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.
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.
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.