Not just a Facebook Page
By Ghausia Rashid Salam
Imagine a room with a giant wall plastered with comic book covers. You recognise a vast array of beloved characters – Superman, Batman, Batgirl, The Mask, Spider-girl among many others. One cover bizarrely screams, “Join the sexual revolution!” To the left are two bright yellow desks, one adorned with a bobblehead, a Lego pirate ship, and a bust of Loki. Behind these, a row of shelves occupied by multiple action figures, varying in size and condition. Aside from a wind-up doll of a crawling baby, it all looks like something out of an adolescent’s fantasies, but for the team of Kachee Goliyan Comics (KGC), this is headquarters.
In two years, the brand has grown so much that the phrase “kachee goliyan” can barely be traced back to its origin: an Urdu idiom, which roughly translates to “we know what we’re doing.” Launched in 2011 as Pakistan’s very first comic book company, KGC is run primarily by Ramish Safa and Nofal Khan. Together, they established a nonprofit organisation to support the education of underprivileged children, published several comics, including a series based on a homegrown superhero, and helped establish the medium as a vital marketing tool for many Pakistani companies. All this before either of them turned 25.
KGC was born, in large part, from the passion and artistic ability of Ramish Safa. Doodling and sketching since he was young, Ramish ascribes his love of comics to many influences. His favourite comic growing up was Tintin, and he cites it as the biggest reason he started drawing comics in the first place, with dailies like Calvin & Hobbes and Cyanide & Happiness also contributing to his trajectory. He raves endlessly about Frank Miller’s artwork and art style, as well as Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. Another favourite is H.R Giger, the set designer behind film franchise Aliens, who, along with his team, received the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects. “My personal art style is inspired by him quite a bit,” Ramish says, launching into an enthusiastic explanation of the art style and history behind the design of Aliens. Unsurprisingly, he is a big fan of Marvel’s X-Men, because of the intertwining story arcs and overall storylines, but when it comes to DC, his favorite character is Batman. His passion for art is so obvious and contagious that the entire interview is peppered with pauses so he can show one image or another to illustrate his point. Because his talent is so central to the work they do, KGC itself has evolved with Ramish’s self-taught technique. KGC began as a simple black-and-white comic strip that was quicker to draw, and was consequently produced more frequently. Kachee Goliyan 2.0, however, has increasingly been influenced by the chibi art style, which Ramish enjoys because “they look like obnoxious, mischievous children,” despite it taking longer to draw.
The boys at KGC enjoy recounting the story of how they all first met as teenagers: “I met Nofal on my first day at university,” Ramish laughs. “He was the fat kid who tried to haze me, but laughed the whole time instead, and eventually my friend scared him away.” They became friends a few days later, when they found themselves sitting together in class and bonded over a mutual sense of humour. Their third partner, Mateen Ansari, is often found behind the scenes, but is just as instrumental in the day-to-day running of the company. Ramish met Mateen at university while showing off some sketches to a friend – dark, twisted depictions of somewhat nude figures. “I was in a state of unrest at the time, and was very defensive of my work because generally, people didn’t accept it,” Ramish explains. “When Mateen saw my sketches, he just said, ‘Good work, man!’” This was the start of a friendship, which would eventually spawn two companies, and “a crazy ride.”
The three teamed up for a business competition by Procter & Gamble in their first year of university. Despite losing the competition, working together made them realise they were a good team, and had the potential to be good business partners. They put their heads together and came up with the not-for-profit organisation Pappu in late 2009, helping underprivileged children get the education they deserve. Within a year, and on a shoestring budget, they had supported 13 children. “We started out with Rs.500, with which we printed stickers. We sold those for Rs.5,000, and spent that money producing notebooks [which] we sold for Rs.30,000.” And so the process continued, until they raised enough money to start supporting children. Ramish proudly tells me, “To this day, we have never taken a salary from Pappu.” Their venture was so successful that in 2011, the boys were invited to the Global Social Business Summit in Vienna, an initiative of Nobel Laureate Muhammad Yunus. The organizers even waived the required fee of €35,000 for them. “That’s how inspired they were by us!” Ramish exclaims, more baffled than proud. In addition, not only do they donate free copies of their comics to disadvantaged children, but they also plan to launch a project to help develop children’s critical thinking and cognitive abilities.