Hero for hire: Meet Saud Al-Hazzani, Saudi Arabia’s first professional cosplayer

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Saud Al-Hazzani as Prince of Persia. (Image supplied)
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Saud Al-Hazzani as Gambit, from ‘X-Men.’ (Image supplied)
Updated 13 April 2019
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Hero for hire: Meet Saud Al-Hazzani, Saudi Arabia’s first professional cosplayer

  • The basic gist, Al-Hazzani explains, is that you pick a character you like and ‘become’ them
  • Just as important as the creative side of cosplay for Al-Hazzani, though, is the sense of community among its participants

DUBAI: “Being creative in general, I think, kind of fades out as you grow up. It’s there, still, but it’s untouched.”

Saud Al-Hazzani is discussing his, let’s say ‘niche,’ hobby —  cosplay —  and the reason why, in his early thirties, he quit his job to focus on making a living doing something that, to all intents and purposes, is what —  if he were a child —  would be called ‘playing dress-up.’

Al-Hazzani, born and raised in Riyadh and now based in the UAE, is a professional cosplayer (under the moniker VEGA Cosplay) —  to the best of his knowledge, he’s the only full-time pro in the GCC.

Cosplay is a hybrid of ‘costume’ and ‘play.’ The basic gist, Al-Hazzani explains, is that you pick a character you like and ‘become’ them. Could be someone from a movie, a cartoon, a videogame, a TV show, a comic book (Japanese anime is particularly popular), or any other fantasy world.

“It’s similar to Halloween, I guess,” Al-Hazzani says. “But you can do it every day.”

Al-Hazzani was a fan of Japanese anime growing up (and as an adult), so he “had some idea” what cosplay was. But, he says, “I never thought it would happen in the GCC.” Sitting in his office one day in 2011, however, aged 25, he saw an ad for an event in Bahrain.

“I got excited,” he says. “Bahrain’s, like, a three-hour drive. I invited my friend who I thought would enjoy trying this new thing that we knew about but never thought would actually happen here. We picked a couple of characters, made our costumes and went to the event. We went there not expecting, or knowing, anything. But we got hooked straight away.”

For that first event, he went as Ace, a character from the wildly popular anime “One Piece.” Ace is always shirtless, wearing a pirate hat and with a pirate tattoo on his back and a beaded necklace.

“So I got some shorts and a hat and painted them, I got some small toy balls and painted them. I tried to get as much detail as possible —  with the knowledge I had then,” he says. “It was more assembled than made. But it was done properly, I can tell you.”

He went to that event “anonymously,” he explains. “I didn’t tell anyone about it at first. Even people taking my picture, I didn’t tell them my name. I was hoping it was secret, but then somebody tagged me somewhere on Facebook. Then everybody knew.”

Cosplay, for those who aren’t into it, can seem like kind of a weird hobby for adults. A bit like taking part in historical re-enactments of the American Civil War, perhaps. Or taking role-playing games like “Dungeons and Dragons” seriously. It seems like a lot of time and effort to invest in something for anyone who’s not into that thing themselves.

“I couldn’t really explain it to family and friends, or (colleagues),” Al-Hazzani admits. “It was the first time they’d even seen me shirtless, obviously, let alone in costume. So it was double-weird. They really didn’t understand it —  it wasn’t bad or anything, it was just confusing for them. I mean, I wasn’t under any pressure, it was just hard to explain. But in time they understood it.”

After that first event in Bahrain, Al-Hazzani discovered more and more opportunities to indulge in his newfound passion. Like most dedicated cosplayers, he makes his own costumes and accessories. And that is where he has rediscovered the creativity that was such a large part of his childhood, but which “was shut down in my teenage years.”

“I used to love experimenting (as a kid). I did a lot of random stuff. I’d open up anything electronic and try to fix it, or come up with new inventions,” he says.

He cites a sixth-grade inter-school science competition as an example. He created, he says, a “thing that could cut glass with electricity” by repurposing a machine that killed bugs. “I opened it up, rewired it and built a base. It was similar to a taser gun, I guess, but it cut glass.”

