WatWat Takes Flight: Arabic Comics for Young Readers

Special from Arabook.It

Since its creation in 2007, the comics collective Samandal has published more than 17 magazines, six anthologies, and six graphic novels. What’s more, the collective has undertaken numerous initiatives for the promotion of comics in Lebanon. From this experience, the youth-focused WatWat or “Bat” project was born in 2018.

Since that year, the project has grown significantly, and WatWat has now turned into a website: a free-access platform that allows readers to download and peruse several graphic novels aimed at younger readers.

The Lebanese artist Lena Merhej is one of the founders of the project, and she was kind enough to explain, first of all, the choice of this curious name. The bat is a flying animal, but it also lives in caves and is not too distant from the salamander (the name chosen for “Samandal”), which, with its amphibious nature, is particularly fitting for comics. The bat also carries with it an echo of the well-known superhero Batman.

What makes this project special? First of all, the goal: WatWat aims to promote the spread of comics among younger readers, especially those under 18. At present, full-length comic narratives in Arabic targeting this age range, that are not Disney productions, can be counted on the hand. The project aims therefore at helping to fill this gap.

But WatWat and its website not only provide a space for artists; they are also a comprehensive project that seeks to contribute to the exchange of ideas, experiences, and opinions. Through WatWat, the Samandal collective has organized various workshops about comics in public libraries in Lebanon. One scenario workshop was organized in partnership with the non-governmental association ASSABIL. In addition, the Watwat project has launched three script-writing competitions: one aimed specifically at teenagers, one on the subject of biography, and one about personal challenges.

The result was a collection of compelling works through which we can appreciate the skill of the youngest creators, as well as the distinctive features of the Arab cartoonists who guided them in this experiment.

Lena Merhej refers to her experience in this project as a practice of constant learning, both on the part of those who tried drawing comics for the first time, and also on the part of the more established artists. The goal, as she told us, is to continue publishing over time on this platform.

There are currently eight stories on the site.

Among these, two are translated. One was translated from Spanish into Arabic: “Maria wa Ana” (Maria and I), a story that revolves around the theme of autism; and “Nini Batalu” by the artist Lisa Mandel, was translated from the French.

In addition, there are two stories coming from the competitions “Katy wa al-khayata” (Katy and the Tailor) and “al-Hujrat” (The Wardrobes). “Katy wa al-khayata” was written by Nour Rafei when she was only 12 and illustrated by Carla Habib.

Then, there are two works created upon commission: one by Walid Taher and another one by Nour Hifaoui and Ghassan Naja.

“Al-Faqd” (The Loss), drawn by acclaimed Egyptian artist and writer Walid Taher, tells about a character who continues to lose objects day by day. 

Nour Hifaoui (artist) and Ghassan Naja (author) worked together on “Khutta Muhkama” (A Well-conceived Plan), which tells about the lives of contemporary teens and the challenges they face. 

Finally, you will find the two episodes of “Madd wa jazar” (Ebb and Flow), drawn by Ghadi Gasn, working in concert with the celebrated Lebanese author Fatima Sharafeddine.

This is certainly a project to follow, from which we expect great future comics.

This is running simultaneously at arabook.it, where you can read it in Italian.