Friday, October 12, 2012

Multicultural Perspectives: Chummz by Farah Ansari

Courtesy of Farah Ansari

If you were born in Kentucky, lived in Kuwait for ten years, then moved to the US to grow up in Southern California, you're bound to have some proclivity toward multicultural subjects. What luck if you can harness and apply it to an endeavor that speaks to the world—say, a book.  Even better if you use multiculturalism as the foundation to approach a broader sense of unity within humanity. That's how I would loosely describe Chummz, a children's book by Farah Ansari. Ansari, an Indian American Muslim, is a young professional now working in the San Francisco Bay Area. She recently wrote, illustrated, and self-published this colorful and engaging picture book, incorporating comic book qualities that concurrently simplify the imagery and bring added complexity to each character.

Chummz marks the adventures of eight young Muslim friends (four girls and boys), all of different ethnicities, who find comfort and strength with each other amidst adversities. This first book, subtitled "Isa's Issue", follows the littlest Chum as he struggles with finding his natural gift.  Every friend exhibits his or her own penchant for something, thus uniting them in their diversity; with Isa we witness the desires to belong and to stand out emerge simultaneously. That's a distinctive individual conundrum, but Ansari resolves it with Isa's personal discovery that brings the praise and celebration of all his peers.

Each character embodies a different personality as well, from shy to rambunctious, philosophical to nurturing.  That doesn't come out completely in this first issue, but as each volume will likely highlight a different chum, those differences will become more apparent (and more inconsequential as they continue to bond). Farah is a friend of mine and was happy to answer a few questions about this new endeavor of hers. 

Can you tell us a little bit about your comic book? The inspiration, the purpose? 
I wanted to create something that helped develop “internal awareness” and I feel that art is one of the best platforms to do precisely that.  We’re so often disconnected from one another because of race, religion, class etc, but I’ve always felt that true humanity is much more profound than that.  While we should respect/understand that space for our differences, it's more important that we understand what unites us--our internal being.  A children’s book with characters extremely different from one another that only focuses on their human emotions and thought processes just seemed like the way to go.
My inspiration comes mostly from the people that have raised me.  My parents and my elder sisters.  Despite all of life’s ebbs and flows, they manage to remain so real, honest, and connected. 

How long did it take? How long have you been brewing this idea?
I love animation and art.  Its imaginative, interactive, and alive.  In 2000, I had the idea to write/illustrate a children’s book, but I wasn’t sure what message to deliver.  In 2010, the concept came to me, and then early this year I was able to translate that on to paper.  I locked myself in my tiny apartment for a week and just illustrated and wrote, day and night, for about a week.

What's your earliest memory of reading? Favorite book as a child? As an adult? 
Hmm, I guess the earliest memory of reading was in Kuwait. When I was around the age of 4, I remember my parents taking me to some toy store in Kuwait and buying me this little cardboard book.  The book was something about a bear’s bath time and for some reason I thought it was the coolest thing.  I remember after I would have bath time, I would think to myself “Wow, I’m just like that yellow bear in the book,” haha.
As a young adult, my favorite book was James and the Giant Peach [by Roald Dahl]—I love the adventure in the book and who doesn't want to sail on the ocean in a Giant Peach. :)
As an adult, What Dreams May Come by Richard Matheson—love, love, love that book.

Do you have any literary or artistic influences? 
Life experience-there is nothing more poetic or artistic than life itself.  But for a less hippy answer, there are too many amazing authors/artists to acknowledge just one.

Are all the characters a reflection of yourself? 
In some way or form, yes.  I identify most with Maleek and Farah, though.  Combined, both of them represent my heart and mind.
Courtesy of Farah Ansari

Which character was most difficult for you to capture? 
Adam-I have a very difficult time relating to him. His personality doesn’t come out too much in this book, but he’s the character that is really into glamour and bling, and while there is nothing wrong with that, it’s just not me.

Speak on the importance of Multiculturalism to you. 
It’s important to respect and value our cultural differences, it makes life more colorful.  However, it should not be a basis for which we root our hatred and impatience of one another.  At a much deeper level, our core, our souls, we’re the same.  If we understood that, and tried to treat each other as we’d want to be treated...things would be different.  If we understood ourselves a bit more, we would be able to understand each other.

What kind of reception have you had after publishing. Any critical reviews? Muslim or otherwise? 
I have actually had really great feedback, especially from non-Muslims. People have really expressed their thankfulness of the message in the book and the concept.

What is the most important theme(s) of the book?
Human connection.

How much research did you need to do to develop the story?
I sound like a broken record, but my research is purely based on life experience.

What's up next for you?
Working full time is creating a bit of a road block, but I do hope to begin my next book in the series soon.

Chummz can be purchased currently on CreateSpace.
More info about Chummz and detailed introductions to all the characters can be found on its Facebook page.

1 comment:

  1. Adorable illustrations, great concept and the interview was nicely done. Hats off to both the blogger and author.