The 99, a comic book series based on characters that each personify one of the 99 qualities that the Koran attributes to God, met early resistance in places like Saudi Arabia. Local authorities worried that the series might mock Islam. But after Mutawa guaranteed that he would remain respectful of religion, and won backing from a major Islamic bank, the series took off around the Gulf. Initially given away for free with Arabic versions of Marvel Comics (the license for which Mutawa owns in the region), the 99 is now a stand-alone success, with some 500,000 copies given away and sold across the region in the past two years.
Mutawa believes the 99 can succeed in non-Islamic markets. “Our characters are appealing to kids across the world,” he says. “We have been able to sell licenses to India, Bangladesh, France, Spain, the U.K., the United States and Canada.”