From my recent essay in The Paris Review Daily, in which I uncover links between vintage Arabic noirs and contemporary graphic novels in Egypt:

[A] modern-day equivalent of pulp is the graphic novel—an emerging medium that illustrates the divey corners that sleuths and skirts frequented a half century ago. Metro, by Magdy El-Shafee, is known as the original Arabic adult comic book, and it’s a kind of Cairo noir: on the first page, a beleaguered young computer programmer decides to rob a bank. When it was first published in 2007, Egyptian authorities seized all copies from the publisher, though the reason remains a mystery. Was it the narrator’s harsh antiregime attitude, his use of nudity and expletives, or the publisher’s activist reputation? The book was republished in Cairo after Hosni Mubarak took a fall, but it’s still hard to find in Arabic. (It’s on sale worldwide in translation.)
Whatever the reason for the comic’s censorship, its notoriety provoked other young artists to engage with noir aesthetics in telling contemporary stories of depravity. Ganzeer, the pseudonym of a thirty-two-year-old graphic artist whose art installations and graffiti are landmarks in Cairo and elsewhere, is inspired by Metro’s antihero. “Of course you could relate to someone opposing the government, opposing the police, more so than you can relate to this idea of a noble police officer who has to solve crimes for the greater good,” Ganzeer has said. This is the common thread between the new graphic novels and noirs of old: don’t trust the law.

Continue reading.


Detail from Ganzeer’s illustration / The Apartment in Bab El-Louk, by Donia Maher, Ganzeer, Ahmed Nady, 2014.

From my recent essay in The Paris Review Daily, in which I uncover links between vintage Arabic noirs and contemporary graphic novels in Egypt:

[A] modern-day equivalent of pulp is the graphic novel—an emerging medium that illustrates the divey corners that sleuths and skirts frequented a half century ago. Metro, by Magdy El-Shafee, is known as the original Arabic adult comic book, and it’s a kind of Cairo noir: on the first page, a beleaguered young computer programmer decides to rob a bank. When it was first published in 2007, Egyptian authorities seized all copies from the publisher, though the reason remains a mystery. Was it the narrator’s harsh antiregime attitude, his use of nudity and expletives, or the publisher’s activist reputation? The book was republished in Cairo after Hosni Mubarak took a fall, but it’s still hard to find in Arabic. (It’s on sale worldwide in translation.)

Whatever the reason for the comic’s censorship, its notoriety provoked other young artists to engage with noir aesthetics in telling contemporary stories of depravity. Ganzeer, the pseudonym of a thirty-two-year-old graphic artist whose art installations and graffiti are landmarks in Cairo and elsewhere, is inspired by Metro’s antihero. “Of course you could relate to someone opposing the government, opposing the police, more so than you can relate to this idea of a noble police officer who has to solve crimes for the greater good,” Ganzeer has said. This is the common thread between the new graphic novels and noirs of old: don’t trust the law.

Continue reading.

Detail from Ganzeer’s illustration / The Apartment in Bab El-Louk, by Donia Maher, Ganzeer, Ahmed Nady, 2014.

Unlike regular reading, which induces blindness in the reader, comics bring together the half-awake “night and day” of seeing and remembering directly on the page.

Chris Ware, The Art of Comics No. 2, The Paris Review

Detail from “Ruin your life—draw cartoons!” / Chris Ware

Each year, the Cartoonists Rights Network International honors artists that persevere in the face of danger and censorship. This year’s awardees are in…

A thousand congratulations to Palestinian illustrator Majda Shaheen, a 2014 winner of the Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning, along with Indian cartoonist Kanika Mishra.

Some background, via Al-Monitor

A controversy erupted Jan. 22 when artist Majida Shaheen drew and published a cartoon on her Facebook page depicting Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh trying to tame an angry dog with the name “Al-Quds Brigades” — the military wing of Islamic Jihad — written on its collar. The cartoon is an allusion to the attempts of the Gaza government to prevent resistance factions from launching rockets against Israel.

