When I met Egyptian graphic novelist and children’s-book illustrator Achraf Abd Elazim last week, he declared that the world has three hubs of comics creativity: New York, the Franco-Belge folks, and Japan.
Abd Elazim added: “We need to have another one here.”
I’m sure I nodded vehemently, imagining that by “here” he meant the International Comics Festival of Algeria, which celebrated its fourth year in October 2011; or the events and talent surrounding Samandal in Beirut; or the explosive comics creativity in Cairo, with its TokTok and 8×8 and خارج سيطرة and Autostrade.
But Abd Elazim mentioned none of these. “I think it will be Dubai.”
Cairo Minister of Culture Shaker Abdel Hamid approved — last Tuesday, apparently — a plan to raise the profile of the cartooning arts in Egypt. These plans include both a museum and an international festival. But, unfortunately, having the government’s help with an international cartooning festival is not likely a boon.
Meanwhile, the Emirates is building its role in the comic arts brick by brick. The recent Sharjah (November 2011) and Abu Dhabi (March-April 2012) book fairs both had special areas for illustrators and graphic novelists, and Sharjah brought together prominent graphic novelists from Beirut and Cairo. And next weekend’s first regional comics convention — the Middle East Film & Comic Con — will be held April 20 and 21 at the Dubai International Marine Club.
Certainly, one Comic Con doth not a comics hub make. US-based graphic novelist Anna Mudd noted, in a previous piece for ArabLit, that, “Relationships between the larger Comic Cons and the numerous more independently oriented expos and fests in the U.S. are always interesting, and it will certainly be noteworthy to see how these communities develop in the Middle East region.”
But Abd Elazim was having none of my suggestion that the center of the comics world should be in Algiers, Beirut, or Cairo. “The experience is here,” he said, indicating Cairo. Well, some of the experience. He also noted that many comics artists in Egypt who do single-panel work “don’t read enough” to produce full-length graphic novels. But, in any case, Beirut, Cairo, and Algiers are full of comics talent.
But Abd Elazim insisted that the money and organization needed to create a comics hub — and thus the central location of the hub — are in the Emirates.