That sounds kind of dangerous for a sixth-grader, I say. He laughs.

“It was. I don’t even know how I was allowed to make it. I suppose no one actually knew what I was making (until the competition).”

His love of working with his hands and found material now finds an outlet in cosplay. “That creativity has somehow resurfaced,” he says. “Cosplay allows you to do everything, if you want —  you can sew, you can paint, you can use wood, you can use electronics. There are no limits. Just your choices of character.”

It was this that convinced Al-Hazzani to quit his job two years ago and dedicate himself to making a living from cosplay.

“When the time was right, I just decided ‘This is it. I have to invest all my time.’ It’s very exciting, because there are so many options,” he says. “There’s no particular way of doing things. You have to create your own market — especially in this region. So I’m trying different stuff like production or making a costume for a commercial, or organizing cosplay competitions. The last two years, I’ve been investing in all these fields.

“Money isn’t great,” he continues. “I’ve been struggling. But I know that I’m at the start. If it’s going to work out, I knew I’d have to suffer for a few years. And, you know, no risk no reward, right? Nobody’s going to give it to you. Nobody’s going to say, ‘Yeah, go do what you want.’ You have to do it yourself.”

Just as important as the creative side of cosplay for Al-Hazzani, though, is the sense of community among its participants. Particularly at Middle East Film & Comic Con, which is taking place this weekend in Dubai.

“It’s the most important event. And I’ve attended every cosplay event in the GCC since I started. So I know how much MEFCC has impacted the region,” he says. “It grew pop culture tenfold. It somehow initiated pop culture in the region. It’s almost like a cult —  something I have to attend. I met most of my friends in the GCC at MEFCC. I’m talking about cosplayers, artists, gamers, booth owners, photographers… a huge amount of friends that I’ve made at this event over the past seven years.”

He even met his fiancée, Sumi Aya, through cosplay. She’s also a judge at Comic Con this year.

“She saw a small event that had a picture of cosplayers. She didn’t know events like that existed. She saw my name tagged on the picture, so she messaged me. ‘What’s the deal? How come this is happening in the UAE and I didn’t know about it?’ Stuff like that,” Al-Hazzani explains. “I helped her, told her about some of the events, gave her a basic guide about how to start with costumes. And then we met at the next event, for the first time. I introduced her to people. And it became a thing, you know? We’d go to the events together. And feelings developed. And we shared those feelings and committed.”

So cosplay has helped Al-Hazzani find a career he loves, numerous long-lasting friendships, and his future wife. Not bad for a game of dress-up.

Decoder


King Abdul Aziz Public Library showcases Arab, Islamic heritage

Updated 21 April 2019
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King Abdul Aziz Public Library showcases Arab, Islamic heritage

  • The library has 8,571 books and more than 5,000 manuscripts, documents, coins and rare maps
  • The library has an archive of photographs, one of the rarest collections in the world

RIYADH: King Abdulaziz Public Library provides a key index of Saudi culture, presenting the world with a rich legacy of cultural, historical and literary diversity.

On World Heritage Day, April 18, the library highlighted its efforts in preserving cultural heritage, which makes it one of the most important libraries in the Arab and Islamic world. It possesses a variety of heritage treasures in manuscripts, documents, rare books, coins and photographs. The library has 8,571 books and more than 5,000 manuscripts, documents, coins and rare maps.

The library has established a knowledge-based space to produce large collections of specialized books on the history of the Kingdom and in the Arab and Islamic worlds while continuing to use its knowledge system in line with Vision 2030 and the cultural strategy of the Ministry of Culture.

The library’s special holdings consist of manuscripts, rare books, rare documents, rare maps, rare photographs and coins. These form an integrated picture and are characterized by rare historical scenes that stimulate research.

The library established the Manuscripts Department in 1988 to contribute to the preservation of Arab and Islamic heritage and make it available to researchers and investigators. The department has more than (4,400) original manuscripts in addition to more than (700) photocopies and microfilms, including the charts of the Institute of History of Arabic and Islamic Sciences at the University of Frankfurt. More than 3,500 manuscripts have been indexed and filed in the computer system.

