Dr. Naif A. Al-Mutawa is founder and CEO of Teshkeel Media Group, and creator of The 99. A Al-Mutawa received his PhD in Clinical Psychology from Long Island University (2004), completed a Masters in Clinical Psychology from Long Island University (1999), a Masters in Business Administration from Columbia University (2003) and a Masters in Organizational Psychology from Teacher¹s College (2000), Columbia University. He earned his undergraduate degree from Tufts University (1994), where he triple majored in clinical psychology, English literature and history. In short, he’s way smarter than most of us.
Nicholas Yanes: What inspired you to found Teshkeel Media Group and create The 99?
Dr. Naif A. Al-Mutawa: Working and training as a clinical psychologist for ten years led to my personal frustrations. I was involved in treating problems when I wanted to be involved in preventing them. This was highlighted when I trained at Bellevue Hospital’s survivors of political torture program. Listening to the horrors of what people could do to people in the name of psychological lines in the sand. I took a break, went to Columbia for an MBA and decided that I wanted to reach more people through a mass medium.
Nicholas Yanes: For the uninformed, what is the premise behind The 99?
Dr. Naif A. Al-Mutawa: The 99 is a concept based on the 99 attributes of Allah. There are 99 Heroes from 99 countries each of which espouses one of the attributes – albeit it not in absolute terms. The books have no religious content – though the archetypes used are from the Koran.
Nicholas Yanes: What should fans and future readers expect to see from The 99 in the future?
Dr. Naif A. Al-Mutawa: The concept has been met with incredible media support globally which has helped launch our licensing program including a 6 theme part deal and an animation deal that I will be announcing by the middle of October. We have also launched licenses in Indonesia, India, Spain and France.
Nicholas Yanes: What has been your biggest obstacle in getting American audiences to buy The 99?
Dr. Naif A. Al-Mutawa: Honestly, there has been no obstacle. The opportunities are much more abundant in the Islamic world for out concept because it is understood intuitively. However, the launch of the animation product will change all that.
Nicholas Yanes: In American popular culture, the presence of a Muslim or middle-eastern character is intertwined with post-9/11 politics. Does The 99 continue or challenge this presentation?
Dr. Naif A. Al-Mutawa: The 99 is a positive contribution as apposed to a negative one. What I mean is that we do not take any misconceptions head on nor do we deal with any politics. We create an alternative universe and hope to be one of many initiatives that will eventually dilute the identity that is too heavily concentrated in those that scream the loudest.
Nicholas Yanes: William Moulton Marston, creator of Wonder Woman, earned a PhD in psychology. What is it with people with psychology backgrounds creating ground breaking comic book characters?
Dr. Naif A. Al-Mutawa: Interesting. I did not know that. I’ve been a closet writer my whole life. My parents applauded my writing as a hobby that wouldn’t feed a family. Psychology was my compromise. I learned about personality, conflict and dynamics – both interpersonal and interpersonal – perhaps more clinically than a writing program, but hey! It worked…
Nicholas Yanes: What role did your college education play in developing your comic book career?
Dr. Naif A. Al-Mutawa: The 99 is an amalgam of history, literature and psychology – nuff said!
Nicholas Yanes: An American perception of Middle-Eastern and Muslim women, is that women are oppresses by patriarchal cultures. Do the women in The 99 challenge this stereotype?
Dr. Naif A. Al-Mutawa: The women in The 99 are meant to showcase a cross section of heroic characters from the conservative (Batina who wears the Burqa to Noora who shows her hair and is spoiled by a rich father). Half the heroes of The 99 are boys and half are girls (well, almost half since 99 is an odd number). Again, I am creating an alternative universe.
Look out for part two of this fantastic interview at the same time next week.
- Nicholas Yanes is a comic book expert who has written two theses focused on graphic literature: “X-Men as a Reflection of Civil Rights in America” and “Graphic Imagery – Jewish American Comic Book Creators’ Depictions of Class, Race, and Patriotism.”