Majda Shaheen’s cartoon of of Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. The devilish dog is labeled “Al-Quds Brigades.” Facebook / Jan. 23, 2014

theparisreview:

“This is the common thread between the new graphic novels and noirs of old: don’t trust the law.”
Jonathan Guyer on the resurgence of crime novels in contemporary Egypt.

theparisreview:

“This is the common thread between the new graphic novels and noirs of old: don’t trust the law.”

Jonathan Guyer on the resurgence of crime novels in contemporary Egypt.

A New History and a Timeless Debate
Last night I attended a launch for a new book by Egyptian scholar Rania Saleh, The Political Cartoon: From the Al-Orabi Revolution to the January 25 Revolution. Saleh, who has published widely on the history of Egyptian caricature, introduces her book with an interesting argument: comics can be traced to hieroglyphics.
This volume represents the first attempt to narrate a comprehensive history of the trouble-making art form in Egypt. Dozens and dozens of Arabic cartoon monographs are out there. But Saleh has conducted extensive interviews and archival work in order to trace the medium’s development.
The event itself was—dare I say—comic. As the 69-year-old cartoonist Tag, pictured second from the right above, offered a personal account of cartoon history, the power went out. Even the upmarket bookstore, Al-Kotob Khan, is not immune from the country’s rampant power outs. Thirty of us continued sitting in the hot darkness, as the nedwa (or salon, in English) proceeded.
"I don’t like cartoonists these days," said Tag. He lambasted the new generation for producing work that’s irrelevant to the country.
In particular, Tag criticized young Egyptians for not drawing the new Suez Canal project, President Al-Sisi’s major infrastructure scheme. “This is something big in the history of Egypt,” emphasized Tag. “But where are the cartoons?” Gomaa Ferhat, 73, chimed in, saying that he had drawn a cartoon on Suez for the state newspaper Al-Ahram. 
This raises a major question that has been front and center since the 2011 uprising: Should cartoonists follow their editors’ visions and draw what they’re told? Or should they be fully independent?
In fact, this has been an ongoing debate in the world of Egyptian caricature for nearly a century. Roz El-Yusef newspaper, which started publishing cartoons in 1925, has provided the space for independent illustrators. Al-Akhbar, a state-owned newspaper, has tended to pair cartoonists with writers, who act as scriptwriters. Both schools of caricature persist in Egypt. Though Tag comes from the Roz El-Yusef school, where cartoonists were given free reign, he seems to have migrated to the other camp.
I’m excited to read through Saleh’s book and see how she addresses this great debate—though the book is 521 pages and contains scores of comics, so I will be back to you with a review in due time.

The Political Cartoon: From the Al-Orabi Revolution to the January 25 Revolution, by Rania Saleh, 2014.

A New History and a Timeless Debate

Last night I attended a launch for a new book by Egyptian scholar Rania Saleh, The Political Cartoon: From the Al-Orabi Revolution to the January 25 Revolution. Saleh, who has published widely on the history of Egyptian caricature, introduces her book with an interesting argument: comics can be traced to hieroglyphics.

This volume represents the first attempt to narrate a comprehensive history of the trouble-making art form in Egypt. Dozens and dozens of Arabic cartoon monographs are out there. But Saleh has conducted extensive interviews and archival work in order to trace the medium’s development.

The event itself was—dare I say—comic. As the 69-year-old cartoonist Tag, pictured second from the right above, offered a personal account of cartoon history, the power went out. Even the upmarket bookstore, Al-Kotob Khan, is not immune from the country’s rampant power outs. Thirty of us continued sitting in the hot darkness, as the nedwa (or salon, in English) proceeded.

"I don’t like cartoonists these days," said Tag. He lambasted the new generation for producing work that’s irrelevant to the country.

In particular, Tag criticized young Egyptians for not drawing the new Suez Canal project, President Al-Sisi’s major infrastructure scheme. “This is something big in the history of Egypt,” emphasized Tag. “But where are the cartoons?” Gomaa Ferhat, 73, chimed in, saying that he had drawn a cartoon on Suez for the state newspaper Al-Ahram

This raises a major question that has been front and center since the 2011 uprising: Should cartoonists follow their editors’ visions and draw what they’re told? Or should they be fully independent?

