The Time to Publish (Your) Arabic Graphic Novel is…Now

The Arabic graphic novel has had a somewhat rocky start. Dogged by financial issues, censorship, and a suspicion that it is not really for grown-ups, the genre is just now finding its legs.

The bilingual 8×8 magazine, launched in 2005, was one of the pioneers, but did not survive. Lebanese-based Samandal published its first issue in 2007, and has managed to keep afloat. They rolled out their tenth issue this past December, and promise to distribute to more Arabic-reading countries soon.

It was 2008 when the first full-length graphic novel was published in Arabic. Magdy al-Shafee’s Metro, however, was not long on shelves. It was soon yanked, banned, and al-Shafee convicted of offending public decency.

As Ganzeer’s Mohamed Fahmy notes below, it was also in 2008 that he and George Azmy published an 80-page graphic novel titled Ruins of the Future or “أطلال المستقبل,” which was “published by the Contemporary Image Collective, and [is] currently living it up in their storage rooms, due to a little managerial shuffle at the time of the graphic novel’s publishing.”

Things took a step forward again with the successful launch of TokTok magazine late last year. The magazine is now distributed at bookstores throughout Egypt, and organizers have declared that their next deadline is the first of April (insha’allah), with a release date some time in April.

It’s still unclear what effects the Jan. 25 revolution will have on publishing. But things have proved positive for al-Shafee’s agent, who announced that Metro will be published in English by Metropolitan Books. Al-Shafee was hopeful that his novel would also be available soon in Egypt. He said that Dar Merit will publish the novel once Egypt’s Minister of Culture grants his appeal. The author told CNN:

I’m waiting to hear if the Minister of Culture will allow it to be published again. They will have to consult with the courts. I’m hoping there may be some kind of apology.

But, unless Emad Abu Ghazi works quickly, another new graphic novel will make it to press before Metro. The newest Arabic graphic novel, خارج سيطرة , or Out of Control, has a launch scheduled for April 3. The novel features work by Rania Amin (author of the “Farhana” children’s books), Ashraf Hamdy, Hatem Fathy, and many others.

Meanwhile, even more Arabic graphic novels are on the horizon. Lebanese author Lena Merhej’s Jam and Yoghurt has recently been released. And the Arab Culture Fund’s graphic novel program (Arabic), which is  “aimed at nurturing the merging wave of comic artists…by producing and publishing several graphic novels and bringing these books to the public eye” is on the lookout for new talent. It launched a call for proposals on February 1, and organizers plan to select three grant-ees, each of whom will receive “funding and editorial guidance,” as well as publication through Samandal.

The winning works will also be translated.