A selection of comic books to better understand the Arab World

Since the 1990’s, many comic books have been published and are likely to be displayed in the non fiction section of bookstores and libraries.  There are biographies, travel logs, chronicles and documentaries, told in this very specific language of comic books.

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Drawing in sequence with the alternation of texts in balloons (giving direct voice to many different characters) and in captions (offering space to the narrator), provide the story-telling with a greater impact. Many authors have now chosen this genre to vividly tell their own experiences or observations. During the past decade, titles dealing with the Arab World have been released: through them we can understand more of these countries, their culture and their geopolitical issues. In these very interesting works, generally told by a first-person narrator, the point of view is not objective or impartial. There are stories told from the inside by artists who have experienced those times and places.

Iran

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Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, might be the best-known title on this list, since it has been adapted to movie-screen. Satrapi draws and recounts her childhood in Teheran in the 70’s, when the Islamic Revolution overthrown the Shah. The author’s family, opposed to the Revolution, had to suffer the repression of the regime. Told from the experiences of a child and drawn with a naïve black and white line,  this book is tender, humorous and very illuminating.
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Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi, Pantheon, 2004

Afghanistan

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In The Photographer, Lefèvre chronicles his travels through the mountains of Afghanistan during the war against communist Russia, when he was commissioned by NGO Doctors without Borders to follow a medical team in mission to settle a hospital in an isolated region. This book is a great homage to the outstanding commitment of Doctors without borders, and a sensible look at civilians in war.
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The Photographer: Into War-torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders, Lefèvre, First Second, 2009

Palestine

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Joe Sacco spent 3 months in occupied Gaza and Ramallah in the 90’s. He gives voice to the Palestinians, trapped in the muddy streets of refugee camps, recounting torture, massacres and arbitrary imprisonments. The author of Palestine never forgets to put the testimonies he reports under the light of local and international geopolitics. A must-read to understand the Israel Palestine conflict!
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Palestine, Joe Sacco, Fantagraphics, 2001

Syria

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The father of author Riad Sattouf (French mother and Syrian father) seems to incarnate the role of the Arab of the future: highly educated in French universities, he decides to take his wife and 5-years-old child to Kadhafi’s Libya in the 80’s to see the leader’s pan-Arabic project of the leader come true. The author’s sarcastic tone reveals the struggles of a country on its way to development, and their citizens’ dream to take over. With the recent events in Libya in mind and the fall of “the Guide” at the hands of the West, this memoir of an extraordinary childhood leaves the reader with a bitter taste: Occident and the Arab world are not likely to understand each other. Let’s hope Sattouf’s book can help build a bridge between differences.
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The Arab of the Future, Riad Sattouf, Metropolitan Books, 2015
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