American University in Beirut Launches Sawwaf Comics Initiative; Egyptian Comix Week Starts Tomorrow

Comics — and graphic novels — continue to blossom in Arabic-writing hotspots, including Algiers, Beirut, and Cairo:

sawwaf-comics-in1Starting tomorrow, the first edition of Between Cadres (BECA) — Egypt Comix Week — will take place in Alexandria and Cairo. It is, according to Ahram Online, “the first large scale event in Egypt dedicated to comics.”

The week of exhibitions, workshops, discussion groups, and lectures has been organized by the Alliance Française, the Goethe Institute and Sefsafa publishers. Artists from Egypt, Germany, and France will participate. They include German comic artists Isabel Kreitz and Barbara Yelin, French artists Marc-Antoine Mathieu and Jean-Marc Troubet, and Egyptians Michel Maalouf and Fawaz.

Cartooning has a long and rich history across the region — hence the Sawwaf Arabic Comics Initiative at the American University of Beirut (AUB). Mu’taz Sawwaf, whose family is supporting the initiative, said in a prepared statement that comics and cartoons have always influenced society and public opinion and continue to inspire them in the 21st century.

“Yet no one has tried to understand and promote comics art from an educational, academic, and entertainment perspective, nor has anyone honored the Arab pillars of this very creative art form,” Sawwaf said.

Lina Ghaibeh, an associate professor of animation, motion, and graphics at the AUB, has been named the founding director of the initiative. In the release, she said that she hoped “we will be able to grow this initiative and develop it into a full-fledged Arabic Comics Center for the study of this Arabic cultural heritage.”

As Jonathan Guyer notes over at Oum Cartoon, Ghaibeh’s recent lecture on propaganda and Arab comics is worth watching.

But while short-form political cartoons, and longer ones for children, have a rich history in many Arab cities, the interest in longer works for adults is relatively new.  “Young people are looking for forms of expression that represent them,” cartoonist Haytham Ramadan told Ahram Online. They’re finding it in places like the popular comics-based magazine TokTok, he said.

The Ahram Online piece also sounds a note of warning on the future of Egyptian comics, slipping into first person:

It is still not clear if the margin of freedom in Egypt will curb the momentum that is still in its infancy, and what the future of comics in Egypt will be.

We still remember the destiny of the first Egyptian graphic novel by Magdi Al-Shafei, Metro, released in January 2008.

Metro is available in Cairo again, although in very limited distribution.