It was in the 1980s, in Beirut, that Arab illustrators began to experiment with publishing comic books for adults. It was also in Beirut that the pivotal comics magazine Samandal was established in 2007, and it was in Beirut where the first major academic body for the study of Arabic comics was opened in the fall of 2014. (See a related article, “Arab Comics: Fit for Academic Exploration.”)
There have been original Arabic comics since 1923, when the magazine Al Awlad put out its first issue in Cairo. But comics magazines were long associated with children. It took the launch of Samandal for comics magazines for adults to spread. Now, there are TokTok, Garage, and El3osba in Egypt; Lab619 in Tunisia; Skefkef in Morocco; Waratha in Algeria; Habka in Libya; and many more.
But Beirut remains at the heart of Arab and Arabic comics production, and the comics community was struck hard on August 4, when an explosion at Beirut’s port killed at least 171 people, injured thousands more, and damaged tens of thousands of homes.
Maamoul Press—a comics-focused publishing house and literary collective based in Detroit, Michigan—was quick to respond. Less than a week after the blast, it brought out Now & Then, an e-book created by young Lebanese artists, edited by Fouad Mezher. All proceeds from sales of the book will go to disaster relief in Lebanon.
The work in Now & Then was created this spring during a digital illustration course at the American University of Beirut. The eighteen artists who contributed to the collection envision a “now” of 2020 and a “then” of 2120.
Showcasing Comics Created by Arabs
This is not a new turn for Maamoul. For the past year and a half, it has been one of the few distributors attempting to extend the reach of comics by Arabs, or in the Arabic language, in the United States. The press is based in Detroit, but its authors are also from elsewhere in the United States, Lebanon and Egypt.
The press was co-founded by artists Aya Krisht and Leila Abdul Razzaq in early 2019. Since then, Maamoul has worked to support young artists and forge new connections between artists and readers. To do that, it has brought independent comics to festivals and conventions around North America.