Worth a Thousand Words: 10 Stunning Graphic Novels About the Middle East

Although the region isn’t particularly known for its comics and graphic novels, it is home to a surprisingly large and diverse number of authors and illustrators and has inspired many outsiders to explore its fascinating secrets.

The art of graphic novels is not new, with origins in Japanese and European history that go back a few hundred years. Japanese manga dates all the way back to the 12th century when artists and authors would hand-illustrate their stories on long scrolls and eventually print their designs using woodblocks; many credit the Japanese as being the inventors of the comic book.

French and German cartoon strips also became more and more popular towards the end of the 19th century, and the art finally saw its big boom in the early 1900s. From the 1920s onward, comic books started to take on new forms and began to enter the world of mass publication. Marvel comics and series like The Adventures of Tintin started to hit the shelves and developed a cult following, with early editions now being prized collector’s pieces.

By the 1970s, we started to see the first graphic novels by American authors like Archie Goodwin’s “Blackmark” and Richard Corbin’s “Bloodstar”. It would take a few decades for the graphic novel to reach the Middle East though. Merjane Strapi’s “Persepolis”, published in 2007, is widely considered as the region’s first, and many have followed since. Keep on scrolling to see what else has come out of the region.

Persepolis

via Amazon

This beautiful graphic memoir tells the coming-of-age story of a young girl in Iran around the time of the Islamic Revolution in the 70s. Satrapi takes us on an intimate and sacred journey that explores what it means to be a girl, and then a woman, in a viciously patriarchal society. It tells the story of family, of separation, of individuality, and the fight for freedom. It tells the story of all women in the Middle East.

Cairo

via Amazon

Set in modern-day Cairo, the story follows six characters as they attempt to track down a stolen shisha, a mission that takes them into a spiritual underworld, to the legendary ancient river that runs under the city. Wilson weaves together Middle Eastern mythology and history, politics, and social issues, all while blending the harsh realities of our world with the supernatural magic of another.

Embroideries

via Amazon

Another masterpiece by the author of Persepolis, another tale about the inner realms of women in the Middle East. Satrapi delves into the stories Iranian women tell when there are no men around, their truths and their lies, their secret wishes and deepest regrets. And through these tales she shows us a world few outsiders know or have access to.

The Apartment in Bab El Louk

A glimpse of what life is like in downtown Cairo, told through the eyes of one of her reclusive inhabitants, peeking out at the unfolding stories of the people passing by below. It’s an intimate look at a city that has many nosy residents, and even more secrets.

A Game For Swallows

via Amazon

Abirached gives a poignant account of childhood in Lebanon in the 80s, during the civil war that tore the country apart. Zeina and her little brother wait for their parents at home after they don’t return from a visit to the other side of the city, creating a world of their own away from the violence and conflict raging outside their small apartment.

Baddawi

Baddawi is the Arabic word for Bedouin, and also the name of the refugee camp in Lebanon where Leila’s Palestinian father grew up. Set in the 60’s and 70’s, it tells the story of Ahmed, a boy born to refugees fleeing from the destruction caused by the Israeli war. There is always something so deeply heartbreaking about tales of tragedy told through the eyes of the young and innocent, those still too naïve to understand just how dark and dangerous the world can be.

Green Almonds, Letters From Palestine

A collaboration between two sisters, and a true story, Green Almonds is a collection of letters sent from one sister to another, documenting the complex and cataclysmic events that were unfolding in Palestine at the time. Deeply personal and uniquely insightful, the letters and beautiful illustrations show a different side of the conflict.

Metro

via Amazon

This dark thriller is set in Cairo and follows the story of a young programmer as he struggles with a failing system, a loan gone wrong, and a corrupt government. The novel was first published in 2008 but was immediately banned for its critical stance and graphic depiction of sexual scenes, deemed by censors as offensive to Egyptian values.

The Solar Grid

Set far in the future, a thousand years after a flood has ravaged the Earth. The planet now serves as a solar grid that supplies power to Mars. While searching for precious artifacts, two orphans stumble upon an object that could change the relationship between the two planets. Ganzeer explores themes like industrialism and colonialism within a bizarre sci-fi context, with striking illustrations that add an extra dimension of surrealism to the story. Until now Ganzeer has been releasing the novel in digital installments, with plans for publication in 2021.

The Arab of the Future Series

An award-winning memoir by French-Syrian author, Riad Sattouf, chronicling his childhood journey from the French countryside to Libya and Syria in the 70s and 80s. The story is beautifully explored from the innocent eyes of a child, looking upon the chaotic and often cruel world of adults, all while expressing the oppressive nature of life in the Middle East.

WE SAID THIS: Make sure you check out Eman Osama’s gorgeous Illustrated Alphabet.

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