"Portfolio: An Encounter with Andeel"
San Francisco had Robert Crumb and counterculture comix. Cairo has Tok Tok—"the street level satirical magazine," in scholar Paul Gravett’s words. Tok Tok is more Crumb than Crumb. It’s Krazy Kat and Mad Magazine and Paul Conrad and Spiegelman wrapped into one—with a large, young fan base eager for the next issue.
In the book Comic Art, Gravett places Egypt’s premier comic zine in the category of “Unheard Voices,” dissenting illustrations that regimes fear. He quotes Tok Tok co-founder Mohammed Shennawy as saying, “Even if an artist in Tok Tok has his own point of view and his way of telling a story, we’re all trying to document the current period in drawings, words and comics…” Documentation: that is the key to understanding the varied and vast content of Tok Tok’s twelve issues since January 2011.
Whether their narratives are real or unreal, the artists are documenting a Cairo of their experience. More than an experiment in political activism or comic journalism, Tok Tok is the mingling of myriad artists’ divergent visions, a scrapbook that avoids the traps of nostalgia.
Shennawy convened Cairo comic fans on Thursday, launching the latest issue in a conversation with cartoonist Andeel. The event packed Townhouse gallery’s factory space, in downtown, a block from the cafe where the cartoonists hang out. The new issue features tales of a silly sultan, talking fish, boxers, mermaids, terrorists, and clowns—all in vivid color, handsomely arranged by Shennawy who has a speculator eye for lay out. In Shennawy’s strip on the inside cover of the new issue. ISIS militants behead an Egyptian protagonist.
Andeel sat in the red spotlight. Over a hundred fans waited patiently for the “encounter,” notepads and iPhone cameras ready. Shennawy skipped the honorifics and jumped into an informal chat with the 27-year-old cartoonist. It was like sitting on the couch at his apartment, clicking through his portfolio of strips and panels. Shennawy paused to grab a cigarette.
Andeel talked bluntly about censorship, giving examples of before and after a newspaper editor had taken a pen to the artist’s naughty language. Andeel was warm, irreverent, and jovial. When he employed a swear word, his mother, who sat in the front row, laughed along with the rest of the audience.
Tok Tok #12’s centerfold is a poster of President Abdelfattah El-Sisi, drawn by Andeel, who was one of the first cartoonists to lampoon the fearless leader. In the poster, a yes-man loses his cool with the distant leader who dreams of a simpler country. That image of the aloof president also graces the back cover.
Tok Tok #12, Back and Front, Drawn by Andeel
For the front, Andeel drew two very different young Egyptians engaging in conversation: a traditional guy and a hipster actually seem to be listening to one another. In a country that far too many commentators have called “polarized,” the issue’s front is just as subversive as its back.
Political comics in Egypt are only getting bolder, even as difficult red lines dictate what’s published in the mainstream Egyptian press. Cartoonists have responded by publishing incredibly popular comic books that are now on sale in bookstores across Egypt’s capital. Rather than simply relying on Facebook as their outlet, Andeel, Shenawwy and others have created something new. Tok Tok is a singular, independent voice in a cacophonous publishing world of vapid content. I’m almost certain that the Arabic zine will have a “radicalizing effect,” much like Mad had fifty years ago.