The first edition of Between Cadres (BECA) – Egypt Comix Week – which will take place between 22 and 27 September across Cairo and Alexandria, is the first large scale event in Egypt dedicated to comics.
Organised by the Goethe and French institutes, Safsafa Publishing House and supported by the Delegation of the European Union to Egypt, the week will include many activities with participation by artists from Egypt, Germany and France. Exhibitions, workshops and lectures, and meetings between artists and publishers are among the highlights of the event.
"The goal of Egypt Comix Week is to promote the art of comics in Egypt," commented Mohamed El-Baaly, founder and director of Sefsafa, as well as the main dynamo behind BECA.
Comic drawings in Egypt are often identified with comic strips targeting children. This, however, does not mean that this art form does not have its own stars who have managed to have a big impact on consecutive younger generations.
A number of Egyptian names are considered the founding fathers of this art form in the country and the region. Mohieddine Ellabbad (1940-2010) was dedicated to comics, with works appearing in several Egyptian publications, in magazines such as the weekly Sabah Al-Kheir and Sinbad the Sailor, published by Dar Al-Maaref.
Another well-known cartoonist, Ahmed Ibrahim Hegazy (1936-2011), is remembered for his highly critical eye, which he did not temper even when drawing for Sameer, a comic magazine for children released by the Dar al-Hilal Publishing.
Equally, artists such as Michel Maalouf and Fawaz, dedicated a big part of their work to children's comics, publishing in periodicals such as Egypt's Alaa ElDin, Magued (UAE) or Bassem (Saudi Arabia).
However it was only since the late 2000s, that comics took a new turn. Paralleling the comics for children, Egypt saw an – at first slow – emergence of comics for adults, whether translated or created locally.
"In recent years, a new generation of artists dedicated to comics made their way into the headlines. They are paralleled by the publishers and the readers whose interest in this art has been only amplified after the success of several comics for adults, such as Toto," El-Baaly continues. Indeed, since 2011, several similar initiatives have emerged, among which not many have managed to survive.
In recent years, TokTok magazine, created by Magdy El-Shafei, El-Shennawy, Hesham Rahma, Tawfik and Andil, was the most striking feature of the Egyptian comics scene. The first issue, which was launched prior to the revolution, was entirely funded by its creators. It proved very successful and stayed in the readers' minds, overshadowing the less compelling second issue published in 2011.
TokTok, a name borrowed from Indian tricycles that have invaded the streets of Cairo in the recent years, dissected Egyptian society and provided an insight into the complexities of the Egyptian soul. TokTok won second prize for best independent comic magazine at the International Festival of Comics of Algeria (FIBDA).
"Young people are looking for forms of expression that represent them, and they find it in comic strips such as TokTok," notes Haytham Ramadan, 28, a cartoonist and consultant for Egypt Comix Week.
As such, the first Egypt Comix Week becomes an opportunity to make an interesting revision of the status of Egyptian comics today.
"We selected 20 participants – ten amateurs and ten professionals – who will engage in discussions and workshops held by the German and French cartoonists," Ramadan adds.
Among the foreign guests, Egypt Comix Week will feature Isabel Kreitz and Barbara Yelin from Germany, alongside Marc-Antoine Mathieu and Jean-Marc Troubet (better known under the pseudonym Troub's) from France.
Moreover, an exhibition dedicated to Egyptian artists, Fawaz and Maalouf, will be on display. This is a tribute to the veterans of art, the big names who have given the basis to the young generation of comic artists. It is also a paradox that the same masters of the comics field have not been able to publish freely due to the political regime which remained strongly critical of cartoonists, as was the case under Anwar Sadat, when El-Labbad and Hegazy shifted to creating comics for children and publishing them in Gulf magazines.
It is still not clear if the margin of freedom in Egypt will curb the momentum that is still in its infancy, and what the future of comics in Egypt will be.
We still remember the destiny of the first Egyptian graphic novel by Magdi Al-Shafei, Metro, released in January 2008.
In Metro, the author created a dark image of poverty and corruption under the Mubarak regime. Metro was banned upon its release and its copies were confiscated for "undermining the moral order."
El-Shafei was subject to the Article 178 of the Penal Code which criminalises publishing or distribution of any publication that violates public decency. After intervention from the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre, which defended his case in court, El-Shafei was landed with a LE5,000 fine and his book remained banned.
Check the complete programme of Egypt Comix Week here