It’s not unusual that an adult would have a box of old comic books stashed somewhere. But avid Lebanese collector Henry Matthews—who apparently has collected tens of thousands of individual comics—is turning his passion into a historical and literary preservation project.

First was his Encyclopedia of Lebanese Comic Books, published this summer with funding from the Lebanese Ministry of Culture.

Next, he says, he plans to complete an encyclopedia of Egyptian comics, regardless of  funding. He’d also like to establish a heritage center for Arabic comic books, children’s books, and “recreational publications for adults.”

“I want to preserve history, not just comic books,” he told Lebanese American University, his alma mater.

In an interview with Now! Lebanon, Matthews spoke about the history of Arabic comics:

Lebanon is only the second Arab country to publish a periodical comic book. Egypt started with Samir in 1952, and Lebanon started with Dunia Al-Ahdath in 1955.

The heyday of Lebanese comics:

The heyday of the Lebanese comic book extended through the 1960s and 1970s, despite the war. Many experiments did not live long: Dunia Al-Abtal and Shater-Hassan, for example. But there was so much going on, and practically every publisher wanted to join the comic boom. There was a lot of experimentation.

The worth of comics:

They made youngsters love to read. Myself and other classmates of mine used to smuggle our comic books to class because our teacher, a grey-haired chisel-faced stern disciplinarian, thought of comic books as less than garbage. He was wrong, of course.

On the greater variety in Lebanese comics vs. their American counterparts:
Lebanese comic books usually carried much more variety than the American comic books, which mainly featured a main story and little or no editorial material. Lebanese and Arab comic books invariably included scientific, moral and cultural textual articles and short stories, so even the most partisan publication had neutral material to read.
And the future:

We have a chance to create a booming comics industry in Lebanon. We have the will and the talent, whether to produce original work or to translate and publish suitable foreign stories. A lot of new and young talent is here. They are eager to create. They love what they are doing. Look at Samandal, the newest Lebanese comic book, with stories in English and Arabic. It will take sacrifice and patience, but the publisher who can afford it will succeed in the long run, especially if he learns from the mistakes of earlier publishers.

5 thoughts on “The Past and Future of Arabic Comics

  1. Henry Matthews might look for a book called ‘Mickey, Samir et les autres’, published in the mid 1990s by CEDEJ in Cairo (www.cedej-eg.org), for some background to the world of comics in Egypt

  2. That is an amazing project. Arab comics have had a very strong impact on young readership with them also addressing issues of politics: Gamal Abdul Nasser at one point being a comic book character himself, so was Saddam Hussein, kids were educated on issues in Palestine by comic strips. Religion also used the format to educate on that end. Egyptian and Kuwaiti education ministries put out a lot of educational religious books in the 70’s and 80’s. And so on… Great post!

  3. Hi,
    I am after some of the Samir comics that featured the Phantom from the late sixties and early seventies. Any idea where I could find any (if they still exist).

    Thanks

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