Rebellion Resurrected: The Will of Youth Against History

15 August, 2021
Cover of the first issue of Samandal (download the entire issue, in Arabic and English, here).
Cov­er of the first issue of Saman­dal (down­load the entire issue, in Ara­bic and Eng­lish, here).

George “Jad” Khoury

Magdy El Shafee’s Métro published in Cairo.
Magdy El Shafee’s Métro pub­lished in Cairo.

—Arab comics are cre­at­ed in the con­text of rev­o­lu­tions and wars – wars born out of dreams which, hav­ing becom­ing night­mares, haunt the whole of the Arab world. Is it no coin­ci­dence that comics today have become the most elo­quent expres­sion of a young gen­er­a­tion who chal­lenged his­to­ry at the first sign of the Arab Spring, for comics are the medi­um that lends its voice to this generation’s ambi­tions, hopes and dis­ap­point­ments, vic­to­ries, and frustrations.

At the begin­ning of the 1980s, amid the civ­il war rag­ing in Lebanon[1], a new wave of Arab comics was born, whose mes­sage, like a voice with­out an echo[2], remained inaudi­ble. In 2007, the mag­a­zine Saman­dal (chameleon) took over the reins, show­ing us that crises and wars, even at the scale of a small coun­try, can unleash unimag­in­able cre­ativ­i­ty which can burst over nation­al bor­ders and set ablaze every region of the world, as if it had just been wait­ing for this spark. Thus, Magdy El Shafee’s Metro (pub­lished in Egypt, 2008) also opened a breach, blow­ing a pow­er­ful gust of free­dom of expres­sion into the sur­round­ing cul­tur­al asphyx­ia. The social and polit­i­cal impor­tance of Metro made it the most dis­cussed com­ic album in the media in Egypt, which was, at that time, suf­fer­ing under the crush­ing weight of an ago­niz­ing dictatorship.

Col­lec­tives as a lever for change

“What­ev­er their form or genre, today’s comics are char­ac­ter­ized by a free­dom of expres­sion and open­ness towards exper­i­men­ta­tion and per­son­al explo­ration. The col­lec­tives have, since the begin­ning, con­sti­tut­ed a form of rebel­lion against social and polit­i­cal hege­mo­ny and the con­straints of tradition.”

Saman­dal, as a col­lec­tive, and El Shafee, as an indi­vid­ual, embod­ies what char­ac­ter­izes the new wave of Arab comics, both in form and con­tent. How­ev­er, the fanzine for­mat of the first has tak­en the lead on the indi­vid­ual prac­tice of the sec­ond, the col­lec­tive becom­ing pro­gres­sive­ly the “base” around which artists orga­nize them­selves. Saman­dal was the first ini­tia­tive to adopt a col­lec­tive struc­ture, which allowed it to over­come the chal­lenges posed by the pub­lish­ing mar­ket and set itself up as a mod­el for oth­ers to fol­low. By found­ing an orga­ni­za­tion and rely­ing on pri­vate finances to pub­lish its issues, Saman­dal found the means to guar­an­tee its longevi­ty. It cre­at­ed an inde­pen­dent plat­form ded­i­cat­ed to artists (main­ly the founders) look­ing to express them­selves and pro­mote their work. Before the country’s finan­cial col­lapse, the Lebanese eco­nom­ic sys­tem, which favors pri­vate sec­tor ini­tia­tives, had con­tributed to this success.

Cover of the Egyptian magazine TokTok.
Cov­er of the Egypt­ian mag­a­zine Tok­Tok.

