‘Point Zéro’: A Graphic Novel that Centers the Desert as Protagonist

Special from Arabook

Translated from the Italian by Arabook

“This book is not meant to give answers. I have nothing to say. I’m researching. And this book will be related to my research, in the most honest way possible. May this book be completed, without concessions.”

Point Zéro, page 122 

The desert, existence, fear: these are the pillars of Point Zéro, a graphic novel recognized in 2017 and 2018 by the Khalil Award and CairoComix. 

The book is the work of the artists Abir Gasmi and Kamal Zakour: the former has composed the scenario of the graphic novel, the latter the drawings. 

In January 2023, the publishing house Alifbata took up the challenge of bringing this graphic novel into French translation. Recently, the work has been published as well in Standard Arabic, thanks to the Tunisian publishing house Soubia. 

In it, we find a man walking through the desert: he is convinced that black crickets are the cause of the imminent end of the world. The search becomes morbid, and he decides it is up to him to search for the crickets and stop the catastrophe. At night, the spirit of the desert, Imashek visits him: they talk, remember, reflect. Imashek asks him to give up his plan, trying to convince him that existence, in all its aspects, has a beginning and an end.

In this context, the reader becomes witness to the annulment of the subtle border between reality and fantasy, between magic and reality. The journey is both a path to knowledge and a process of healing, and it is up to the reader to tell if the ultimate goal is the ego, the fears, or the limitations of the self. Among symbolic images that are inextricably linked to the desert we also find the freedom of the protagonist: between the rocks and the sand of the desert, life resumes. In the final pages, Kamel’s design reaches its peak: the vastness of the desert becomes the vastness of the human soul; death becomes life; the single moment becomes eternity. The last sequence shows us how it might be possible to represent the deafening silence of the desert.

In fact, the desert is the protagonist in the graphic novel as much as is man: it’s not just the place where the narrative takes place, but almost seems like a living being, endowed with a soul of his own, linked to Imashek’s spirit and to the protagonist. 

As often happens in Alifbata’s books, the narration doesn’t end with the pages of the graphic novel. On the contrary: the reader is invited to consider the work of the authors and the research behind the writing. In this case, we are presented with two photos of Kamal Zakour’s father and some excerpts from the diary-writing of the authors. 

Point Zéro was recently one of the books featured at the meeting “Translation Between the Shores of Mediterranean,” as the Alifbata-Soubia co-edition is a successful collaboration supported by the Institut Français through the project “Livres des 2 rives.” At the Brussels Book Fair, we reached out to Abir Gasmi to talk about this publication. 

Arabook: Let’s start at the beginning—what is the story of this graphic novel? 

Abir Gasmi: We started from Kamal’s personal history: his father was, between 1963 and 1998, a researcher in the desert who has long studied and done research to try to limit locust damage. I developed a story, and I made two drafts in French and Arabic. We met with Kamal when cutting the scenes and choosing the final narrative line of the graphic novel. 

Arabook: Did you choose to write in standard Arabic from the first draft?

AG: Yes. Of the first draft, I made one in French and one in Arabic. The decision to publish in Standard Arabic with Soubia does not derive so much from the possibility of making it accessible to more people, but from its history itself, which demanded the use of that register of Arabic. The themes, the story, the characters: classical Arabic was the only viable choice. 

Arabook: And what about the type of French?

AG: The published French version is still different from the first one I put to paper. We have worked a lot on the language and the director of Alifbata, Simona, pointed out to me that some of the expressions that I had used didn’t necessarily work in French. We still chose a registry high enough. 

Arabook: We found the choice of colors very interesting. Could you tell us about it?

AG: Indeed, in the graphic novel, the reality is black and white while the past and the dreams are in color. This duality is present throughout the story and takes shape in other dichotomies: for example, day and night. The day appears as the time of action and factuality. The night is the time of introspection, the moment of the day in which Imashek visits the protagonist. 

Arabook: What feedback did you get from the audience of the French and Arabic versions? 

AG: It was very different if we compare France and Tunisia. In France, we had a good public response with events, presentations, and many interested people. The Arabic version has been published very recently and since there is no infrastructure that can support the distribution of books, the response is late and not entirely clear. We will see in the coming months. 

This article is available in Italian on the website Arabook.