‘Barbatoze’ Creator on What the Egyptian Graphic Novelling Scene Has, and What It Needs

For the last year, Sherif Adel has been sharing his comics, and sometimes those of some of his friends, at برباطوظ (barbatoze.tumblr.com). He shares his thoughts on blogging his work and the Egyptian graphic-novelling scene.

Copyright Sherif Adel.
Copyright Sherif Adel, barbatoze.tumblr.com/

ArabLit: You said in an interview with Daily News Egypt that you want to make people laugh. So that’s first. Are there other reasons you draw and publish comics (instead of just cleaning teeth)? [Editor’s note: Adel is also a dentist.]

Sherif Adel: To tell a story. To get better at telling stories. I’m a firm believer in “learning by doing”, I consider Barbatoze comics a way of getting experience and improving my skills as a cartoonist. Gaining audience and getting feedback is it’s cherry on top.

AL: You said in DNE that you’re working on a book. What do you see as the benefits to printing up a book vs. only reaching your audience online? Will you publish parts of the book on your website?

SA: My main goal has always been to get into print. In my opinion online audiences are a lot different than book readers. Online readers want something short, funny, or clever; they’re less conscious about what makes a comic a comic. Book readers are the ones looking for a story, they want to get lost in it and are much more likely to hang around till you’re done telling your tale.
I’ll probably publish a teaser for it online, perhaps the first chapter, something to catch people’s interest. We’ll see.

AL: What do you think makes a really good single-panel comic? Multi-page comic? Full-length graphic novel? Do they require very different skills?


SA: Yes, definitely a big difference. Making a graphic novel is a lot like making a movie. You have a premise. You create the characters, not just the way they look, but also their psychology, the way they talk and behave. You write what is a basically a movie script, with location descriptions, dialogue, and everything that’s going around in the background. When you’ve got yourself a script, you start imagining the scenes and how you’re going to fit everything into panels. Making a shorter comic has a lot less emphasis on the characters since readers wont be invested in them for too long, and much more influence on delivering the punchline. I’m terrible at single-panel comics or caricatures. I think it mainly relies on visuals, Kinda like slapping an idea onto your face. Not really my thing.

AL: What are the most exciting things happening on the Arabic comic (and graphic novel) scene today?

SA: The most exciting thing happening in the Arabic comics scene, is that it exists! People are becoming more aware of comics as a medium. The idea that comics are geared towards children is slowly fading. Cartoonists and artists in general, are getting more recognition. On a personal note, I love the fact that we now have a professional comic book store in Egypt — Kryptonite Toys. I once straight up went to the owner of the place and told him: I love that this place exists!

AL: What does the Egyptian, and Arabic-language comics scene need that it doesn’t currently have?


SA: Maybe publishing houses that are specialized in comics. Not sure if that exists yet.* I’d also like to see weekly Egyptian/Arabic comic magazines that are aimed at children but not necessarily cheesy; something that is kid-friendly but I would enjoy reading it myself.

AL: As a parent, I second that! Do you also enjoy reading regular novels (with only words) and/or poetry? What sort? 

SA: I read a lot of novels. Satire, horror, thriller, crime, drama, you name it. Here’s a few of my favorites: Ready Player One, The White Tiger, Life of Pi, Tokyo, Trainspotting, ثلاثية غرناطة, تراب الماس, عزازيل, يوتوبيا.** Not really interested in poetry, though.

AL: Do you have advice for emerging graphic novelists/comics artists?

SA: Yes. I wasted a lot of time over-criticizing my work and thinking it’s not good enough. Things only started to turn when I decided to have a positive attitude and to think, OK, maybe this isn’t as perfect as I would like it to be, but it will do for now, and it will get better. That was when I actually started to learn.

AL: You have also had guest artists on Barbatoze. Do you want Barbatoze to become a place where many artists can share their work? Or you envision it mainly as your own?

SA: I consider it a personal project, I don’t really see it as a place for people to share their work.

*Editor’s note: There have been a few attempts; recently, for instance, the Comics Shop launched and brought out the new edition of Magdy al-Shafee’s Metro in Arabic. 
**Those are: Radwa Ashour’s Granada Trilogy, Ahmed Mourad’s Diamond Dust, Youssef Ziedan’s Azazeel and Ahmed Khaled Towfik’s Utopia.