In fact, this has been an ongoing debate in the world of Egyptian caricature for nearly a century. Roz El-Yusef newspaper, which started publishing cartoons in 1925, has provided the space for independent illustrators. Al-Akhbar, a state-owned newspaper, has tended to pair cartoonists with writers, who act as scriptwriters. Both schools of caricature persist in Egypt. Though Tag comes from the Roz El-Yusef school, where cartoonists were given free reign, he seems to have migrated to the other camp.

I’m excited to read through Saleh’s book and see how she addresses this great debate—though the book is 521 pages and contains scores of comics, so I will be back to you with a review in due time.

The Political Cartoon: From the Al-Orabi Revolution to the January 25 Revolution, by Rania Saleh, 2014.

"Then, every time I threaten a guy and tell him that I’m from the Helwan Armed Brigades—he just starts laughing and walks away, doc."
"Which brigade, again?" chuckles the shrink.
Anwar drew this gag cartoon for the Al-Masry Al-Youm, the popular independent daily. It’s a local joke.
On the couch, the terrorist character feels self-conscious and insignificant. He is just another guy from Helwan—the last stop on Cairo’s Metro. The Helwan Armed Brigades would intimidate a Cairene as much as the Staten Island Liberation Organization or the Coney Island Defense Front would startle a New Yorker. If you said you were from the Yonkers Militia, everyone would just laugh—right?
Cartoonists love to put their characters on the psychiatric couch. In booking a session for a terrorist—a goon, a masked thug, the other and enemy—the cartoonist engages in a kind of symbolic violence against the character. Isn’t that why Tony Soprano was such a breakthrough character? We could finally see the don at a vulnerable moment. 
Anwar sends a powerful message by finding a joke in the armed assailant, laughing at his psychological complexes. The government has centered its policy on counter-terrorism, pure and simple. Anwar, however, problematizes the notion of a terrorist. The gunman is just a regular, troubled dude from Helwan. Maybe all he needs is counseling. It reminded me of Saudi terrorist rehabilitation centers, though Egypt doesn’t boast any, as far as I’m aware.
In gags about psychiatrists, Egyptians are using the form to convey subversive punchlines. Last summer, Andeel used the same technique and offered a psychoanalysis of the Muslim Brotherhood’s head honcho. Like the cartoon above, it was a way to shine a light on the shady and shadowy organization.
Something to watch for: does any cartoonist have the gall to draw President Abdul-Fattah Al-Sisi working through his issues beside a box of kleenex?


“Sometimes, I suspect that I’m a state security agent, implanted inside the Brotherhood to screw it up,” the Muslim Brotherhood’s leader tells his shrink despondently. 
Andeel, Supreme Guide Seeks Guidance, July 2013
**
Special thanks to Sharaf Al-Harouni for translation help. Follow him on Twitter.

"Then, every time I threaten a guy and tell him that I’m from the Helwan Armed Brigades—he just starts laughing and walks away, doc."

"Which brigade, again?" chuckles the shrink.

Anwar drew this gag cartoon for the Al-Masry Al-Youm, the popular independent daily. It’s a local joke.

On the couch, the terrorist character feels self-conscious and insignificant. He is just another guy from Helwan—the last stop on Cairo’s Metro. The Helwan Armed Brigades would intimidate a Cairene as much as the Staten Island Liberation Organization or the Coney Island Defense Front would startle a New Yorker. If you said you were from the Yonkers Militia, everyone would just laugh—right?

Cartoonists love to put their characters on the psychiatric couch. In booking a session for a terrorist—a goon, a masked thug, the other and enemy—the cartoonist engages in a kind of symbolic violence against the character. Isn’t that why Tony Soprano was such a breakthrough character? We could finally see the don at a vulnerable moment. 

