Arabic adult comics and the politics of youthfulness

By Jacob Hoigilt
Submitted to Session P4968 (Cultural Politics of Youth, 2017 Annual Meeting
Media Arts
Arab States;
Pop Culture;
LCD Projector with Audio Patch or Speakers;
Cultural expressions such as art and music were central elements of the Arab spring. One of the most interesting and least noted of these expressions is independent adult comics. Having emerged as a phenomenon shortly before the uprisings – and enduring in the bleak post-revolutionary atmosphere today – they express a defiant, confrontational sense of youthfulness that was at the core of the revolutionary spirit. Today, independent adult comics are found from Morocco in the West to Iraq in the East. This paper investigates how these comics ‘reclaim youthfulness’ in a hostile environment characterized by the resurgence of the authoritarian, patriarchal state. The sarcasm and irony in adult comics as well as their graphic and textual playfulness put them at loggerheads with a political and social order that demands submission and obedience. What is striking today is that independent comics from Morocco to Iraq share these characteristics, as festivals, workshops and social media facilitate contact and mutual inspiration between writers and artists. I argue that the geographic dispersion of this phenomenon and the solidarity between comics creators from all parts of the Arab world show that we are dealing with a pan-Arab phenomenon: a youthful claim to be heard and recognized that persists despite the political crackdowns in a number of countries after 2011. The last part of the presentation discusses how the new adult comics relate to Asef Bayat’s concept of ‘social nonmovements’ that express the grievances and aspirations of the youthful, urban subaltern.
The paper relies on textual and semiotic analysis of comics from Lebanon, Egypt and Morocco, and I present a number of detailed illustrations. I focus on three independent comic magazines that published between six and sixteen issues since 2007 and still exist: The Lebanese Samandal, the Egyptian Tuk-Tuk and the Moroccan Skefkef. In addition to the textual analysis of these comics I draw on interviews with comics creators as well as field work in Egypt and Lebanon from 2012-2017.