Nationalism for Kids: How Egyptian Comics Teach Conflict

By Jonathan Guyer
Submitted to Session P4968 (Cultural Politics of Youth, 2017 Annual Meeting
Media Arts
Cultural Studies; Current Events;
LCD Projector without Audio;
Comic books “serve actually as a release for collective aggression. The magazines are put together by white men for little white men,” wrote the philosopher Frantz Fanon of European comics consumed in the colonies (Black Skin, White Masks, 1967). Since the mid-twentieth century, Middle East comic artists have taken on a similar role by composing graphic narratives for local audiences. Drawing upon Fanon’s analysis of the “native intellectual” in the post-colonial period, this paper will argue that independent Egyptian illustrators turned to nationalist causes in the 1960s as a continuation of liberation movements. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Arabic children’s comics were popular during the 1952 Free Officers’ Revolt in Egypt: children’s publications were an excellent teaching aid for patriarchal ideas, Arab traditions and local culture. All periodicals were nationalized during the 1967 war with Israel, and children’s publications worked for the pan-Arab cause; in 1968 issues of the locally produced Arabic “Miki” (Mouse, the Disney character) magazine, top cartoonists such as Bahgat Osman ran politically charged strips beside translated stories of Disney favorites. Such graphic narratives provide case studies of illustrated propaganda.

Today, as Egypt faces a litany of internal and external conflicts, some of the same magazines produce flattering spreads about President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi alongside tributes to the war heroes and state-approved histories of the January 2011 revolution. Through archival research and interviews with artist and publishers, this paper will consider the continuity between 1960s children’s comics and contemporary examples. It will conclude by showing how pro-government children’s comics of the post-2013 period represent counterrevolutionary forces, which is why so few independent cartoonists have joined the staffs of such publications. It will be the first paper to closely read editions of the children’s magazine “Samir” from the 2014 president election and examine how its comics and features construct nationalist narratives for little Egyptian men.