As attendees of the Sharjah International Bookfair in the UAE in November, one of the Outreach Center’s main goals was to connect with many of the artists with whom we have been in touch for various projects over the past year. Last year our programming focused onteaching and learning through comics and graphic novels brought us new knowledge and excitement about the innovative work being done by contemporary independent and grassroots comic artists in the Middle East region. There is in fact a remarkable flourishing of wonderfully sophisticated work—political and quotidian, poetic and playful—from Samandal in Beirut to Tok Tok in Cairo and beyond. This spring the Outreach Center will publish Muktatafaht, a comics collection showcasing the work of thirteen artists from Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and the Palestinian territories.
Seven of these artists were able to join us in Sharjah, giving us a chance to learn more about their current projects, thank them for their contributions, and (thrill of thrills!) do some drawing together.
From left to right: Tok Tok contributor Mohammed Tawfik, Tok Tok co-founder and contributor Mohamed el Shennawy, Outreach Center Curriculum Coordinator Anna Mudd, Samandal contributor Jana Trablousi, Egyptian comic artist Magdy el Shafee, comic scholar Nadim Damluji, author of "Falasteezee" Mahdi Fleifel, and political cartoonist Nidal Elkhairy.
Newest issues of Tok Tok and Samandal
In addition to the new issues of ongoing comic publications coming out of Cairo and Beirut, as well as new publications arising all the time, collaboration both across regions and mediums is also growing, catalyzed frequently by the political and activist dimensions of this work.
Magdy el Shafee is an Egyptian artist whose work was confiscated and destroyed under the Mubarak regime. He recently made his US debut as one of several comic artists from the Arab world featured in the most recent issue of the long-running radical US comic magazine “World War 3 Illustrated,” in an issue themed “liberation from the Mid-East to the Mid-West” alongside such US figures as radical anarchist comic artist Seth Tobocman.
This year the Outreach Center has developed programming around graffiti and street art as political protest, a medium which often intersects with the world of comics. One of the most compelling artists working in this medium goes by the name of Ganzeer; his pamphlets, street murals and print materials have been a fixture of the Tahrir protests of the past months. We were excited to learn about a recent zine (a small, independently published booklet), El Arab #1, that he created along with a range of comic and graphic artists.
Interior pages of Zine El Arab #1
The small, self published zine format can be a powerful way to produce and share work with immediacy. In the final days of the fair five of the artists (Barrack Rima, Mohamed el Shennawy, Jana Traboulsi, Nidal el Khairy, Mohammed Tawfik) produced a lovely, small book including sketches detailing their impressions of the city of Sharjah and their experiences on the trip.
This spirit of collaboration, innovation and creativity is what the Outreach Center has found so inspiring throughout the months in which we have explored this medium. And so we were delighted to have the opportunity not only to talk and plan, but to make some comics along side these inspiring artists.
Outreach Center Curriculum Coordinator Anna Mudd draws with Egyptian Comic Artist Magdy el Shafee
The fair itself had one panel devoted to comics, with a focus on artists working in more mainstream contexts and aesthetics. These included: Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa, creator of superhero series “The 99,” Qais Sedki, creator of the Manga series Gold Ring, and founders of the forthcoming UAE-based Middle East Comic-Con.
Qais Sedki and an organizer of the Middle East ComicCon
Both the comics themselves and the development of the creative communities surrounding their creation have been a wonderful lens through which to explore art and politics in the Middle East region over the past year and a half. We look forward to our continued involvement with them!