This Lebanese ini­tia­tive Saman­dal served as inspi­ra­tion for cre­at­ing the Egypt­ian mag­a­zine Tok­Tok in 2011, dur­ing a peri­od when the coun­try was eager for change. While Magdy El Shafee’s Metro had struck at the heart of the fear sur­round­ing the pow­ers that be, Tok­Tok brought togeth­er young Egyp­tians search­ing for a plat­form for their work. In addi­tion to respond­ing to a clear need on a nation­al scale, Tok­Tok soon became a nat­ur­al “Ara­bic oasis,” which opened its pages to artists from all over the region, par­tic­u­lar­ly in the Maghreb, ben­e­fit­ing from the prox­im­i­ty of the coun­tries and of their respec­tive social, polit­i­cal and eco­nom­ic struc­tures. We can­not ignore the cen­tral role of work­shops, orga­nized abroad by Tok­Tok and Saman­dal, in encour­ag­ing artists from dif­fer­ent regions to meet and cre­ate col­lec­tives, thus cul­ti­vat­ing spaces ded­i­cat­ed to free­dom of expres­sion in dif­fer­ent coun­tries. It is as if the col­lec­tive, cat­a­lyst for the con­tem­po­rary trend of Arab comics, con­sti­tut­ed the ide­al means of cre­at­ing inde­pen­dent plat­forms and lib­er­at­ing one­self from the con­straints of the pub­lish­ing world.

The pro­lif­er­a­tion of col­lec­tives, tak­ing place amongst the col­lapse of cor­rupt polit­i­cal regimes, is in itself high­ly sig­nif­i­cant. It was indeed in this tur­bu­lent con­text that a mul­ti­tude of fanzines appeared, most of which are still in print: Lab619 (Tunisia 2013), Ske­fkef (Moroc­co 2013), Masa­ha (Iraq 2015), Garage (Egypt 2015), Hab­ka (Libya 2015). Oth­er fanzines also launched, but for var­i­ous rea­sons, did not sur­vive, among them Al Dosh­ma (Egypt 2011), Allak Fayn (Egypt 2016), Al Tah­wila (Egypt 2012), Autostrad (Egypt 2011), Les Furies des Glaneurs (Lebanon 2011) and Al Shak­ma­jiyya (Egypt 2014) for example.

Com­ic book pro­duc­tion entered a new phase, enriched by the diver­si­ty of con­tri­bu­tions from artists who could choose where to pub­lish their work for the first time. At the very moment when the Arab world had become more divid­ed than ever before, and its dif­fer­ent regions more dis­con­nect­ed, comics — more than any oth­er form of artis­tic expres­sion — pro­vid­ed a uni­fy­ing link between young artists, thanks to the net­work of exchanges ini­ti­at­ed by col­lec­tives. It has since then become reg­u­lar prac­tice for a fanzine to pub­lish the work of artists from anoth­er coun­try, who are them­selves the founders of a fanzine in their own coun­try; or to invite an artist from a coun­try to run a work­shop some­where else in the Arab world[3], or to take part in round-table dis­cus­sions in Europe address­ing con­tem­po­rary Arab comics[4]. This phe­nom­e­non throws into ques­tion the indi­vid­ual nature of spe­cif­ic pub­li­ca­tions and the role of their rec­i­p­ro­cat­ing influences.

Skefskef launched in Morocco in 2013.
Skefskef launched in Moroc­co in 2013.

 “I” in the lin­guis­tic mosaic

Tok­Tok, and in its wake Ske­fkef and Lab619, were inspired by Saman­dal to self-pub­lish and thus over­come the con­straints imposed by tra­di­tion­al meth­ods of pub­li­ca­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion. To do so, these non-prof­it, non-gov­ern­men­tal orga­ni­za­tions relied on alter­na­tive finan­cial sup­port, such as pro­duc­tion funds pro­vid­ed by var­i­ous agen­cies and insti­tu­tions, for the most part Euro­pean[5].

It is by their dif­fer­ent voca­tions and con­tent that these ini­tia­tives dis­tin­guish them­selves. Saman­dal is itself an exper­i­men­tal plat­form that pub­lish­es artists from Lebanon, Ara­bic coun­tries, and else­where in mul­ti­ple lan­guages (Ara­bic, Eng­lish, and French). Its mul­ti­lin­gual­ism reflects the cul­tur­al diver­si­ty of Lebanon. Saman­dal priv­i­leges exper­i­men­ta­tion over visu­al form, to the point, that the very nature of the com­ic strip is brought into ques­tion[6].

