Woman artists do well as CairoComix launches

The first edition of CairoComix got off to a good start on Wednesday evening. During a closed launch event, six awards were given out to recognize achievements in regional comics and published cartoons, and a majority of the winners were women.

Egyptian artist Hanan al-Karargy received the Best Graphic Novel award for her work on Khaled Tawfik’s Ta’atheer al-Garada (The Locust Effect), and Best Comics Magazine went to Tunisian artist Noha Habib for Makhbar 916.

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Hanan al-Karargy and Khaled Tawfik’s Ta’atheer al-Garada

Best Digital Comic was given to Dina Mohamed for Qahera, which features a female superhero fighting injustice in Cairo, and Best Work in Progress went to Riham Husseiny for a project that’s still untitled.

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A frame from Dina Suleiman’s Qahera

Male artists didn’t lose out entirely. Best Short Story was given to Migo for Malaeka Tanam fi El-Bahr (Angels Sleep in the Sea), and Best Comic Strip in a Newspaper went to Amr El-Tarouty and Ahmed Okasha.

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A frame from Migo’s Malaeka Tanam fi al-Bahr

The awards were given out happily by veteran French comics artist Golo, cartoonist and illustrator Hicham Rahma and graphic designer Ahmed Ellabad.

The three-day festival seems to be a natural step for the comics movement that’s been growing in Egypt over the past 10 years, and it serves as a much-needed platform for Arab artists and publishers to connect. It was founded by Shennawy (TokTok, The Ninth Art), Magdi El-Shafie (of graphic novel Metro) and Haytham Raafat (Twins Cartoon), and takes the place of last year’s prototype festival, Egypt Comix.

Set up at the American University in Cairo (AUC) downtown campus, the festival features various publishers’ booths selling comic books, magazines, graphic novels and drawings at affordable prices from Cairo, Alexandria, Beirut, Tunis and other cities.

Another main component is an exhibition of works by iconic comics artist Mohieddin Ellabbad (1940-2010), curated by Shennawy. It features artworks and framed magazine pages showing Ellabbad’s famous character, Zaghloul Afendi, in the Samir and Karawan magazines between 1960-1970, and then during a later stage of the character in 1987, when it was revamped as Ostaz Zaghloul in Maged comics.

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Mohieddin Ellabbad’s Zaghloul Effendi

The exhibition is a reminder that a market for comics enjoyed by both children and adults existed for decades in Egypt prior to the contemporary comics movement, in which artists are focusing mostly on comics for adults.

Inaugurating the festival on Wednesday evening, Shafie did a public Skype call with Hatem Fathi, an Egyptian comics artist residing in Canada, that aimed to present a history of the contemporary comics movement in Egypt.

Taking shape as a call between friends reminiscing about when they first met in 2002 in a comics workshop in Cairo, it started as a fragmented and slightly irritating list of names of workshop participants and what they’re up to now. But the conversation moved to more solid ground when the two started tying in ideas about how that workshop initially connected them as a movement.

It apparently led to the formation of an extended group that continued to meet several times a month to look at comics and discuss their work. Fathi and Shafie highlighted the role of the internet, especially open-source initiatives, in exposing them to comics from around the world, enabling diverse inspirations and the development of their styles and storytelling.

At another point in the evening, Shafie was eager to point out that because CairoComix is keen on setting a certain standard, the jury will always be external and have a wide range of backgrounds and skills. This year it consisted of Lina Ghaibeh (an artist, associate professor at the American University in Beirut and director of its Moataz and Rada Sawwaf Arab Comics Initiative), Jonathan Guyer (an American Cairo-based writer researching political cartoons in Egypt), Rania Amin (an Egyptian writer and illustrator of bestselling comic series Farhana) and Zeinab Ben Jalon (a Moroccan artist and graphic designer).

The rest of the festival has plenty of events at both the AUC Tahrir campus and the GrEEK Campus. On Thursday evening, Golo will sign his new book, Alwan al-Aar (Colors of Shame), and hold a public discussion with Shennawy about it and about his long career between Cairo and Paris. There will also be another exhibition opening, an app launch and a talk with festival winners Ahmed Khaled Tawfik and Hanan al-Karargy. Friday and Saturday will host performances, talks, workshops and a film screening.

For many comics artists and enthusiasts, a highlight of the festival — which is supported by the French Institute, AUC and the Moataz and Rada Sawwaf Arab Comics Initiative —  will be the three 3al Sotouh (On the Roof) evenings, where audiences gather on the rooftop of the Greek Club in Talaat Harb Square to discuss challenges facing comics in the Arab world, the relationship between taboos, politics and comics, and how the scene can be developed regionally. Semi-public, these events are ticketed and open to comic artists and students.

CairoComix is just beginning, and while it’s perhaps a little rough around the edges in terms of organization, it’s a promising endeavor to bring together cartoonists and comic artists, celebrate their achievements and think collectively of how to push this artistic movement forward.

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Rowan El Shimi 
Culture journalist

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