Ganzeer on the Visual Language of ‘The Apartment in Bab El-Louk’

This month, Words Without Borders launched its International Graphic Novels: Volume VIIII, which features an excerpt from Donia Maher, Ganzeer, and Ahmed Nady’s “The Apartment in Bab El Louk,” trans. brilliantly by Elisabeth Jaquette.

The collaborative project is a gorgeous look at life in Bab El-Louk. You can see it here. Ganzeer answered a few questions about how it came about, and what he plans to do next.

Letterhead-draft2AL: How did this collaboration come about? How did it “work”? Did you talk it out, or just each do your part?

G: Pretty simple. Donia sent me her text, which I read and enjoyed. She did know that she wanted the visual to very much aid in the storytelling and not just be a meaningless add-on, but she did give me full control over the style and direction. I also had full control over what text would be on which page, how much text there would be, the whole thing. The very last part of her text was written in entirely in dialogue, no prose, to which she thought would be great if illustrated comic book style by the great Ahmed Nady. Upon reading it, I totally agreed that Nady would be great for that last bit, which to get him to do I had to bring him over to my place and pull a couple of all-nighters that were very much powered by delivered pizzas.

AL: What’s inspired your ideas about what’s possible in a “graphic novel”? Indeed, it neither follows the rules of telling a story (with rising & falling action / character development) nor of an ordinary graphic novel (with panels, sparse text, progressive action). It’s much more like a fabulous noir poem, or a video installation… Are there particular art forms that give you inspiration?

G: I would never attempt to pass “The Apartment in Bab El-Louk” as a graphic novel or anything remotely close to it. Just because there are drawings, doesn’t make it a comic book or graphic novel. The sequentiality that would exist on a singular page of your typical graphic novel is nowhere to be seen in this particular book, save for the very last nine pages illustrated by Ahmad Nady. An entire story told in full-page splashes just isn’t a graphic novel. The narration is a little bit more designy, making the book more of a visual album of sorts. Or as you eloquently put it: “a fabulous noir poem.”

The reason for this approach is very much due to Donia’s text, which had it been published without the visuals could not be categorized as a novella, because you don’t have that kind of narration that is typical of stories. It reads more like a reflective prose of some sort. Which I feel required a similar visual language to match it, and one in which the text would very much be a part of the image. This kind of marriage of reflective text and image requires a better understanding of design more so than illustration. Luckily, I get my inspiration from all kinds of mediums. I just love visual communication in all its forms.

AL: Where are you going next? Will you respond to the clamorous fans demanding you publish a graphic novel, trans. into many world languages?

G: I’m still struggling to free up the time and peace of mind to work on graphic novel. Or two. It’s sad because there’s already interest from a number of local publishers. Creating a graphic novel, however, is a very timely process, and publishers here don’t pay any advances, and I find it especially difficult to work on more than one thing at once, so the only way I’d be able to put out a graphic novel was if I didn’t have to worry about rent money or food for a good year. Maybe 2015? Maybe never? 😀