Tok­Tok, for its part, dis­tances itself from any elit­ism in form and con­tent and focus­es on themes rang­ing from the social and pop­u­lar to the indi­vid­ual or per­son­al. Its texts are exclu­sive­ly writ­ten in Ara­bic, both clas­si­cal or dialec­tal. Tok­Tok uses a straight­for­ward nar­ra­tive visu­al lan­guage, quite removed from the exper­i­men­tal[7]. These ele­ments have made it a mod­el of inspi­ra­tion for mul­ti­ple pub­li­ca­tions which have followed.

Lab619 is a Tunisian comix collective. Visit them on Facebook.
Lab619 is a Tunisian comix col­lec­tive. Vis­it them on Face­book.

Ske­fkef devel­oped a form sim­i­lar to that of fanzines, all in main­tain­ing the qual­i­ty, graph­ic design, and fin­ish of a mag­a­zine. Each issue brings togeth­er con­tri­bu­tions of Moroc­can artists, invit­ed to tack­le a shared theme, which is most often high­ly per­ti­nent to the country’s cur­rent social and cul­tur­al cli­mate [8].

At the heart of this revival of the Arab com­ic is the recur­ring ques­tion of lan­guage, which re-launched the debate on the mul­ti­plic­i­ty of iden­ti­ties. If clas­si­cal Ara­bic has tra­di­tion­al­ly dom­i­nat­ed the lit­er­ary sphere, under the influ­ence of Pan Ara­bism ide­ol­o­gy, dialects have pro­gres­sive­ly gained ground thanks to the social and polit­i­cal inter­ests of the Arab rev­o­lu­tions[9]. The young artists who advo­cate using dialects proud­ly claim the use of “I” over “we” regard­ing cul­tur­al, eth­nic, and lin­guis­tic diver­si­ty, which con­tests a uni­fy­ing intel­lec­tu­al hege­mo­ny, of which the results are dis­as­trous. The ini­tia­tive to cre­ate these col­lec­tives is in itself a demon­stra­tion of the desire to pro­mote the diver­si­ty expressed in their pub­li­ca­tions. The mag­a­zine Tok­Tok and Garage are char­ac­ter­ized by the use of Egypt­ian dialect and local expres­sions, where­as Lab619, Ske­fkef, Masa­ha, and Hab­ka dif­fer­en­ti­ate them­selves by their use of oth­er dialects — Tunisian, Moroc­can, Iraqi or Libyan — to such a degree that to for­eign eyes — even Arab eyes — the lin­guis­tic, region­al and cul­tur­al speci­fici­ties can be dif­fi­cult to deci­pher. A look at the titles of the mag­a­zines illus­trates their extreme local iden­ti­ty:  Tok­Tok (a rick­shaw, pop­u­lar means of trans­port in Egypt), Ske­fkef (a cheap sand­wich, pop­u­lar in Casablan­ca), Lab619 (refer­ring to Tunisian bar­codes), Al Shak­ma­jiyya (a jew­el­ry box used for make-up) and Saman­dal (chameleon – a nod to the diver­si­ty and lin­guis­tic and cul­tur­al adapt­abil­i­ty of its content).

The col­lec­tives thus broke with the con­ven­tion, estab­lished since the begin­ning of Arab comics, of choos­ing the title of the mag­a­zine from the panoply of names famil­iar to Ara­bic and Islam­ic her­itage (Ahmed, Majed, Ali Baba, Samir, Sind­bad, Samer, Khaled, Mah­di, etc.) – names which, above all, were sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly accom­pa­nied on the cov­er by a sub-head­ing evok­ing pan-Arab nation­al­ism ide­ol­o­gy (Ous­sama “The Mag­a­zine for the Arab Child; Al Ara­bi Alsaghir (The Lit­tle Arab Child) “For all the Boys and Girls in the Arab World”; Ahmad “For a Mus­lim Gen­er­a­tion”; Samer “For a Hap­py Arab Gen­er­a­tion”).

