making them ‘one-of-a-kind’ in the world. The store also has books which echo nostalgia such as Archie,Tarzan and Micronauts that all avid collectors should have at home. Avi Kumar

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