How To: Translating Comix from Arabic

A first workshop on understanding and translating comix from Arabic to English is being held today at SOAS, with a second workshop to follow on Sunday:

The workshop foregrounds work by the sharply talented Deena Mohamed — award-winning author of Shubbeik Lubbeik as well as the popular webcomic Qahera — and is co-faciliated by literary translators Sawad Hussain and Nariman Youssef.

The workshop promises to explore challenges and possibilities specific to translating comics, such as: “the tension between image and text, the importance of sound, wordplay and humour, and culture-specific visual language.”

Although the literary program at the Shubbak festival got off to a somewhat unsteady start Sunday morning — Moroccan novelist Leila Slimani was unable to attend and Saudi novelist Badriyah al-Bishr was pressed mostly on political and social issues rather than her writing — but Deena Mohamed was open and compelling on a wide range of topics, from writing comix to censorship to “Suzanne Mubarak feminism” to footballer Amr Warda.

At the Sunday event, Mohamed talked about why she started the popular Qahera when she was just 18: “It was originally started because I read an extremely mysoginist article online…it was about how to choose a wife, it was to date the worst article I’ve read.”

She started writing the comic in English because the article she was reading to was in English. “I didn’t think it would have An arabic readership because superheroes aren’t really our thing…but it was surprisingly popular in Egypt.”

After Mohamed made Qahera bilingual & developed an audience in Egypt, she felt: “Oh yeah I can talk about Egyptian issues now,” and she said that felt more fun. When asked about censorship, Mohamed said that, when she started drawing and writing Qahera, she didn’t self-censor because she didn’t expect an audience. “When more people read it, I started to self-censor…” For a time, she said, she stopped doing the web comic because there was no way to be honest and keep it open.

It is risky, she added, to be well-read. “It’s kind of a comfort that I get to stay in the women’s rights zone.”


More about the Tuesday workshop at Shubbak and the Sunday workshop that’s part of Africa Writes.

A review of Shubbeik Lubbeik at Mada Masr.

An interview with Deena Mohamed is forthcoming.

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