The role of women and break­ing taboos

Cairo-based twin brothers Haitham and Mohamed Raafat edit Garage.
Cairo-based twin broth­ers Haitham and Mohamed Raafat edit Garage.

What­ev­er their form or genre, today’s comics are char­ac­ter­ized by a free­dom of expres­sion and open­ness towards exper­i­men­ta­tion and per­son­al explo­ration. The col­lec­tives have, since the begin­ning, con­sti­tut­ed a form of rebel­lion against social and polit­i­cal hege­mo­ny and the con­straints of tra­di­tion. They have used their pub­li­ca­tions to explore sub­jects long con­sid­ered taboo in Arab soci­eties, par­tic­u­lar­ly those linked to sex, reli­gion, and social tra­di­tions. Some comics even broach the fol­low­ing con­tro­ver­sial top­ics: Al Shak­ma­jiyya: a mag­a­zine ded­i­cat­ed to fem­i­nism and sex­u­al harass­ment in Egypt­ian soci­ety; Saman­dal (Ça restera entre nous, [This will stay between us] 2016): con­se­crat­ed its annu­al to sex­u­al­i­ty and homo­sex­u­al­i­ty; not to men­tion the com­ic Ramadan Hard­core by Moroc­can artist Hisham Habchi. Until quite recent­ly, these top­ics had rarely been tack­led in a visu­al nar­ra­tive form. Women artists were at the fore­front of these first move­ments in the Arab world, which dared to defy the author­i­ties and tra­di­tion­al ortho­doxy con­cern­ing women’s rights, par­tic­u­lar­ly their right to bod­i­ly integri­ty. The high per­cent­age of women artists spe­cial­iz­ing in the pro­fes­sion­al com­ic book sec­tor is an essen­tial indi­ca­tor of this engage­ment[10]. Do they, no doubt, feel more con­cerned than their male coun­ter­parts by the neces­si­ty of a trans­for­ma­tive change towards indi­vid­ual free­dom? Those who have raised and inter­ro­gat­ed this issue are some­times accused of “going too far,” lead­ing to legal action against, and polit­i­cal cen­sor­ship of, spe­cif­ic col­lec­tives, who have since had to pub­lish abroad[11]. Oth­er ini­tia­tives, born out of rev­o­lu­tions demand­ing jus­tice, the rule of law, and lib­er­ty, have used comics as an edu­ca­tion­al tool in aware­ness-rais­ing cam­paigns; Allak fein?, and Al-Dosh­ma con­sti­tute prime examples.

Diver­si­ty and rebel­lion against the past

A burn­ing desire for open­ness has left no sub­ject or genre untouched: super­heroes[12], sci­ence fic­tion, pol­i­tics, enter­tain­ment, bit­ing satire, cur­rent celebri­ties[13], or the author’s emo­tion­al state[14].

No sub­ject is barred.

Hisham Habchi’s Ramadan Hardcore, published in Morocco.
Hisham Habchi’s Ramadan Hard­core, pub­lished in Morocco.

Space has unfold­ed where the only lim­it is the artist’s imag­i­na­tion or sen­si­bil­i­ty, far from any form of self-cen­sor­ship. Anoth­er strik­ing aspect is the almost com­plete absence of sub­jects deal­ing with the “glo­ri­ous his­to­ry of Islam”[15]. These young peo­ple are too pre­oc­cu­pied by the present moment and wish to break with the past; they rebel against it. This like­ly explains the visu­al aes­thet­ic inspired by Euro­pean comics, Japan­ese man­gas, or even Amer­i­can ani­mat­ed tele­vi­sion series[16]. Only cer­tain Egypt­ian artists inscribe their work in the local visu­al her­itage, notably made up of car­i­ca­ture, which forms an essen­tial part of col­lec­tive mem­o­ry in Egypt­ian soci­ety. It has become com­mon to see artists mas­ter mul­ti­ple tech­niques, using a mix­ture of car­i­ca­ture, illus­tra­tion, comics, and graf­fi­ti (Mohamed Andeel, Makhlouf, and Ganzeer, for exam­ple, but above all the Moroc­can artists in their con­quest of urban walls).