Anwar sends a powerful message by finding a joke in the armed assailant, laughing at his psychological complexes. The government has centered its policy on counter-terrorism, pure and simple. Anwar, however, problematizes the notion of a terrorist. The gunman is just a regular, troubled dude from Helwan. Maybe all he needs is counseling. It reminded me of Saudi terrorist rehabilitation centers, though Egypt doesn’t boast any, as far as I’m aware.

In gags about psychiatrists, Egyptians are using the form to convey subversive punchlines. Last summer, Andeel used the same technique and offered a psychoanalysis of the Muslim Brotherhood’s head honcho. Like the cartoon above, it was a way to shine a light on the shady and shadowy organization.

Something to watch for: does any cartoonist have the gall to draw President Abdul-Fattah Al-Sisi working through his issues beside a box of kleenex?

Sometimes, I suspect that I’m a state security agent, implanted inside the Brotherhood to screw it up,” the Muslim Brotherhood’s leader tells his shrink despondently. 

Andeel, Supreme Guide Seeks Guidance, July 2013

**

Special thanks to Sharaf Al-Harouni for translation help. Follow him on Twitter.

Boss Tweed on the Nile

New post on EgyptSource, the Atlantic Council’s blog:

Last week, the privately-owned and widely-circulated Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm published three political cartoons about corruption in a single day. It’s not unusual to print so many illustrations in one edition; the paper sometimes publishes a dozen comics in a day. But what can we make of three independent cartoonists devoting their frame to criticizing Big Money? 

Keep reading.

Cartoonists on Cartoonists
Ahmed Saad, an Egyptian comic artist and contributor to the zine Tok Tok, drew this parody of the classic Egyptian cartoon. He satirizes the style of prominent state-newspaper cartoonist Mostafa Houssein and the use of lofty symbols to convey Egypt’s political machinations.
In Saad’s gag, the woman personifying Egypt says, "You are not my son, and I don’t know you!" to the young revolutionary, labeled "Free." (For more on Egypt as a woman, read this post.)
Colored childishly in marker, Saad critiques the simplicity of Houssein’s imagery. He published it online in advance of May’s presidential election, as Houssein was churning out metaphorical mishmashes for the semi-official daily Al-Akhbar. For instance, here is Houssein cartooning in May, using the very imagery that Saad laughs at.

"Terrorist Attempts to Block Elections," though Egypt votes anyway.
Mostafa Houssein / Al-Akhbar / 21 May 2014
**
As we see above, the lexicon of Egyptian symbols can be deployed by cartoonists to interpret current events or to problematize them. In Houssein’s cartoons, good and bad are always clear; terrorists are labeled. But Egypt’s realities are anything but a simple binary. Saad exposes the naiveté of over-used symbols and tropes. In his illustration, Egypt is not “free,” In fact, she stands in opposition to the free, disowning the revolution. The “free” are fiery hot, a very obvious pun, and another jab at traditional caricature’s simplicity.
With lines reminiscent of Matt Groening, Saad is better known for his comic strips. He doesn’t usually delve into the one-frame political cartoon. After mulling over his cartoon, I am left asking myself: Is the realm of politics too ambiguous and illegible to be represented in an editorial cartoon? Is the art form no longer relevant?
-

"Is someone sitting there?"
Ahmed Saad / Facebook / undated

Cartoonists on Cartoonists

Ahmed Saad, an Egyptian comic artist and contributor to the zine Tok Tok, drew this parody of the classic Egyptian cartoon. He satirizes the style of prominent state-newspaper cartoonist Mostafa Houssein and the use of lofty symbols to convey Egypt’s political machinations.

In Saad’s gag, the woman personifying Egypt says, "You are not my son, and I don’t know you!" to the young revolutionary, labeled "Free." (For more on Egypt as a woman, read this post.)

Colored childishly in marker, Saad critiques the simplicity of Houssein’s imagery. He published it online in advance of May’s presidential election, as Houssein was churning out metaphorical mishmashes for the semi-official daily Al-Akhbar. For instance, here is Houssein cartooning in May, using the very imagery that Saad laughs at.

