Ustaz Magdy with the Italian edition of "Metro."

The other day, after putting money behind a friend’s album, I thought, Hunh: Instead of Egyptian authors constantly raiding their own pockets, perhaps crowdsourcing some publications might be a good idea.

A day later, I got a note from Harvard’s Center for Middle Eastern StudiesAnna Mudd about the Kickstarter campaign for  Muktatafaht (a Middle East Comics Anthology).

The anthology is set to include work by Egyptians Magdy al-Shafee (Metro), Mohamed el Shennawy (TokTok), and Mohammad Tawfik (TokTok, CafCaf); Lebanese artists Maya Zankoul (Maya’s Amalgam), Lena Merhej (Jam and Yogurt), Jana Traboulsi, Wassim Mouawad, Barrack Rima, Ghadi Gosn, and Sandra Ghosn (most if not all with work in Samandal); Palestinians Mahdi Fleifel and Basel Nasr; and Mike V. Derderian of Jordan.

Although they have an FAQ posted with the campaign, and I know it originated with Harvard’s “Graphic Novels and the Middle East” schools outreach project, I thought I would ask organizer Anna Mudd to clarify a few things about the anthology.

ArabLit: Can you explain the roots of the project? How did you go from an educational resource to publishing an anthology? Who’s editing the anthology?

Anna Mudd: Last year we focused on a variety of intersections between the Middle East region, comic arts and graphic novels – exploring works by artists in the west made about the region, as well as work coming out of the Middle East with a focus on the potential for the visual narratives as tools for teaching and learning.

Toward the end of the year we sponsored a day long draw-in workshop to encourage students on Harvard’s campus as well as in the larger Boston community to come and create narratives based on their experiences coming from the Middle East or a Muslim community or living and studying in the region. (See images and write up here.) As part of this event we skyped with various independent and grassroots artists from the region to discuss their experiences with the craft of comic arts. (See video interview here.)

My own personal interest is often what is being done on the grassroots and independent level. It’s great that large scale publications like The 99 are getting so much attention, but often the most innovative work being done “on the ground” gets so much less visibility. Collaborative periodicals like Tok Tok in Egypt and Samandal in Lebanon are tremendous examples of the wellspring of creativity that is going on in the region and we started thinking about the Outreach Center playing an active role in bringing more visibility to this work in the United States. To my knowledge there is no collection of Arabic-language or contemporary comics from the Middle East that exists in the U.S. today and also nothing that is bringing together the work that is being done in different comic “hot spots” in the regions – Cairo, Beirut, etc…

The volume is being edited by myself, the Outreach Center director Paul Beran and Outreach Center Special Curator A. David Lewis, who himself is a scholar and creator of comics.

The past year of programming has continued to build our enthusiasm for graphic and comic arts as a compelling and powerful took for communication – from narratives of everyday life to political satire and subversion. We hope that this collection will support both visibility for these artists as well as access for audiences in the U.S. to learn about their work.

AL: How would you characterize the anthology? Does it have a particular theme? How did you explain the project to the contributing artists?

AM: We had many conversations with the contributing artists, many of whom we had been in communication with throughout last year’s programming. The volume will feature original work, but as editors we decided that the collection would not have any particular theme, because we did not want the artists to feel that they were working toward any agenda from us.

Our focus is on demonstrating the huge range of topics, content, tones and visual styles represented in the current comics scene in the Middle East, and so we only asked that artists submit a piece that they felt represented their work.

AL: Are you looking for more artists, or are you full up?

AM: At this point we have already finalized the contributions for this volume, but if it does well the best case scenario would be for there to be future volumes featuring even more artists!

AL: Do you know who the translators will be? How are you soliciting translators?

AM: All works that are originally in Arabic or other non-English languages will be included in that original language, but with English “subtitles.” The translations will be submitted by the artists who, of course, know their work best.*

AL: Why free of charge? Where will it be distributed, or will people have to request it by mail? Once supplies are gone, will you print more? Would you be willing to sign on with a publisher?

AM: The volume will be distributed free of charge. If we reach our goal for the kickstarter campaign the first distribution venue will be Free Comic Book Day (http://www.freecomicbookday.com/) – a great event that showcases new work in comic venues throughout the country. Future printings will be contingent on funding and we will be actively looking for funding streams that may support this project. We are, of course, also interested in distribution within the Middle East, but our initial focus will be in the U.S.

AL: How will you decide if the project was successful?

AM: The project will be successful if we are able to produce the volume and make it available to audiences who would not otherwise have learned about the work of these artists! The Outreach Center is new to this process and the whole project has been a learning experience; it has been a tremendous opportunity to connect with incredibly innovative and creative voices in the Middle East today. Depending on what happens with the Kickstarter campaign we may need to get creative with how we move forward, but we are committed to creating a finished volume worthy of these incredibly talented contributors.

*Obviously, translators would be an additional expense; hopefully, the authors themselves know volunteer-translators willing to give them a hand with their texts. I am doubtful that most authors can do justice to their work in another language.