Monday, April 21, 2014

Introduction to Dubai: Glittering in the Desert

Shining buildings rising from the desert, marching along the broad freeways through the center of modern Dubai.

Dubai. A singular collision of cultures threading the border between sparkling blue sea and vast dry desert. Sometimes beautiful, sometimes bland, always a touch surreal, it's a city that seems built around grand demonstrations of wealth and economic power. We had only a few days there, so we never felt that we discovered the heart of the city. Perhaps those who live there or travel there frequently find it somewhere amidst the imposing towers or down by the Creek in the historic district. Or maybe that's the point of Dubai - there is no one heart, no single identity, but rather a city that presents itself in entirely different ways depending on what one is looking for.

Yeah, we went up there.
We arrived as guests of the Middle East Film & Comic Con, the one and only comic book convention in the region. It's a few years old, and has apparently been growing each year. I wasn't sure what to expect in terms of attendance and fan enthusiasm, especially because the first day was limited only to school groups and VIPs and thus was relatively quiet. But days two and three were slammed with excited fans and curious would-be fans from all around the Middle East. Shannon and I were there along with a few other comic industry peers from the US and UK, and as a group we were all set up in an area called Comics Village near the front of the convention hall. There was a booth dedicated to Top Cow Productions, plastered in banners of The Darkness and Witchblade (though not Think Tank, unfortunately!), and Shannon and I spent the weekend there, talking to attendees, selling copies of Think Tank on behalf of the local retailer (I didn't mind at all since we were able to expose so many new people to the book), and sketching for very impressed new fans. We met a lot of interesting folks, from Kuwait, Lebanon, Bahrain, the UAE and many other countries. Our point of contact on the show floor, Arafaat, was very nice and, despite being exhausted, went out of his way to try to make all of us in Comics Village comfortable.

This woman had some kind of anime cosplay attached to her head scarf.

One of the most interesting aspects of the show was to see the large numbers of young women participating either as attendees or as members of the surprisingly large local artist's alley. These women were mostly dressed in the traditional abaya (a black dress that covers the entire body) and many were also wearing the face-covering niqab. But there were a lot of fun cosplay additions to this uniform, touches of superhero geekery, or playful face paint. And the scene in artist's alley was very busy, with amateur women artists showing off their original art, mostly manga sketches, but also some very interesting and expressive personal works. I was glad to see so many women's voices being represented here. Most artist's alley tables at American conventions have fewer women behind them than this con did. There's an irony there.

Out in the city, we made as much time as we could to sightsee. Our first impressions had been formed by the absolutely massive and garish airport terminal. It's a structure I still don't understand, since it's so inhumanely large that it's difficult to get a sense of the layout of the place. You move from cavernous hall to cavernous hall, walking forever on marble floors between huge pillars, past fountains and walls of glass elevators, and then on to a tram that whisks you at high speeds between the arrival gates and the customs and baggage area. Mood lighting and lots of glitzy reflective surfaces makes the whole thing feel like Las Vegas in the Middle East. So we were already prepared for the artifice of the rest of modern Dubai.


When you get off the plane, you're greeted by this monolith of glass elevators facing a giant waterfall sliding down an expensive wall of black slate into a pool of lit fountains, shifting colors as if in a rave, which is the perfect introduction to Dubai.
Your first view of the massive post-arrival, pre-tram limbo lobby.

Because you can never have enough glitter in an airport.


We always got around town by taxi - which when you're coming from the dollar, are quite cheap.

The long white shirt worn by some men, called a kandura. Not sure what the name of the checkered headscarf is.

There were a lot of surprises at this convention, not least of which was this awesome dude who knew my work and bought an old Solomon Kane page that I didn't expect to ever sell.

Word got out that I could draw people into my sketches, so I got a bunch of requests to do just that. Like, draw me in a a gas mask standing next to Rorschach from Watchmen. Very specific.

The gulf, from the 124th floor of the Burj Khalifa.

Straight down.

After I warmed up to the dizzying height and was able to stand this close to the railing. Shannon had no problem at all!

Many more pictures from the Burj Khalifa to come in the next posts!

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