How (and Why) You Should Become the Next Great Graphic Novelist

I hope I don’t harp on this too much, but (grown-up) comics are just…so…cool. The piece below ran in the Egypt Independent print edition, and is now online, with two elaborations from TokTok’s Mohammed Shennawy and Rolling Bulb’s Mohamed Fahmy (Ganzeer):

Recent work by Lena Merhej.

Shennawy’s additional advice to budding graphic novelists was to support the whole field:

هي المتابعة الدائمة للمطبوعات والفنانين الجدد في عالم الكوميكس وايضا نشر اعمالهم لأن النشر وطبع الأعمال بيظهر الأخطاء ويكسب خبرة كبيرة جدا!

And Ganzeer said:

1. Practice! Like A LOT!
2. Research: Yes, not only is it important to read comics, but its important to read about how people make comics. This can be done through books as well as sharing experiences via online forums, etc. Some of the resources that have been most valuable to me are How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way by Stan Lee and John Buscema as well as Comics and Sequential Art by Will Eisner. Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud is also a very important resource. Other less comic book related but still important in terms of storytelling would be The Five C’s of Cinematography and a series of screenwriting columns by Tedd Eliot and Terry Rosio called “Word Play”
3. Other Art: Personally, I found learning about graphic design, typography, and other forms of visual art to be equally as useful.
4. Other Writing: It’s very important to read other books and novels and not just comic books.
And then, the rest of the article begins:

Graphic novels are “cheap, fast, and accessible,” according to Amir, author of “Zahra’s Paradise,” (he has chosen, along with his illustrator partner Khalil, to remain anonymous for political reasons). “All you need is a pencil and an imagination, and you can break through barriers of space, time, money and even language.”

This barrier-breaking capacity is what makes graphic novels one of the most enticing forms for writers reaching out to new audiences in Egypt and beyond.

The presence of graphic novels is growing worldwide. After years of being seen as something that was only for children, “comics” are blossoming in hotspots around the world, including Algiers, Beirut and Cairo. Shelf space in bookstores is expanding, and local and regional artists have put together a number of well-loved collections, including “TokTok,”“Samandal,” “Autostrade” and “Out of Control.”

With the surge in regional artists working on walls and paper, and a long and storied history of Arab comics, there are high expectations for the Arab graphic novel. On the flip side, Arab readers also have the potential to bloom.

Kuo-Yu Liang, vice president of the comics-focused Diamond Book Distributors, has done several book-fair trips to the region. He told the trade magazine “Publishers Weekly” that he has his eyes on the “180 million people aged between 15 and 24” who read, or should read, in Arabic, and that he hopes to translate more graphic novels into Arabic.

It’s not only foreigners who are interested in selling graphic novels to Arab readers. “More and more [Egyptian] publishers are interested in this field now,” says Egyptian children’s book author and graphic novelist Rania Hussein Amin.

She says publishers hope “that this could partly solve the problem of the poor market for books in Egypt,” as they think graphic novels are “probably the new thing that will get … young people interested in books.”

It certainly looks like a perfect marriage: Young Arab readers + graphic novels = true love, forever.

However, the relationship has hit a few bumps along the way. Lebanese graphic novelists have gotten off the ground more quickly, although in a variety of languages. Mazen Kerbaj, who has been called a “millennial Handala,” writes mostly in French. Joumana Medlej writes mostly in English, and the pioneering comics magazine “Samandal” is trilingual.

Egypt’s first graphic novels have been more solidly Arabic-language explorations, with books such as Mohamed Fahmy’s “Atlal al-Mustaqbal” (Ruins of the Future), and the collections “Out of Control” and “TokTok.”

But the graphic novel that garnered the most attention — Magdy al-Shafee’s “Metro” — is now available only in translation. The original Arabic remains banned in Egypt. Keep reading over at Egypt Independent. Rania in particular has lots of fabulous, specific advice for budding graphic novelists.