Saturday, 12 October 2013

On monochrome, wombs and Algeria

I was intending on briefly presenting the two volume comics Waratha (the Heirs) but I've changed my mind.  Instead, it is the preface that caught my attention.

Waratha was published in 2012, the year commemorating Algeria's 50 years of independence, and this subject matter is the focus of this collective album.  There are five works per volume.

Etienne Schreder prefaces that there is a majority of women cartoonists in this new group and asks: "Is it a sign of our times or a sign that women's interest lies more in stories that draw on roots and origins?  It is true to say that the commemoration of the fiftieth anniversary of Algeria's independence woke up in them stories anchored in their family memory, or in their own experience. Men, true to themselves, trusted more in their imagination."  [my bold] According to Schreder, himself a cartoonist, women cartoonists are anchored in the womb, while men, unbridled, less womby, give fuller flow to their imagination. 


At this point, in a parallel world, my hands have gone through the preface's lines and have grabbed Schreder by the hair, note the typical female fighting-style, swear-words burst out of my cartoon speech-bubble, swear-words shaped like marshmallows that morph with speed into steel pins with ink on their ends, they splash and crack Schreder's spectacles, so many insults that can't be spoken because they would be censored, plus they could be interpreted as slightly racists, but Schreder's not sure they're racist because he can't think, he's blindened by the bright green of my Hulky skin... I release my hold and withdraw
shedding a caramel tear or two or three, away from this immensely offensive preface, written by a foreign guest, invited to comment on the effort of a so say new generation of multi-faceted beings.

But I can't go through paper, my wrath will find no expression, though one day in a non-parallel world I might just meet him and then...

Perhaps I should laugh about his summing up of wombmen relations and agree to the equation that women equal verity, and men fiction. But, I can't, it would make life and Algeria so monochrome and both aren't.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

FIBDA 6 - The International Comic Strip Festival in Algiers

FIBDA opened on Tuesday afternoon, and Wednesday 9 October was its first full day.  I'm so glad I was able to make it as I walk away from it with exactly what I was looking for, Algerian comics in Derja among which Algerian Love, and a better idea of where Algerian mangas and the Algerian language in writing are heading.

The below are works that caught my attention and made it in print and on FIBDA's stands.

There was an overwhelming amount of French language comics, a minority of modern standard Arabic, and a few but solid comics in Algerian Derja (ok, I've only seen one, with another not yet published in full but whose plates were exhibited, yet there could have been 10 more I didn't spot, right).  There is at least one other Algerian Derja comic book in the mix, to be published by next year, written by Nawel Louerrad (who also writes in Arabic). She was present to sign and promote her French album.

Z-Link editions promotes Algerian mangas, written in French and in Derja. Among the French language albums : Houma Fighter by Said Sabaou and Loundja by Amir Cheriti and Yasmine Boubakir (there's also Nahla and the Touaregs, Drahem, The Revolution, in brief their whole collection!)

Bendir and Laabstore are two magazines in French that promote Algerian mangas. Laabstore's stand was filled with their 2012 volumes, a year dedicated to celebrating 50 years of Algeria's independence.

Laabstore is glossy, attractive but a little short (46 pages), while Bendir is more substantial in content and thicker (70 pages).  Both are sold at 200 dinars.

Waratha (the Inheritors) is a two volume collective work, written in French and published by Dalimen Editions. It features "the next generation of Algerian cartoonists" so the back says.  The same group worked on a first collective work called Monsters also published by Dalimen, in 2011. Each Waratha volume features 5 authors. (Separate post about this album to come later).

Also on display was a comics collection of over 60 volumes called The History of Algeria (Tarix el Djaza'ir), written in modern standard Arabic. Only the middle-part was on display so I do not know when does the History of Algeria is said to start. Each volume is drawn by a different illustrator but I do not know if the scenario was given to them whole, and written by one individual only.  It is supported by the Ministry of Culture and published by Kaza Editions.

Kaza editions also publish several historical comics written in modern standard Arabic. By historical I mean comics about the region's pre-colonial history and its heroes:

The Berber warrior el Kahina, with the Berber symbol topsy-turvy.