The library in Riyadh, the pioneer in publishing heritage, has digitized all of its manuscripts — more than two million of them — and stored them on CDs.

The library contains a collection of rare books of ancient and rare European editions, consisting of 78 books on the biography of the Prophet Muhammad. The collection also includes 113 translated books in ancient European languages of the Holy Qur’an, as well as 55 books on Qur’anic studies and 54 books on Islamic sources. This collection represents the beginnings of European interest in the Holy Qur’an and its studies. The library acquired a collection of Arabic editions printed in Europe in 1592-1593. These editions are part of the library’s interest in the original Arab and Islamic heritage. They include rare books such as The Canon of Medicine by Avicenna, Rhetoric Mysteries by Abd Al-Qahir Al-Jurjani, a commentary on the “Isagoge” by Abu l-Faraj at-Tayyib, The Perfect Guide to the Sciences of the Qur’an by Jalal Al-Din Al Suyuti, as well as 8,271 rare Arabic indexed books.

The library hosts a number of private collections, including that of the American orientalist George Rantz. This collection has many books, manuscripts, maps and rare documents, containing books in Arabic and 3,265 books in foreign languages. It also has the collection of Hamza Boubakeur, dean of the Islamic Institute and former imam of Paris Mosque. It is an integrated collection with 17,170 titles of 19,821 volumes of periodicals, newspapers, manuscripts, documents, newspaper clippings, rare books and books in Arabic, French, English, German and Russian. It includes books on scientific and religious sciences, and tourist literature that describes countries, their heritage, customs and traditions, and is linked to Saudi Arabia, the Arabian Gulf and the Islamic world.

The library has an archive of photographs, one of the rarest collections in the world, with a total of 5,564 single original photographs or collections in albums, taken by the most famous photographers of the East and the Arab world since the beginning of photography in 1740, as well as photographs taken by travelers, sea captains, military personnel, envoys, consuls and politicians who visited the region from the middle of the last century until the beginning of this century. This archive of photographs is one of the most unique in the world.

The library has 365 photographs of the two Holy Mosques with previously unpublished negatives. These photographs were taken by the Egyptian international photographer Ahmad Pasha Helmi, who was commissioned by King Farouk to photograph the two Holy Mosques during the visit of King Abdul Aziz to Makkah and Medina, in addition to a collection of albums depicting the Hijaz railway and other parts of the Kingdom.

Official and non-official documents are important scientific materials in the writing of history. Nations rely on collecting their documents, archiving them and making them available for study. The library in Riyadh has been keen to acquire rare documents and books, especially on the history of King Abdul Aziz Al Saud, the history of Saudi Arabia, and to allocate a special section for them. These documents include:

George Rantz records: in English, French and Arabic, covering the period from 1930 to 1960.
Documents of the Egyptian and Arab press on the visit of King Abdul Aziz to Egypt.
Documents of the American press about King Saud’s visit to the US.
Documents on oil agreements between the Kingdom and some American companies.
Documents of the British press regarding the war between the British forces and the forces of the Sultan of Muscat and Oman against the forces of the imam of Oman, and the effects of this war on the region and the position of the Saudi state and King Saud of this war.
Abdul Rahman Azzam’s collection of documents (in Arabic and English) covering the period from 1925 to 1960.
Correspondence reflecting the assistance provided by Saudi Arabia to the Mosque of Paris and Makkah pilgrims.
The British collection of documents on King Abdul Aziz Al Saud (English), covering the period from 1800 to 1953. These are photocopies of the original documents and constitute one of the most important sources of the history of the Arabian Peninsula.
Khair Al-Din Al-Zarkali’s collection of documents: (in Arabic) covering the period from 1920 to 1975.
The library also has 700 rare maps, especially of the Arabian Peninsula, dating from 1482. The library has acquired more than 7,600 rare gold, silver and bronze coins, dating back to different Islamic times.

World Heritage Day was proposed by the International Council of Monuments and Sites on April 18, 1982 and approved by UNESCO in 1983 with the aim of promoting awareness of the importance of cultural heritage and protecting it.