ArabLit contributor Nadia Ghanem writes that “The sixth edition of the International Comic Strip Festival in Algiers (FIBDA) delivered just what I was looking for: Algerian Love”:
By Nadia Ghanem
This manga, written in Algerian Derja and published by Z-Link Editions, is the work of Mohamed Amine Rahmani. It recounts the story of el-Nuri, a young Algerian guy in secondary school (lycée years) who finds a ‘love’ letter in his philosophy book addressed to him.
El-Nuri, between disbelief and a crush on the writer of this unopened love note, is hesitant but seduced. Aided by emotional support from Kamal el-terrorist, Zahira l-Khatira, and the twin-team Salim and Hakim, he sticks around to meet up with Leila the Bomba, and… I’ll stop here, I don’t want to spoil your first manga story in Derja, and hope this album gets much attention and wide distribution.
For those in Algiers, there are a few more copies at the Festival on Laabstore’s stand.
Laabstore is the French language magazine promoting Algerian mangas, also published by Z-Link. For those who don’t want to climb all the way up to the Martyrs’ monument, there are two more copies on the shelves of Le Tiers Monde bookstore (at 300 dinars).
And for those outside of Algiers? I do not know how you will get hold of it, and this illustrates the national and regional problem of book distribution, and the problem of few bookshops with available titles (and affordable ones). Algerian Love was published in 2013, and Z-Link editions have several more Algerian mangas that are well worth a read, but they are written in French and it is the Derja language ones that interest me, sorry Francophiles.
Mohamed Amine Rahmani notes on the final page that Algerian Love is composed in Derja from Biskra, a city in the East of Algeria. It is written using the Arabic script and what a relief that is. Arabic is the script that represents the sound of Derja the best I believe, but mostly it is the script with which the majority of young Algerians are comfortable.
What made Rahmani brave is what so many other cartoonists avoid: speaking in Algerian to Algerians. And who is the readership he primarily targets? I couldn’t say, and if you are or know Rahmani maybe you could ask him and tell me — well, us.
When we catch up, Mohamed Amine, I’d also like to have around the coffee table the Moroccan cartoonist Mostafa Oghniya with a Tagine of Rabbits. On an upper bookshelf at FIBDA’s largest tent featuring an international range of mangas, I saw thrice. That is, three versions of a Tagine of Rabbits, Mostafa Oghniya’s cartoon strip, which was first written in French. It was then translated and published in Moroccan Derja, written with the Arabic script, and also translated in Tamazight written in neo-Tifinagh script.
This album is more of a children’s book and recounts the tramway journey of Samir and his cousin Zineb, off to meet Samir’s big brother after a mysterious phone call from the latter. To calm Zineb’s and his own nerves until they arrive at their appointed stop, Samir speculates on the reason behind his brother’s urgent call, which must be motivated by giant rabbits and bald aliens.
I shall memorise Morocco’s choice of neo-Tifinagh just to decipher how to say “welcome aliens” in Tamazight.
On a final note, these comic strips or manga albums in Algerian and Moroccan are those I found in complete form. There was an exhibition of plates from a group of young cartoonists called Les Déchainés (the Unchained or Unbridled) who participated in a training from March to July 2013, and whose collective work is to be published as an album by Dalimen editions.
It is excerpts of their work that were displayed at FIBDA and among them was Fatma’s Memories (Dhikrayat Fatma), a cartoon strip set in 1942, written by Safia Ouarezki in Algerian Derja and drawn by Mahmoud Benameur. It traces the story of a dreamy young girl made to marry her tender cousin Amar. Amar soon leaves to fight for and in Europe, and American troops are posted in the village soon after. Fatma remembers, and I shall wait to listen to her story.
FIBDA is held on Riad el-Feth’s esplanade from 8 October to 12 October. Nadia Ghanem is a reader based in London and tweets at @ayatghanem.
And more for the graphic-novelling inclined: