Graphic Novels: ‘Everybody’s Doing Them’

That’s the School Library Journal’s assessment of the U.S. ALA convention: Graphic novels are everywhere, raining down from children’s-book publishers.

And, of course, they’re not just for kids any more: Art Spiegelman, Ari Folman, Joe Sacco, Marjane Satrapi, Darwyn Cooke and others have turned graphic novels (or comic books, as Sacco prefers) into an adult occupation.

So what of graphic novels in Arabic?

Camille Soler writes that, in Cairo and Beirut—two cities that have long traditions of political cartooning and caricature—the graphic-novel genre is starting to blossom.

Unfortunately, in Cairo, this blossoming has been met by the cold wind of censorship. After Magdy Shafee’s Metro—the first Egyptian graphic novel for grown-ups—was presented at the Cairo book fair, it was censored, yanked from shelves, and the author and publisher fined 5,000LE for offending public morals. I believe they are still appealing.

In Lebanon, there are more graphic novels popping up. Soler notes the work of Zeina Abirached and Mazen Kerbaj (at left); there is also Joumana Medlej’s superhero narrative Malaak: Angel of Peace, written in a mixture of French, English, and transliterated Arabic.

If the Emirates really wants to jump-start reading in the region, I suggest two things (in addition to a freer book industry): 1) books must be A LOT less expensive, as they (sometimes) are in India, and 2) why not a prize for high-quality, literary graphic novels?

UPDATE: From Al-Masry Al-Youm, a video clip (with terrifying pop music): Cartoon Harvest 2009. Cartoonists lament the lack of independent outlets, but: “Over the past three to four years, I’ve noticed the number of cartoonists is on the rise.”

“This [Harvest ’09] is the most important exhibit, showcasing all the cartoonists at large in Egypt.”