In terms of form, these mag­a­zines restruc­tured their edi­to­r­i­al con­tent and sec­tions to reflect their objec­tives and val­ues bet­ter – incor­po­rat­ing anoth­er lay­er of diver­si­ty. Thus the tra­di­tion­al didac­tic struc­tures, which had dom­i­nat­ed mag­a­zines for chil­dren (each dis­tin­guish­ing itself from the oth­ers only by the ide­ol­o­gy it prop­a­gat­ed), whol­ly dis­ap­peared. Saman­dal cre­at­ed mir­ror pages that invite the read­er to turn the mag­a­zine in dif­fer­ent direc­tions depend­ing on the alpha­bet used, Ara­bic or Latin. Tok­Tok replaced sub-sec­tions with pro­files of famous artists, con­clud­ing by the com­ic remark (Made in Egypt) or by a more visu­al pre­sen­ta­tion. Lab619 prefers to present the artists’ pages with no intro­duc­tion and does not give impor­tance to the change in the read­ing direc­tion when the sto­ries are writ­ten in Latin script. Ske­fkef, on the oth­er hand, inter­laces its illus­trat­ed pages with short sto­ries, empha­siz­ing that the writ­ten text is just as impor­tant as the visu­al aspect. It has also pro­vid­ed musi­cal ele­ments to accom­pa­ny its issues[17].

How­ev­er, these mag­a­zines are miss­ing an impor­tant fea­ture of mod­ern comics; their long series of graph­ic nar­ra­tives. The clas­sic “To be con­tin­ued…” is almost total­ly absent from all of these new mag­a­zines, per­haps because their authors can­not be sure that anoth­er will fol­low this issue… Con­tri­bu­tions are often lim­it­ed to con­cise ideas and short sto­ries with­out long nar­ra­tives or con­ti­nu­ity between issues[18]. As if the artists, in the con­text of rev­o­lu­tion, want­ed to posi­tion them­selves in the present moment, that is, to focus our atten­tion on their per­son­al tor­ments before mov­ing onto some­thing else. This point deserves to be high­light­ed since the region is known for its her­itage of oral nar­ra­tive and nev­er-end­ing sto­ries, tra­di­tion­al­ly passed on from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion (such as The 1001 Nights, The Saga of Banu Hilal). Graph­ic nov­els in Ara­bic are scarce since the pub­li­ca­tion of Metro, except for Murab­ba wa Laban [Jam and Yoghurt] by Lena Mer­hej; A City Neigh­bor­ing the Earth by Jorj Abou Mhaya, Aya­lo by Mustafa Youssef, and Al Taha­di [The Chal­lenge] by Omar Ennaciri. Sev­er­al oth­ers might nev­er have seen the light of day were it not for west­ern pub­lish­ers who brought them out in their respec­tive for­eign lan­guages (Zeina Abirached, Michèle Stand­jovs­ki, Hamed Sulaiman, Bar­rack Rima, Kamal Hakim, Ralph Doumit and the pub­li­ca­tions of ALBA — Lebanese Acad­e­my of Fine Art[19]).

