Now and Then: The Rise of Egyptian Comics

September 12, 20207 min read

This post about Egyptian Comics originally appeared on Gutternaut and has been republished here with permission from the author, Jake Palermo.

Egyptian comics are gaining some form of notoriety by showing the strength of Egypt’s people. Anyone with even a passing interest in contemporary Egypt knows about the dictatorships and protests surrounding them. So artists try to raise people’s hopes while spreading their concerns around. Some are more successful than others, however.

The First Tries

Vector Illustration of Ancient Egypt Egyptian Relief, Papyrus Reed Boat designed by Wannapik Studio

Egyptian comics technically start with the hieroglyphs of ancient times. These sequential records within monuments depict the rituals and rites of people and gods. But true comics that travel to the reader do not appear on record until the 21st century. The earliest examples are from AK Comics in 2004.

This was at the time that President in name only, Hosni Mubarak, used his party to limit free speech. Not helping was the Islamist terrorist group Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya attacking writers and foreigners. But then came along AK Comics, the Middle East’s first large scale comic publishing company.

The goal of this company is to provide Arab role models in the form of superheroes; as well as swords and sandals barbarian characters. Yet there came problems in trying to appeal to and get help from the people AK Comics reaches out to. 

With the censorship laws in effect and also trying not to take sides, the characters couldn’t openly show religious affiliations. Not to mention there weren’t many artists for Egyptian comics at the time, so the company had a Brazilian art studio do most of the art. For a while, things looked fine with US and UK releases, as well as Diamond Comic Distributions, spreading AK Comics. In fact, the franchise even had TV show pilots. Unfortunately, the company couldn’t sustain itself from a number of uncertain factors and now sells untranslated American Comics.

Egyptian Comics For Revolution

With military power consolidating in Egypt, the people decided to take matters into their own hands. In an almost fast-forward approach to how comics start to form, the graphic novel Metro appeared. Displaying how Mubarak’s dictatorship created financial hardship, two men set out to rob a bank until things don’t go right. So they have to hide out in the metro. No hand holding to kids in these parts as there’s even sex, which is Mubarak’s excuse for banning this book.

Sample of 6 Egyptian Comics featured in TokTok mag.
TokTok Magazine of Egyptian Comics

A magazine called Tok Tok appeared right after this. Featuring stories that any adult can pick up, it showed the hard lives of the people. No matter the religion or ethnic group, readers could unite upon seeing relatable stories of love, joblessness, and people’s experiences with the authority through satire. Just two weeks after it was first published, the people, now united more than ever, started protests that sparked the Egyptian Revolution in 2011.

Losing his grip on the country, Mubarak resigned and fled Cairo. If that’s not enough Tok Tok wins the second prize of the International Festival of Comics for independent comic magazines.

Missing The Scorpions

THE SOLAR GRID – a graphic novel by Ganzeer » THE SOLAR GRID SOUNDSCAPE -  part 01/09 — Kickstarter
The Solar Grid by Ganzeer

Thanks to Tok Tok and the influence of street art, local artists began to flock to the comic scene. One such artist is Ganzeer who funds and distributes his own graphic novel, The Solar Grid. In reaction to the political crisis, this story represents many of the struggles facing Egypt. Despite all the battles for freedom, there are still a number of structures that favor the militants in Egypt. And while the people are mostly united, they’re going to have to find their own ways to solve problems.

One series that demonstrates how people respond to issues affecting society is the superhero webcomiQahera. Appearing after the revolution and the coup of 2013, the title character enforces her own brand of justice. Wearing a hijab, Qahera goes around fighting against any harassers or people without insight while helping victims. This includes Christians, victims of street misogyny as well as animals.

Egyptian Comics: A Steep Uphill Battle

El3osba The League Egyptian superhero comic

Egypt strives not just for its freedom of expression but also for lifestyles that can be shared. Through comics and other forms of art, many people communicate love and struggles.

While being one of the factors that drive people to act against corrupt politicians, it’s going to need a lot more for real changes to take place. It’s something Egypt’s new premier superhero series El3osba tries to do.

Coming from all walks of life, the heroes tackle the issues in the streets of Cairo. It’s getting together and keeping themselves afloat that’s hard. But much like Egypt itself, the Egyptian comics are building themselves up so the ink’s not dry yet.

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Jake Palermo is a writer who likes to have fun with comics; theories, comparing and contrasting, and a fan favorite in how creators go about developing their comics. He runs Gutternaut where he writes about comic books and has written for Kotaku, Comic Tropes and more.

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