The heroes of the Arab Maghreb:

The "Algerian hero", Rais Hamidou.

There were several publishing houses present in fact. I've already mentioned Dalimen editions who have a large stand with pricey albums, all be it hardback covers and thick glossy paper. I'd rather they were affordable, quality is too often made to rhyme with high cost and it shouldn't, it is feasible to print good quality for (a wider) distribution at reasonable prices.

Dalimen also had organised a collective exhibition featuring the work a young group of cartoonists who followed a training, from March to July 2013 under their wing. My favourite, unsurprisingly, is a forthcoming album written in Derja called Fatm'as Memories (Dhikrayat Fatma) written by Safia Ouarezki and drawn by Mahmoud Benameur.

There was also Amine "Floyd" Djaballah's work "Suspended History", who set out to trace the history of Algeria, from independence to the last words of Mohamed Boudiaf (RIP).  There weren't many plates of his on display and the below is typical, plates are composed of drawings and few words (in French) if any. I hope there is already, somewhere, and that there will soon be, everywhere, a history of Algeria told in Algerian, we shouldn't only find DZ history told in French or modern standard Arabic exclusively).

Lazhari Labter Editions were also present with (Algerian) comics in French, I didn't see any other language on their table or shelves.  

They published, in the French language, a fantastic and heavy looking book called : a Panorama of Algerian Comics from 1969-2009.  I would have loved to get it but I'm broke so it will have to be for next year.

Foreign comics were also promoted, under the largest tent, where I found a shelf for Moroccan comics, with a tri-lingual work called a Tagine of Rabbit (Un Tagine de Lapin) translated into Moroccan Derja (written with the Arabic script) and Tamazight (written in neo-Tifinagh).  These two were fine price-wise (400 Algerian Dinars, 50 Moroccan Dirham, each, for 22 pages) but the other foreign volumes on display cost from 1,500 Algerian DA for about 10 pages to at least 4,000 DA. Gulp.

Finally, the albums of the usual famous suspects were present (Slim, le Hic among them). Slim's editors, Enag, also seem to mostly promote French language albums (with the stories of Algerian historical figures such as Yougourtha by cartoonist Moulay) with some albums in modern standard Arabic.

Among the up and coming, you can now find El-Andaloussi (L'Andalou)'s first album just published called E= MCA (written in French). You can browse El-Andaloussi's work on his FB page here.

I shall now go back to finish Algerian Love (written in Derja with the Arabic script)...

... an awesome manga by Mohamed Amine Rahmani.

What about Albert ?

I’ve been party to several Twitter and email exchanges around the French author Camus (yes, French) in relation to Algeria over the last week or so. This speedily composed but typical sentence suffers from at least three identity problems. One of the main questions in the French media is: Camus is a controversial figure in Algeria. Wait, that’s not a question mais on s’en fiche, French media agencies don’t ask questions, they’ve already got the answers t’as compris.

France is apparently celebrating the man’s centenary, while Algeria has just celebrated 50 years of its independence, who is mocking who. It goes without saying that by ‘France is celebrating’ we are talking about a small wannabe elitist group (elitist is like punk in France, it’s been long dead), unrepresentative of discussions around the table in flat-screen-TV obsessed homes, ZEP schools, monolingual universities, and unemployment agencies around the country. But should Camus be dropped in the onion soup, it would not be to discuss his Algerian or French passport, nor whether he is the icon of French youth.  At no point in my schooling were we ever asked: is Camus a French or Algerian author, is he a controversial figure in Algeria? My school wasn’t a bad one, it’s just not what generations upon generations of lyceed and universitied individuals are (dare I say “ever”) asked to consider.  French literary circles debate whether or not he could be hailed as a philosopher, so France can peacock about him. But then we have Sartre.

So is Albert Algerian? Should 20 to 30 year-old Algerians care about Camus’ mother more, and what about justice?

It seems to me that these questions are strictly French in that they emerge from the continuing propaganda in France of a single identity and a singular allegiance. 

Why should Algerian youth give a thought about Camus unless they study him of their own free will and independently enjoy his work. This author is 100 years-old this November and FIBDA started yesterday.