Devel­op­ing pro­fes­sion­al expertise

The sig­nif­i­cance of this cur­rent wave of Arab comics lies in the fact that it does not find its roots in the impul­sive fan­tasies of a hand­ful of young artists, who, burn­ing with a desire, would read­i­ly seek out oth­er hori­zons once their objec­tives are achieved. These young, con­tem­po­rary artists are ful­ly aware of the social and polit­i­cal sit­u­a­tion which sur­rounds them. Most have expe­ri­enced — and some, in a very active way — oppo­si­tion move­ments against the repres­sive and cor­rupt sys­tems in their coun­tries. There­fore, with full aware­ness and matu­ri­ty, they have tak­en on these new artis­tic approach­es, fol­low­ing a mod­el which they intend to make last. Here lies the impor­tance of work­shops orga­nized in the hope of rein­forc­ing the pro­fes­sion­al­iza­tion of the domain, a con­di­tion sine qua non for its sur­vival. These work­shops enable artists to meet and cre­ate spaces for dis­cus­sions, debates, and shar­ing ideas, con­struct­ing a frame­work of shared ref­er­ences and ongo­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion that pro­motes sol­i­dar­i­ty and coop­er­a­tion. Cairo­Comix (the comics fes­ti­val born in Cairo, 2015) is the most emblem­at­ic of these local and inter­na­tion­al gath­er­ings. It plays a piv­otal role in nur­tur­ing this new move­ment and pro­vides a sol­id plat­form where artists can exchange expe­ri­ences, dis­cuss ideas and pro­mote their work.

This sig­nif­i­cant turn­ing point in the approach towards comics was accom­pa­nied – and in some cas­es pre­ced­ed – by the intro­duc­tion of uni­ver­si­ty cours­es in comics, togeth­er with a grow­ing inter­est in aca­d­e­m­ic research in the field[20].

The book or the “lost market”

While the col­lec­tives suc­cess­ful­ly estab­lished a sol­id basis for cre­at­ing a new genre of adult comics through their fanzines, it was not the same case for graph­ic nov­els, which con­tin­ue to rely on pub­lish­ing hous­es and con­ven­tion­al dis­tri­b­u­tion net­works. El Shafee’s Metro was an unusu­al phe­nom­e­non and unheard of since. Its pub­lic­i­ty and media cam­paign played a sig­nif­i­cant role in its dis­tri­b­u­tion in the Arab world, despite its being banned. Its cen­sor­ship result­ed in the oppo­site effect intend­ed, lead­ing to broad­er pub­lic­i­ty on a region­al and a nation­al scale. Nev­er­the­less, this also opened the eyes of the author­i­ties to the sig­nif­i­cant poten­tial of this new medi­um, thus putting pub­lish­ers under even more pres­sure. Oth­er Arab artists, who are just as able with word and pen as El Shafee, have only pub­lished in for­eign lan­guages[21]. After a bur­geon­ing peri­od in the broad region­al mar­ket, pub­lish­ing has pro­gres­sive­ly shrunk to nation­al bor­ders. The absence of local pub­lish­ers who spe­cial­ize in the pro­duc­tion of com­ic book albums is itself a fac­tor that makes it dif­fi­cult for projects to devel­op inso­far as the pub­lish­ers do not ben­e­fit from pri­vate invest­ment, unlike collectives.

In this con­text, dig­i­tal medi­ums have pre­sent­ed a vital alter­na­tive to con­ven­tion­al means of pub­li­ca­tion and dis­tri­b­u­tion, not to men­tion pro­vid­ing a way of nav­i­gat­ing increas­ing­ly intense cen­sor­ship. In addi­tion to using dig­i­tal media, which aid the trans­mis­sion and dis­tri­b­u­tion of their work in far­away places, artists also use social media to cre­ate vir­tu­al plat­forms to “dis­trib­ute the for­bid­den.” The most per­ti­nent exam­ple remains the col­lec­tive of Syr­i­an artists who, pur­sued and men­aced with death threats by the Assad regime, dis­trib­uted their work on a Face­book page called Comic4Syria. This page is an irre­place­able, cre­ative source of doc­u­men­ta­tion on the civ­il war in Syr­ia, which has already caused the death of more than half a mil­lion per­sons. For obvi­ous rea­sons, the con­trib­u­tors, unfor­tu­nate­ly, are oblig­ed to remain anony­mous. The Moroc­can author Hisham Habchi,  who pub­lished his com­ic series Ramadan Hard­core dur­ing Ramadan, was able to avoid cen­sor­ship thanks to the Inter­net. The sit­u­a­tion is sim­i­lar in Egypt, where a large num­ber of writ­ers and artists are on tri­al. Many local orga­ni­za­tions are ordered to reduce or cease their activ­i­ties on the pre­text that they receive for­eign fund­ing to serve for­eign inter­ests or leak sen­si­tive infor­ma­tion (includ­ing sta­tis­tics on human rights, for exam­ple!). Even worse, cen­sor­ship in Arab coun­tries is not sole­ly ini­ti­at­ed by state ini­tia­tives: it runs much deep­er into civic and reli­gious insti­tu­tions as was seen, for exam­ple, with Saman­dal, which was the sub­ject of legal pro­ceed­ings for “offense to reli­gion,” after the Catholic church complained.