"Terrorist Attempts to Block Elections," though Egypt votes anyway.

Mostafa Houssein / Al-Akhbar / 21 May 2014

**

As we see above, the lexicon of Egyptian symbols can be deployed by cartoonists to interpret current events or to problematize them. In Houssein’s cartoons, good and bad are always clear; terrorists are labeled. But Egypt’s realities are anything but a simple binary. Saad exposes the naiveté of over-used symbols and tropes. In his illustration, Egypt is not “free,” In fact, she stands in opposition to the free, disowning the revolution. The “free” are fiery hot, a very obvious pun, and another jab at traditional caricature’s simplicity.

With lines reminiscent of Matt Groening, Saad is better known for his comic strips. He doesn’t usually delve into the one-frame political cartoon. After mulling over his cartoon, I am left asking myself: Is the realm of politics too ambiguous and illegible to be represented in an editorial cartoon? Is the art form no longer relevant?

-

"Is someone sitting there?"

Ahmed Saad / Facebook / undated

New York-based photographer Benedict Evans has just published a series of portraits of Egyptian political cartoonists. In A Thousand Words, Evans captures the diversity of the field. From his statement:

Political caricature plays a far more vital role in popular culture and the perception of current events in Egypt than it currently does in the West. Cartoons are given prime real estate in newspapers across the country, both state- and independently-owned, and the most respected satiric voices are household names… 

Pictured here are many of Egypt’s most well known caricaturists. Most are from the new, younger generation, but also pictured are some of the key members of the older generation, whose work and mentorships paved the way for the new voices. Each cartoonist has a different background and a particular political standpoint; some work for daily newspapers, some distribute their work mainly online, some do both, but all of them are actively engaged in the course of their country’s future at a time when it is perhaps more in question than it has ever been, and are using a medium that resonates strongly with the Egyptian mindset.

Check out the gallery in full. Indeed, Evans’s photographs are about thousand-times better than mine.

**

benedictevansphoto:

I’ve just updated my site with a new series called A Thousand Words. It’s a series of portraits of Egyptian political cartoonists who I photographed in Cairo, Egypt, back at the beginning of this year. The whole series, and more information about the cartoonists, is now on my site here.

Huge, huge, thanks to Jenifer Evans, Mariam Dwedar, and Andeel, without whom these pictures would never have been made.

Bombs Over _____ 
From an old Moleskin of mine, circa fall 2004.

Bombs Over _____ 

From an old Moleskin of mine, circa fall 2004.

Since the dawn of human ability to communicate, people understood comedy’s ability to counter reality and defeat it, to open up new horizons for the imagination and point out the ridiculousness of the way we built this world and made up its logic. This is why humor is often a reverse of our world, or a mirror of it that looks exactly like it, yet is completely different.

Because of this, comedy is given a license to be as absurd and outrageous as it wants, and it is part of comedy’s role in life to stretch our awareness as much as it can, to flip our logic inside out and make us rethink common everyday details — or very existential beliefs and matters — and see them in a different scope.

Andeel / "The Meaningful Butt-Kick" / Mada Masr

Here’s a taste of a new graphic novel project by Ganzeer. Between us, I have been working on the text with him. Stay ‘tooned for more.

And in the meantime, more posts on Ganzeer here here here and here.

ganzeerism:

Sneak peek of work-in-progress pages from a graphic novel I’ll be working on over the next couple of years. Will reveal more information a bit more down the line.

If the Headline is Upworthy, It’s Probably Untrue

I love a counter-intuitive argument. But only when it’s air-tight.

That’s why I was skeptical of Tablet magazine’s gaudy headline: "If You Want To Find Support for Israel, Read the Newspapers—in Cairo." 

Well, I read the newspapers—in Cairo—and apparently Tablet’s writer hasn’t. There are more broadsheets in the photograph accompanying the piece, which is undated and vaguely captioned, than in the entirety of the blog post. In fact, the only newspaper cited is Al-Ahram, a state newspaper that hardly represents all of Egypt. And even if you were to assert that the state’s flagship paper represents the entire county, you would first have to read more than one article in it!

