Egypt's newest collective comic book, Garage, will launch its first issue in Cairo on Friday.
The project was started by two brothers, Mohamed and Haitham Rafaat, who are known on the scene as Twins Cartoon.
“The name Garage was born out of the project being an underground, independent production, like we are starting from the bottom, then going up and out to the world,” Haitham Raafat tells Ahram Online.
The twins graduated from Cairo's Fine Arts Faculty and worked as artists across several fields, including animation and graphic design, but found a growing interest in comics.
“We started Kawkab El-Rasameen (“Planet of Artists”) in 2014, where we gathered our artist friends and held workshops that were at first focused on drawing then developed into a base for comics,” Raafat says.
Twins Cartoon collaborated with other platforms for comic projects like Kharabeesh in Jordan, and with the Lebanese Tash-fash to create the comic Amman Rayeh Gai.
They were involved as comic experts in BECA Comics Week, an initiative held at the French institute in Cairo in 2014 which gathered illustrators from Egypt, Germany and France to support and strengthen the experience of local comic artists.
The twins are currently working on the Cairo Comix festival, to be held on 30 September, with Shennawy, the creator of Tok Tok comic, and Maged El-Shafey, of the award-winning Metro magazine.
“Preparing for this festival we felt there are so many great artists who are unknown that we wanted to help showcase. We began the project of what is now Garage in November 2014, providing a platform for artists and scriptwriters,” Raafat says.
Under Kawkab El-Rasameen, the twins worked together with around 20 artists in workshops for drawing, and a special focus on scriptwriting and story development.
“There are lots of comic writers that are good, but we still need to develop our writers' platform so we can have solid stories,” Raafat says.
Although many artists write their own stories, sometimes artists and writers collaborate. One example of this in Garage is a collaboration between Syrian artist Ammar Khattab and Egyptian writer Mohamed Abdelaziz.
“The number of all those in the workshop was too much for one issue, so the first issue will include 12 projects from a mix of unknown artists with others who are better established, to balance it out,” Raafat says.
Besides directing the whole project, the twins' artistic contribution to the magazine is minimal, limited to designing the cover and collaborating on one of the stories.
“It’s not about us. We want the focus to be on the other artists,” says Raafat.
Garage will feature a number of female artists, including Sara Khaled, Doaa El-Adl, and Aliaa Aly, which is something the twins are proud of, seeing as the number of female comic artists in Egypt is quite low.
Garage also has contributions from artists from Lebanon, Morocco, Jordan and Syria.
“We tend to always look to foreign publications, while we have so much to show here in the region. Our vision of Garage is an Arabic magazine, reflecting social life in the different countries,” Raafat says.
“But we also take care to make the other Arabic dialects readable for an Egyptian audience,” he added.
Finding their ground
Ahmed Tawfig, one of the artists in Garage, talks about the challenges of making comics in Egypt. He feels appreciation for comics within the art circle is growing, but has yet to spread to the wider audience they would like to see it reach.
“Although the comic scene flourished in recent years with publications like Tok Tok and Autostrade, most people who would buy our comics are our friends and relatives, or other artists. It requires a lot of patience and teamwork to develop and maintain comics,” Tawfig says.
Garage, though managing to bring artists together, has to deal with the challenge of finding funding, a problem threatening most comic publications in Egypt. The first issue is personally funded by Twins Cartoon.
“We are in touch with cultural centres, but they usually need to see a hard copy of the project before they can offer funding. We want it to just get out into the light, then hopefully it can carry itself financially after its launch,” Raafat says.
The choice to tackle these challenges arise from the artists’ appreciation for print material in the digital age.
“An online presence helps of course, but mostly for promotion; it's where artists get to know each other and introduce themselves to the audience. Yet a printed comic is still a more satisfying experience,” Tawfig says.
Regarding the distribution of Garage, Raafat days they have approached sidewalk newspaper and magazine stands, in addition to the Sufi Café and Maktabet El-Balad, who have all agreed to display the magazine in their outlets.
Garage won’t stop in Cairo, with plans for distribution in Alexandria, Assiut, Luxor, Port Said, Minya through the culture project Alwanat, and Ismailiya with the bookstore Ketabina.
For now Garage will come out tri-monthly, until it has an established readership, when it will become monthly, with the ambitious aim of having comics as common as newspapers in the hands of readers.
Egypt has a history of iconic comic artists from the 1950s to the 1980s, such as Mohie El-Din El-Labad, Bahgat Osman, and Ahmed Hegazy, to name just a few.
This history, along with the wide distribution of comics such as Mickey and Samir, means that comic artists are optimistic that this widely accessible art form will regain its place in the common reader’s hands.
“I really hope it’s not a phase and comics can become more widespread. Comics can really document things, like the changing designs of the cities, the clothes, the design of a manhole in the streets. One can read a story that they lived through, and that’s a wonderful experience,” Tawfig says.
Garage's issue zero will be launched on Friday 28 August at Townhouse Rawabet theatre in Downtown Cairo at 7pm.
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