Whether or not the future for comics remains bright depends on you; comics, like books, need readers.

  • [1]  In 1980 the first com­ic book for adults was pub­lished: Car­naval (Jad), fol­lowed by Abu-Chanab (1981), Alf Ley­la wa Ley­la (1982) and Sig­mund Freud (1983). This path lead to the col­lec­tive Jad­Work­shop (1986) which includ­ed: Lina Ghaibeh, Wis­sam Bey­doun, Edgar Aho, May Ghaibeh and Shoghig Der­goghas­s­ian. The album Min Beirut (1989) was the last pub­li­ca­tion of the group, and the col­lec­tive came to an end after a final exhi­bi­tion, Out of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion, in 1992.

  • [2]  Mazen Ker­baj is the only excep­tion in terms of con­sis­tent con­ti­nu­ity, although his pro­duc­tion is pri­mar­i­ly in French. Ker­baj remains a ‘lone wolf’, unas­so­ci­at­ed with any par­tic­u­lar col­lec­tive, and is the most pro­lif­ic author on the Lebanese scene. His best known album in Ara­bic is haz­i­hi al-hikaya tajri (Dar-Al-Adab, 2010).

  • [3]   Saman­dal, Tok­Tok and Ske­fkef are the most active in this domain.

  • [4]   The 2015 Barcelona plat­form brought togeth­er artists from four col­lec­tives: Saman­dal, Tok­Tok, Ske­fkef and Lab619. This meet­ing was pre­ced­ed by a sim­i­lar, larg­er, one at Erlan­gen in 2008, and we should not for­get the influ­ence of the round tables estab­lished in 2015 by CairoComix.

  • [5]   French, Ger­man and Ital­ian cul­tur­al cen­tres have con­tributed to the fund­ing of Saman­dal (Lena Mer­hej, 2015, “Meet­ing in the Land of 1000 Bal­conies”, La Capel­la, Insti­tut de Cul­tura de Barcelona). Tok­Tok is sup­port­ed by fund­ing from the Euro­pean Union and Ske­fkef is aid­ed by local donors (inter­view with Salah Mal­ouli of Ske­fkef and Mohamad Rah­mo, founder of the cul­tur­al agency ‘Mad­ness’, 2017).

  • [6]   “ (…) [The sto­ry must be beau­ti­ful, the draw­ings aren’t that impor­tant…]” (Lena Mer­hej, 2015, “Meet­ing in the Land of 1000 Bal­conies”).

  • [7]   “If an artist puts for­ward an exper­i­men­tal work, I tell him go to Saman­dal (Mohamad Al-Shin­naoui, 2015, “Meet­ing in the Land of 1000 Bal­conies”).

  • [8]   Ske­fkef under­lines the cul­tur­al and eth­nic diver­si­ty of Moroc­co where Amazigh (Berber lan­guage), was recent­ly recog­nised as the sec­ond offi­cial lan­guage. (Inter­view with Salah Mal­ouli, Casablan­ca, July 2017).

