Sana Waqar interviews Maria Riaz, illustration artist and author of the book everyone is raving about, My Superhero; Edhi Baba. Though originally from Lahore, Maria is currently living in Muzafarabad, AJK. She’s a dedicated mother of three and continues to work on her passion projects.

Hi Maria! Congratulations on the success of your book. It’s the one thing everyone wants to get their hands on! So but not many people know who Maria Riaz is..

So for those who don’t know, Who is Maria Riaz and what does she do?
Well for me, Maria Riaz is an illustration artist who has been wandering around in the field of art and design to find the right track. I have an undergraduate degree in Textile Design and postgrad in Multimedia Arts, both from NCA.

I have worked as a textile designer, as an animator and as a teacher.
I am a happy mom of three little blessings. With my 9-5 I never had the chance to follow my dreams. This year long job break made me think and strive to work on what I always wanted to do; illustrate. As a stay at home mom, I initially used to feel frustrated. All I could say is “a drawing a day keeps bad thoughts away”.

So, How did you come up with Our Superhero, Edhi baba?
I feel like it had been at the back of my mind for a long time. I wanted to use art for a good cause. I wanted to be socially responsible while developing a visual. I wanted to donate more even though I am not a millionaire. So, all the ingredients were there, all I needed was the perfect recipe.

In 2018 in a workshop by Mr. Ali Raza Khan of YES network, I learned about social entrepreneurship. That somehow clicked and I was left wondering how I could share my profits to help humanity. When I put my mind to it, Edhi Sahab’s name came to my mind(or heart, almost impulsively. No second thoughts about it. So I started drawing Edhi Sahab’s pictures with kids, drawing inspiration from his kindness and purity. After many days of drawing and reading up, I started shaping my thoughts to form a storybook.
I feel like its God’s way, He leads one thing to another and you can not do it differently.

You have presented Abdul Sattar Edhi as the Nation’s superhero. Do you feel this title aptly describes him, Why?
Yes, I changed many titles, a few work in progress images were also shared by media where I wrote “Our Loving Legend: Edhi Baba”.
So let me tell you the journey of loving legend to superhero.
I have noticed the impact of violence on our kids. There is not a single superhero movie which lacks action or violence. I always tell my children that there is no need to hurt someone in order to save another. You can  save by giving food, education, medical treatment, shelter…even a smile. Charity makes your heart big and turns you into a superhero. I think instead of showing them fireballs or spiderwebs coming out of your palm, why not place a coin or a cookie in someone else’s palm. Anyone can be a superhero, I wanted to demonstrate a super power anyone can have!

The book is wonderfully illustrated. Each illustration is so full of love and beauty that it narrates the story by itself. For me, the image where his heart grows bigger is just so endearing. How do you translate a simple story into such meaningful art?
Thank you so much!
Well, illustration is my first love. I had some metaphors in my mind and I wanted to translate these in my work literally..like a big heart and Edhi Sahab’s arm as a support for kids. For me all illustrations were meant to be soft and heart warming. I feel very proud that people were attracted towards the book merely by a single illustration of mine, the over page. For me as an illustration artist, this is the real reward.

Even though everyone is all praise for the idea and unanimously agrees that it is nothing short of brilliant, there is some criticism as to the grammar and syntax used. How do you respond to such criticism?
Thank you for asking this question. I was trying to address this issue in a public post. Well, as my friends say “your work is not yours when there is no blunder”. This is typically Maria.
Well that’s not an excuse but I was so involved in my illustrations that I did not even proofread the text. It’s a negligence on my part and I am very apologetic about it(embarrassed too).
But it gave me a chance to meet some people online and I could see the contrast very clearly. There were some people very rude to me, some pointed it out politely then there were those who were sarcastic, some ignored it but mentioned in the reviews. But there was one person in particular who was extremely polite and she offered to proof read it page by page, saying that you are sending it abroad from Pakistan and it must be perfect.
Another person said that it’s a wonderful effort and nothing should undermine it. So my faith in humanity was eventually restored and I had to learn this way as Allah has planned it.
Lesson learned: proof reading is VERY important and when you through something on the internet, you don’t know how far it goes, so it better be flawless.
Now we have corrected the mistakes and new copies coming have been proof read. I am keeping my fingers crossed!

When did you start working as an artist/illustrator? Tell us more about your other works.
I believe my textile thesis was also an illustration thesis as textile was the medium but I visually narrated a myth. Then my post graduate thesis also focuses on the look and feel of the image. I have been developing visual assets for eBooks, some illustrations for books, concept art, logos etc. My personal projects mostly revolve around digital illustrations and visual investigation of ordinary things. Like I did a mountain series which started from an accidental paint blob from a kid’s sketchbook.

My day to day work and progress of projects can be seen at my insta handle martautal.

So whats next for Maria Riaz? Any other heroes on the radar?
The honest answer would be that I will be changing my plans. I have listed some new titles in my book as upcoming projects, as I was working on their concepts. But, the way this book has been received, I think I will do more on Edhi Sahab first as one book is not enough to describe all his efforts. There will be more small books as attempt to sum it all up.
After that I have some other personalities/heroes in mind who I would like to work on.

Whose your favorite superhero?

And if you could have a superpower it would be?
Make food taste good. I really need a super power to do that!

You are a working mother. How do you keep the balance between work and kids?
I think one has to bend for things to work your way. I remember I used to work on my illustrations after putting the kids to sleep. I used to prefer it over sleep.
When I work in the presence of kids I involve them in a certain art activity to keep them busy and yes they are happy to do what mama is doing!
But support system is important, my husband being an architect understands how the art and design field works. This support helps to keep the balance as well

What is your advise to mothers of aspiring talent?
Just work towards your goal, I know there was a time when we were single, had all the time and energy for ourselves. But now we have the love of our kids and we should be someone more than a mother for them to look up to. A self sufficient and motivated mother can give the kids more confidence and a live example to follow their dreams no matter what.

Are you a scaryammi?
No I am not and I don’t want to be one. My kids are not afraid of me at all but we enjoy each other’s company. There are some occasional tantrums and panic attacks but all is good!

Lastly, when can we expect to see your book in stores?
When the store people understand the fact that it’s not a commercial book and the terms and conditions should be different for such projects.
But yes soon InshaAllah 😊