Anna Mudd drawing with Magdy al-Shafee.

Publisher, educator, and graphic novelist Anna Mudd recently attended the 30th Sharjah International Book Fair, where she collaborated with a number of prominent Arab graphic novelists.  She writes:

As one of two staff members of the Outreach Office at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Harvard, I was thrilled at the chance to attend this year’s 30th International Bookfair at Sharjah.

A priority for our time at the event was the chance for myself and the center director to meet many of the artists who will be contributing to Muktatafaht, the forthcoming anthology of independent comics from the Middle East Region. (Muktatafaht will be released and distributed throughout the U.S. during Free Comic Book Day run by Diamond Comic Distributors in May of 2012.)

Not only was this a chance to meeting, talk (and, thrill of thrills, draw) with the talented folks with whom I had only been emailing and skyping for the past year and a half, but also a chance to get more of a sense of the growing context for independent, grassroots as well as mainstream comics in the region.

So, what did we learn?

Seven of the thirteen artists contributing to Muktatafaht were able to attend the fair. The collection itself is in no way intended to be comprehensive (what a feat it would be to include all of the vast talent working in the region today!), but to highlight pieces by artists with whom we have worked on various programming over the past year, and whose work we find particularly compelling. Pictured above are (from left to right) is the Cario-based Tok Tok contributor Mohammed Tawfik, Tok Tok co-founder and contributor Mohamed el Shennawy, myself, Beirut-based Samandal contributor Jana Trablousi, Egyptian comic artist Magdy el Shafee, U.S. based comic scholar Nadim Damluji (not a contributor but a new friend and colleague), author of “Falasteezee” Mahdi Fleifel and Jordan-based political cartoonist Nidal Elkhairy. (Not pictured: Samandal contributor Barrack Rima.)

We were excited to not only see the newest editions of Tok Tok (3 and 4) and Samandal (11) but to hear about increasing cross-regional collaborations and projects with which many of the artists were involved. Magdy el Shafee, making his U.S. debut, was one of several comic artists from the Arab world featured in the most recent issue of the long running radical comic magazine “World War 3 Illustrated,” in an issue themed “liberation from the Mid-East to the Mid-West” along side such U.S. figures as radical anarchist comic artist Seth Tobocman.

Barrack Rima was one of four artists who participated in “Doppio Senso,” a project in experimental aesthetics pairing Lebanese and Italian comic artists as part of recent comic gathering in Italy.

Collaboration and cross inspiration between comic and street artists has a lengthy legacy, particularly in radical circles. Another project we were excited to see was the new zine including the work of many graphic and comic artists produced with Egyptian graffiti artist Ganzeer.

And of course, comic work itself continues to grow, with new projects such as the Lebanese La Furie des Glandeurs. We were particularly excited to make the acquaintance of Nadim Damluji, mentioned above, whose work is exploring this wide range of Middle East comics from an academic perspective.

Emirati graphic novelist Qais Sedki talks about his work for children.

The fair itself had one panel devoted to comics, though its focus was on artists working in more mainstream contexts and aesthetics. Creator of superhero series“The 99” Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa, creator of the Manga series Gold Ring Qais Sedki and founders of the forthcoming UAE-based Middle East Comic-Con were featured, among others.

Relationships between the larger Comic Cons and the numerous more independently oriented expos and fests in the U.S. is always interesting, and it will certainly be noteworthy to see how these communities develop in the Middle East region. The kinds of film and gaming focus tied in to events such as Middle East Comic Con have allowed them to draw on a significant field of media sponsors and I’m sure the event will generate a large amount of visibility when it comes to fruition. (As a side note, for a great look at the intersection worlds of critical politics and Sci Fi, check out the great blog “Islam and Science Fiction” at http://islamscifi.com/)

At the fair’s conclusion (and, sadly, one day following our departure) four of the remaining artists produced a small zine combining sketches and reflections. We have not yet received our copy but will post as soon as we do!