  • [9]   It is impor­tant to note here that all comics in the region were pub­lished or con­trolled by state-run insti­tu­ions. The exam­ple of adult comics using Ara­bic dialect, in the 1980s in Lebanon, was an exception.

  • [10]  A quar­ter of the Ske­fkef and more of Saman­dal artists are young women. There are almost twice as many women solo authors of albums as men, among them: Zeina Abirached, Lena Mer­hej, Joumana Medlej (Lebanon), Zineb Ben­jel­loun, Zeinab Fas­siqi (Moroc­co), Noha Habaieb (Tunisia).

  • [11]   Saman­dal chose to focus its lat­est issue on sex­u­al­i­ty in France, as a co-pro­duc­tion with Alif­ba­ta (Ça restera entre nous, Alifbata/Samandal, 2016)

  • [12]  The series Malaak by Jouman Medlej (Lebanon 2007) and 99 about Islam­ic super heroes by Nayef Moutaweh (Kuwait 2006).

  • [13]   The char­ac­ter of “Al-Sayess” by Mohamad El-Shen­nawy, mas­cot of the Tok­Tok mag­a­zine.

  • [14]   The Saman­dal artists are pio­neers in this, as they don’t men­tion or make ref­er­ence to the ‘Arab Spring’, whilst the oth­ers began in rev­o­lu­tion­ary cir­cum­stances and embraced the activism that went with them.

  • [15]   Moroc­co remains an excep­tion with the series Tarikhu­na, in Amazigh.

  • [16]   In Moroc­co for exam­ple, today’s young artists grew up read­ing comics like Spirou, in the absence of any local pro­duc­tion. (Inter­view with the Ske­fkef col­lec­tive, 2017). In oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, the influ­ence of man­gas and car­toon series broad­cast on the Car­toon Net­work is clear.

  • [17]  Ske­fkef’s for­mu­la is based on an artists‘ work­shop in Casablan­ca who come togeth­er to work on a par­tic­u­lar local theme, as well as call­ing on alter­na­tive music bands to work on the same theme and take part in the publication.

  • [18]  Migo’s Ya’ jouj wa Ma’ jouj is an excep­tion in Tok­Tok (issues 7–14).

  • [19]   The Lebanese Acad­e­my of Fine Art (ALBA) has been the train­ing ground for gen­er­a­tions of artists who make up the major­i­ty of poten­tial actors in Lebanon.

  • [20]  L’Insitute Nationale des Beaux-Arts (Tétouan – Moroc­co), LAcadémie libanaise des beaux-arts — Alba (Lebanon) are the first, and maybe only, aca­d­e­m­ic insi­tu­tions to pro­pose a full aca­d­e­m­ic pro­gram in this domain. The Alba has trained gen­er­a­tions of Lebanese illus­tra­tors, which form the major­i­ty of comics artists in Lebanon. The Mutaz and Rada Sawaf Ara­bic Comics Ini­tia­tive of the Amer­i­can Uni­ver­si­ty of Beirut, found­ed in 2014, plays a pio­neer­ing role in the domain of aca­d­e­m­ic research in the com­ic genre in the Arab world, and also super­vis­es the annu­al Mah­moud Kahil Prize for artists work­ing in comics, car­i­ca­ture and illustration.

  • [21]   Mazen Ker­baj, Zeina Abirached, Michèle Stand­jovs­ki and Sleiman El-Ali for example.

AlgeriaArab cartoonistsEgyptLebanonMoroccopolitical speechTunisia

George Khoury (Jad) has been a comics critic, artist and animator since the ‘80s. He is a lecturer at the Lebanese American University in digital media, where he’s been the head of the Animation Department at Future Television since its launch in 1993. His artworks and movies have been featured in many local instances and international festivals. His comics Shahrazad was acquired by The National Museum of Comics in Angoûlème, France. Co-founder of the Lebanese Syndicate of Professional Graphic Designers, Illustrators and Animators, he has earned several awards for his artwork and filmography. Jad is author of the History of Arabic Comics in addition to several essays and articles related to art, comics and animation.


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