Indie Comics Reborn in Egypt

Egypt has no shortage of political cartoonists, although they must walk a fine line to get their work out to the widest possible audience. But in the past few years, the country has also seen a resurgence of independent long-form comics comparable to the heady early days of Mad magazine and the later underground comix movement. A recent Associated Press article explored the cutting-edge Egyptian comics that dare to take on topics ranging from politics to sexual harassment.

The new comic movement began with Toktok in 2011. Creators who chafed at the mainstream media’s self-imposed boundaries found freedom at the independent magazine. One of those creators was Andeel, who decided the smaller circulation was an acceptable tradeoff for being able to write and draw exactly what he wants. Even slice-of-life vignettes with no political focus help to open up dialogue in Egypt, he told AP’s Sarah El Deeb: “The regime fears the idea that someone has an opinion to express . . . even if it is about zucchini or onion.”

Toktok is now on its 12th quarterly issue and has been joined by a handful of other indie zines, including the brand-new feminist comic Shakmagia. The first issue of that one, published by Nazra for Feminist Studies, focussed on sexual harassment and violence. These publications and others feature “stories [that] deal with love, joblessness, the attitudes of…elders and the authorities or the chaos of Cairo”–topics that are revolutionary by dint of their banality.

Meanwhile in Egypt’s mainstream media, cartoonists are again feeling familiar pressure from above. Although some like Mohamed Anwar have managed to keep working, others are not optimistic about the future of cartooning in the large newspapers. Hagrassy, an artist who has published in both mainstream and independent media, says bleakly that newspapers “are not back to 2010. More like the Middle Ages.” While of course a completely free and open press would be ideal, at least the flourishing indie scene is able to take up some of the slack.

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Contributing Editor Maren Williams is a reference librarian who enjoys free speech and rescue dogs.