Comic Book Production Surges in the Middle East

September 3, 2015

Quahera comic book panel

Comic books have become increasingly popular in the Middle East lately, according to Al Jazeera.

These comics address social problems specific to the countries from which the comics originate. Deena Mohamed’s Qahera, for example, features a crusader who battles Islamophobia as well as sexism in Egypt, where an estimated 99.3% of women have experienced some form of sexual harassment. Another, Joumana Medlej’s Malaak: Angel of Peace, features a superhero that combats “jinn,” a spirit in Islamic cosmology, while trapped in endless war. (Joumana Medlej is a Lebanese artist who now lives in England.)

The changing culture around comic books drew around 50,000 attendees to the recent Middle East Film and Comic Con (MEFCC) at the Dubai World Trade Centre, surpassing last year’s attendance by almost forty percent. MEFCC’s public relations director, Arafaat Ali Khan, attributes the surge in comic production and interest to diversifying interests.

“Interests, when it comes to what people expect from pop culture and entertainment in general, have become more diversified,” he said. “I believe that there is a want for new and interesting stories and characters wherever their origins may lie, which means that stories and characters from our part of the world are becoming more prevalent in mainstream titles.”

Still, if the recent Charlie Hebdo massacre is any indication, working as a comic artist has its risks. Despite being praised by President Barack Obama, Naif al-Mutawa, author of The 99, a comic about heroes whose superpowers are based on the ninety-nine attributes of Allah, has become a target of fatwas and death threats.

Meanwhile, in the United States, comic books featuring Muslim and Arab characters have become more humanized; villains battling heroes, like Batman’s Ra’s al Ghul (“Demon’s Head”) have been replaced with heroic characters such as Batman’s “Nightrunner,” Green Lantern’s “Simon Baz,” and X-Men’s “Dust,” among others. Marvel Comics relaunched its Ms. Marvel series, recreating the titular heroine as a Pakistani-American Muslim teenager, Kamala Khan. It has become one of the company’s top sellers.

Related reading: A Duke University freshman refuses to read Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home due to its pictures of sexual acts, which, he argues in an op-ed for the Washington Post, “conflict with the inherent sacredness of sex.”


Image credit: Deena Mohamed.

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