Q&A with Division: A New Graphic Novel-focused Publishing House in Egypt

As I was finishing off an article about the bookstores and other publishing ventures that have been launched since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, I saw a short note about a graphic novel called Autostrade, which will be released July 11 at Bikya Books and Café in Nasr City. I tugged on the thread and followed it to a new publishing house: Division Publishing. Since I wanted to include them in the article, I sent off a quick note with some hurried questions; co-founder Marwan Imam was kind enough to respond in detail.

I look forward to the launch on July 11, and having yet more to say about the venture after that. Meanwhile:

ArabLit: Your website says, “We aim at being a full scale comic book publishing company in Egypt and the Middle East.” This sounds terrific! So you will publish stand-alone graphic novels, like al-Shafee’s Metro, as well as collections like Autostrade?

Marwan Imam: Yes, as a matter of fact we are planning on publishing a vast array of comics and graphic novels.

Autostrade is our flagship publication, it is where the magic begins, the small 12 page episodes within are seeds to longer series afterwards. Basically after a couple of issues of autostrade the readers get to vote on the stories within the book. The highest voted stories get to become their own independent series. Voting is on our website www.divisionpublishing.com.

There is also an imprint of division publishing called “long division” this one is specifically made for longer graphic novels ones like metro and longer, very much like DC’s Vertigo it handles more mature content as well.

Magdy el Shafee is actually featured in Autostrade issue #1 with a story called El Qasr Remix, based on Tawfiq el Hakim and Taha Hussien’s collaboration “el Qasr” and it’s very different from Magdy’s usual work.

AL: When did you conceive Division Publishing?

MI: There has always been a deep urge within me to have a comic book publishing company, however it all began when I leaned over on Mohamed Reda, in our quality control class, and told him we need to start a comic book publishing house, we spend around five hours after class in the AUC library and Division was born. That was back in February 2011.

AL: Is Autostrade meant as magazine-type project, like TokTok? If so, how often will it come out? Or is it a one-time project, more like خارج السيطرة ? (OK, I see that @ganzeer says it’s a regular anthology, but how often?)

MI: Autostrade is actually twice as big as toktok, and we call it a book, because comics are of literary value similar to a book which is more than a magazine. It is however serialized. It will be bi-monthly isA so next issue is due in September.

Autostrade was inspired by anthologies like “Heavy Metal” in France and “Shonen Jump” in Japan. The whole point of it is to allow for artists and writers to have an outlet to publish their comics. We give them a chance to publish their work in Autostrade, and if the public likes it then they get their own series and publishing deal. That way we allow for the comic book industry to grow and allow for more people to get a chance to try their ideas without being restricted by insane editorial guesswork, the public decides what they like and that’s more fair in our opinion.

The whole idea of Division spurred from the fact that we as comic artists and writers were frustrated from publishing houses dealing with us as crazy people trying to sell them kids’ books. Comics are of huge literary value, not to mention an incredibly powerful medium in various genres and aspects. We want to show the world just how much can be done with comics once looked upon as a medium not a genre.

AL: My understanding was that خارج السيطرة , for instance, was a difficult project to finance because graphic novels are considerably more expensive than just, uh, “word” novels. And that traditional houses have been leery of graphic novels. But you think you can make a financial go of a graphic-novel publishing house?

MI: Well, the whole point of Division was that other publishing houses are very skeptical of graphic novels, the market is in need of a specialized publishing house to cater to the need of comics in the market as well as the hunger of hundreds of talented artists and writers that are dying to find an outlet for their creative talents but just can’t find it.

That being said, I never said financing graphic novels would be easy, but we believe in it enough to stand by it to work isA.  خارج السيطرة was a onetime project that was individually and independently published, meaning individuals pitched in to make it work. What we’re trying to do is bigger than a magazine or a book, we’re forming a company, albeit and independent publishing house, still an organization whose sole purpose is to publish, not to mention create, graphic novels and comics. Our entire capital is geared towards publishing. That is the whole point. We want to have creative individuals worry about creating a body of work, and not worry about financing and publishing, because that’s what we’re here for.

I believe Egypt has the potential for a comic book market. And is in fact hungry for it.

AL: Where will Autostrade be available? At Bikya and…?

MI: Right now the official selling venues are Bikya Book Café and Kryptonite Toys. After the release event on the 11th of July at Bikya, the books will be available in Bikya Book Café till our big release party on the 19th of july at Ahmed Shawky Museum in Giza. After that they should be available in major bookstores….  We will announce all the available locations on our website so stay tuned at www.divisionpublishing.com or follow us on twitter @divisioncomics and our facebook group http://www.facebook.com/DivisionPublishing

AL: The cover makes it look like Autostrade will be bilingual? Or am I making that up? Are you looking to go forward with primarily Arabic projects or (I’m only asking because the website is in English), multiple languages?

MI: Yes, that is true. Autostrade is in fact bilingual it is 50% English and 50% Arabic, I think we are the only people to attempt a bilingual comic book in the same book at the moment. It is a great risk and a great challenge but the whole idea was to allow our writers to write in the language they are most comfortable in, as well as to allow for a wider readability. Also there are some stories that would just sound perfect in one language and become incredibly silly in another, especially after translation. So keeping the stories in the original language is the best option, as far as we believe.

However there are plans of both a full international version of Autostrade that is all English as well as several Arabic only projects. Basically we would allow for both languages on equal grounds. There might be a bias towards Arabic due to the fact that most native speakers write in their native tongue, but we will allow equal opportunity for both languages.

AL: Are there other projects in the pipeline?

MI: Right now there are 2 standalone series in negotiation apart from Autostrade one in English the other in Arabic, however that is all I can say about them right now.

There is my own webcomic “Driving Home,” which is a free online webcomic published online through the division website on www.driving-home.com, driving home is episodic running Sunday through Thursday, episode 1 was up on july third.

Driving home was originally a newspaper strip comic that started in 2006 at AUC, it was originally published in Dimensions, the Student Union’s newspaper. Back then its editor in chief was Ethar el-Katatney, and if it wasn’t for her encouragement I believe “Driving Home” would’ve never come to existence.

A couple of years later, “Driving Home” then moved to The Caravan, AUC’s First ever student newspaper, run by the journalism department.

It stayed there for two more years until Amira Gabr, Mohamed Ramadan and myself founded The Independent, the first independently funded, and run, student newspaper, after The Independent was founded by a year “Driving Home” went there as the main editorial comic until the finale at the end of the Spring 2011 semester. Throughout these years it has won 3 awards, two from The Caravan and one from The Independent, as well as one of the strips was exhibited at the “Cairo Atelier” downtown along international cartoonists in an exhibition depicting cartoons of the revolution.

Now it just started again online, with a new direction and characters. Division Publishing is working on a compilation book that gathers every single strip of “Driving Home” since 2006 including some that were never published, never before seen episodes. This book is incredibly significant both to me because it’s a culmination of 5 years-worth of work as well as to the Egyptian community. “Driving Home” was an editorial comic, it provided social and political commentary and satire throughout these 5 years, so this book would be a compilation of 5 years-worth of political and social commentary about the AUC community and the Egyptian society at large, as well as some international events. I believe the book has a lot of sociological value as well as slight historic value, but then again I might just be too proud of it.

The Driving Home book should be out after Ramadan, we haven’t decided on a release date yet.

There is also one major graphic novel scheduled for next January, and of course Autostrade will be coming out every 2 months.

Also, if you haven’t seen Rolling Bulb, and its “New Idea journalism,” well, you should.