Unaiza Ali Barlas – Guinness World Record Laureate

  • 28 Oct - 03 Nov, 2017
  • Sana Lokhandwala
  • Interview
Unaiza Ali Barlas

Unaiza Ali Barlas is a self-taught 20-year-old cartoonist and animator with a thirst for knowledge, adventure and experimentation with various art forms. Somewhat eccentric and very ambitious, the young lass describes herself as a ‘real-life Mabel Pines.’ The Lahore-based artist was recently named in the Guinness Book of World Records for creating the world’s longest comic strip. The record-breaking cartoon strip, known as The Exit, is 267.38 metres long, consists of a series of black and white squares in the classical comic strip style, and was completed at Gillani Park Lahore on March 12, 2017. Barlas also happens to be the founder of Art for Humanity, a charitable organisation that celebrates Pakistani artists and their work. The lady who made the nation proud sat down with MAG and let us into her artistic life. Excerpts

How did you discover your passion for illustration and animation?

As a child, I would splash all my pocket money on art supplies and would dive straight into my art corner every day after school. I used to watch a lot of animated films even then, and it was my way of entering into a magical world with no boundaries. Turning eight, I began giving drawing and painting lessons to our housemaid's daughter, and soon the classes stretched out to the neighbourhood girls. I would make worksheets and give them homework and check their work – I enjoyed teaching. We would watch Disney classics and Cartoon Network, freezing the picture here and there with our pencils out, and try to copy the image. While I watched my favourite shows, I would wonder what sorcery was behind bringing a drawing to life. Lucky for me, the internet had all the answers and that opened new doors for me in the animation field.

What do you specialise in?

I don't limit myself to one art form. I enjoy everything from the raw handiwork to digital art, even when it comes down to animation. Art goes well hand-in-hand with the advertisement, infotainment, games, and design industry too. As a result, I took upon specialisation stretching from drawing to digital computer software.

What do you love the most about your field of work?

It’s rewarding in every sense. Not only is the creation process enjoyable, but the appreciation makes it all the more worthwhile. Creative fields are never dull. This is where you meet really interesting and talented individuals and get to make good use of your imagination, while serving others.

When and how did you decide to break the Guinness World Record?

I remember having a studious phase in high school, so in order to spice up the mundane, I invented a "Things I'll Do Before I Die List". One of the things on the list was breaking a world record. When I came across a record of this category (Longest Cartoon Strip), I was compelled to break it. After completing my A levels, I took a gap year to achieve my goal.

What were some of the challenges that you had to face in order to achieve your goal?

Apart from overcoming creative blocks during the comic making process, I had to meet some highly specific guidelines provided by the Guinness team. It demanded a public event for the comic's measurement and videography. During that time, Lahore was under a high security alert due to a recent terrorist blast, so getting the Government's approval to hold an event with a huge audience was nearly impossible, which resulted in postponement of the event twice. The team of artistes and volunteers still took the courage to step out and attend along with their families, showing off the true Lahori spirit, one that shall be long remembered.

Tell us something about the winning comic strip, The Exit.

The comic strip took almost a year to perfect, for drawing and construction was only half the part. Believing the medium of cartooning to be a great influencing force, I made sure to put in a lot of thought into the story, as well. The story revolves around Jack who is selfish and fed up of his life inside the dull, frame-bound, black and white world of the comics. He seeks escape into the reality via a door called The Exit. But here’s the catch, he needs a big sum of money to get it to open. Embarking on a journey that proves to be eye-opening, Jack is faced with new challenges and meets interesting people on his way. In the end, the door turns out to be a hoax. At that point, however, Jack gains something much more valuable upon self-reflection – a new understanding of himself, his world, and most importantly empathy for the people around him.

What was the inspiration behind the comic strip?

I consider The Exit to be something that majority of youngsters can relate to in many ways. My inspiration behind the story was to convey that life doesn't have to be a race, rather we should focus on bettering ourselves as people and help to build others – that is the real key to opening the doors of happiness.

How supportive were your parents when you decided to become an artist?

My parents knew I was an artist even before I did. Sometimes elders would try to talk me into other career paths, but I stood my ground and my mother was more of a ‘Ja Simran ja, jee le apni zindagi’ type – so much of the credit goes to her support.

What is Art for Humanity?

Art for Humanity is a cause aimed at promoting various art forms by our exceptionally talented Pakistani artists, serving humanitarian causes in the process via the funds we generate and the content we create.

What do you like to do in your free time? What are your hobbies?

When I am not doing art, I like to nerd out over topics such as business, entrepreneurship, theology, philosophy, psychology and science (don't have these glasses for nothing!). Other times, I enjoy attending different workshops and travelling or I would just lay back with anime and comics which keeps my creativity flowing.

What are you most passionate about in life?

My passion is trying new things and learning, and passing on what I know and helping others.

A word of advice for aspiring artistes would be?

Never let your talent go to waste.

What does the future hold for you?

I am currently applying abroad for higher studies in Visual effects (VFX) and Animation and eventually want to set up the first ever digital arts institution in Pakistan. •