I won’t bother dissecting the author’s platitudes about “Arab states.”

Instead, I’ll take the publication to task for this sweeping generalization: “Numerous Egyptian media reports have also expressed explicit support for Israel’s actions.”

The source for this assertion? A short, scantily cited article from Gatestone Institute, which Rightweb calls “a New York-based advocacy organization that is tied to neoconservative and other right-wing networks in the United States and Europe.”

A handful of Egyptian media sources are quoted by Gatestone, but that hardly proves the author’s argument. The best way to make such a claim would be to read the dozens of Arabic newspapers available in Cairo. Note to Tablet and Gatestone: most Egyptian newspapers also have websites, so you don’t have to leave your armchair!

Cairo is the media capital of Middle East—or at least the city thinks it is. Can you imagine a foreign correspondent in the US saying “this is what the newspapers in New York are saying,” by only quoting Tom Friedman? That would be considered shoddy reporting.

What really upsets me is that this ideologically-driven and wholly un-factchecked post from Tablet appears in Google News. Talk about false advertising.

That’s why I am posting a bunch of political cartoons that offer a variety of Arab and Egyptian opinions on the Gaza war, which is apparently something that other publications are too lazy to do.

"It’s okay, he just had a difficult childhood."

Andeel / Mada Masr / 25 July 2014

"No Comment"

Farag Hassan / Al-Ahram / 24 July 2014

"GAZA" in black marker, though the man is distracted by a mango dessert on his laptop.

Walid Taher / Al-Shorouk / 18 July 2014

***

For more Arab perspectives on the Gaza war, see here and here.

Egypt’s Media, Unplugged

My colleague Rasha Abdulla has just published a useful overview of the Egyptian media, on the Carnegie Endowment’s website. Here is Abdulla’s assessment of the challenges facing journalists: 

Generally speaking, the media in Egypt are currently characterized by their seemingly unanimous support for the regime and an inflated portrayal of high hopes for the new president. This is coupled with a continuing tendency to vilify the Muslim Brotherhood and a campaign to smear the activists of the January 25 revolution, while ignoring any human rights violations committed by the current regime and any efforts to counter them.

Under these circumstances, it has become increasingly difficult for the slim minority that is trying to sing a tune different from that of the mainstream media to find a place for itself in these outlets. Voices trying to raise awareness of the danger of a comeback of military rule or to highlight violations and call for the release of imprisoned activists and journalists, including some who used to be regular guests on Egypt’s popular evening talk shows, are now persona non grata on the same shows that welcomed them almost every night. Online media, including social media, seem to provide the best opportunities for exposure for the opposition and for activists at this time.

Abdulla goes on to catalogue many troublesome omens, from the censorship of celebrity comedian Bassem Youssef to the Interior Ministry’s leaked RFP for mass monitoring of online media. The latter point demands further attention, especially since, “The RFP listed 54 technical specifications required for the software, including the preferred ability to monitor not only public posts on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube but also private messaging and telephony applications such as WhatsApp and Viber.” The Internet is the only space for public debate and dissent in Egypt, and officials have realized that this is a major blind spot.

It’s no surprise that Abdulla emphasizes web journalism as a check and balance on mainstream media. But as the Interior Ministry searches for new ways to monitor online platforms, one imagines that, in the near future, web journalists will face the same constraints as those working in broadcast and print media.

For now, online agitators must encrypt their correspondence, protect their communications, and install safeguards—before it’s too late. 

At least since Lichtenstein appropriated a comic-strip Benday dot, Duchamp riffed on Mutt and Jeff, or Einstein admired a Mickey Mouse cel, art has had a love affair with animation, comics, and cartoons—and its ardor, eagerly reciprocated, has given rise to a tense historic interplay between high and low, synthetic and real, margin and center.

Artforum's special issue, Graphic Content: Art and Animation

Julien Ceccaldi, I Am My Goals, 2014, Comic Made for ArtForum.

Caricature & Comics
From Egypt,
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