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Marwan Imam » Mashareeb

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Division Publishing: Egyptian Comics Strike Back

You probably have noticed by now that, here at Mashareeb, we love comics! At the beginning of this year, we have covered the launch of Tok Tok magazine (check it out here if you haven’t) and we are very happy to be covering yet another Egyptian comic magazine about to hit the shelves very soon!

We have always believed in the talent of Egyptians to create comics and luckily, as time passes by, Egyptian comic artists never disappoint us. We got very excited when we recently discovered  that some young Egyptian comic artists got together, with the dream of “jumpstarting and reinvigorating the comics market in Egypt” and formed a comic publishing house under the name of Division Publishing.

Division Publishing was created in early 2011 by Marwan Imam and Mohamed Reda with the mission to “get the Egyptian community to buy and read comics and appreciate the art and literature in them” and also “to encourage Egyptian artists and writers to submit their work and publish as many Egyptian comics as we can.”

The Division Publishing team is composed from Marwan Imam, Mohamed Reda, Mohamed Mazloum, Sarah Abdelazim, Gehad El Sheikh, Mohamed Khaled, Aamina, Tarek Abo Omar, Hatem Mahrous, Ahmed El Mojadidi, Salma Soliman & Tarek Diaa.

Their first publication is called “Autostrade” and will be launched on the 11th of july at Bikya Book Store in Nasr city at 7:30, be there if you would like to meet the creators and get a copy. (check out the Facebook event here)

cover art by Ganzeer

We were very fortunate to get a hold of one the founders, Marwan Imam, and got to know more about Division Publishing, Autostrade and the state of comics in Egypt in his point of view. Enjoy!


Give us a little idea about Division Comics, what is it about and what should people expect from its productions?

Marwan: Division Publishing, is a Comics publishing house that is dedicated to invigorating the comics market in Egypt as well as giving a chance to a large number of artists and writers to have a chance to have an outlet for their work. We embrace the concept of Comics as a medium not a Genre. We believe comics are versatile enough to contain topics of a vast diversity. To us comics are not just superheores, they’re not just for kids.Comics have been known to handle topics as heavy as The Iranian Revolution and The holocaust to other worldly lands of space and magic all the way to the gritty and sharp social satire the slaps the cold hard truth in the face of the reader. Comics are a literary medium that embraces both the power of the written word and combines it with the aesthetic of the visual image transcending both and reaching lengths no other medium can reach in these respects. With this in mind, we try as hard as possible to find as much diverse and mature content to produce to the public. Be it fiction or non-fiction, we try to show how diverse and powerful comics could be.We also encourage experimentation within the medium, pushing it forward, in hopes of meeting the international level of comics production spearheaded by The US, France (and Belgium) and Japan.

- How did you guys manage to form Division Comics and how did it all come to reality?

Marwan: It all came down to who we are really. I am a comic artist and writer, and I’ve been around a lot of people within the underground comic scene in Cairo, even worked with them on a couple of projects.However there was one thing that was always expressed with an air of unadulterated frustration, that was the fact that no matter how hard we work, it is nearly impossible to get our work published. Most publishers in Egypt consider comics to be mere children’s books and treat them with less respect than they most truly deserve.
Comic artists and writers were always frustrated that whenever they have a concept for a comic that is edgy or mature in terms of thought and content, they face rejection everywhere.
My great friend Mohamed Reda, a comic writer as well as enthusiast such as myself and I then decided that instead of going around to find somewhere to publish our work, we should publish our own work,and in the spirit of independence we decided to start our own publishing house to not just allows us to publish our work but to allow for every single artist and writer that faced the frustration we did to get a chance to finally get their work out there.

- What do you guys think of the state of Egyptian comics (past and present)?

Marwan: Right now, the state of comics as a market in Egypt is dwindling nearly non-existent; however there is a hunger that can be sensed in people that is dying to get their hands on a proper comic or two.Not to mention a current outburst of comic artists and writers working on several projects a couple of independent books have sprung up here and there, proving that we weren’t the only ones frustrated with the current state of comics.
In the past some efforts came up to try and build the comic market, yet it didn’t face enough success.I think this was purely because they treated comics very superficially copying what the west is doing without looking deeper into the core of this medium, or trying to find what our culture can add into the world of comics.
The biggest slap in the face of comics in Egypt though was Magdy el Shafee’s Graphic Novel metro that was banned by the government. El Shafee’s comic was probably one of the most compelling and mature contemporary graphic novels, and I’m talking on an international scale, because it recently has been reprinted in Italy with great popularity. It was a social comics highlighting many of the corruption withinEgypt, and the old regime banned it. This ban was probably the worst thing that could have happened,however it only made us stronger and passionate about creating more work and challenging thes ystem even more. Magdy is even contributing with a new story of his own in our upcoming publicationAutostrade.

- Do you think comics have a place in the Egyptian society? Does it have a future in Egypt?

Marwan: I honestly believe Egyptians invented comics.
This may sound crazy to some but the combination of pictorial and written elements in a sequential has debuted on the walls of Egyptian temples and tombs. These are the earliest of comics, perhaps preceded by cave drawings, but in Ancient Egypt it wasn’t just drawings, it was drawings conveying a certain message in a sequential manner while being juxtaposed with text. This is basically the definition of what a comic is.
This just proves one thing, Egyptians are genetically wired to create and accept comics as a leading medium of communication. Once society understands that comics are not a genre of children books buta medium of diverse genres that can carry mature subjects and be read by all ages, it will flourish like nowhere else on earth.
The amount of talent lying around in this country is overwhelming, I think we might have enough artistsand writers in Egypt to create a body of work in comics that is as big in size as the United States, and the only thing truly hindering us at the moment is the market. Once comics as a culture spread within the people the rest is just pure production.
People are hungry for something new; they just need to be pushed in the right direction. This is the time for a revolution in comics.

- Your first issue is called “Autostrade”, any stories behind the name selection?

Marwan: Yes actually, and thank you for asking. First of all we needed a name that transcends language since this is a bilingual publication as well as planned for international release. So Autostrade being a commonTerm in several language was a good choice. However this wasn’t the main reason we picked the name.The name refers to one of Cairo’s main highways, and it generally refers to highways elsewhere in the world, and that’s exactly what this publication is about. Autostrade is a highway for comic artists and writers to reach their audience. This is the reason we created Autostrade and Division, to allow for all the talent to reach their audience.

- Can you give us a little hint about the material “Autostrade” will be having?

Marwan: Autostrade is what is known as a comics Anthology, it contains several stories by several artists and writers. It is a bilingual book, half of it is in English the other half in Arabic and that was to allow for as much talent to shine regardless of the language they are most comfortable working with.
The concept of Autostrade is similar to that of Shonen jump in japan, even though it was inspired by the French publication “Heavy Metal”. What we do is we give every artist and writer 12 pages to write a chapter of one of their stories (or a short story), if the story is serialized then the writer/artist or writer-artist team would work on another chapter for the Autostrade issue that follows and so on.
Then comes the audience participation bit, the readers are expected to vote on their favorite stories within Autostrade, the top stories voted for on our website: www.divisionpublishing.com, would getto become its own series, like X-men or batman for instance. That way the comic lines that we produce afterwards, would be ones that truly resonated with the public.
The first issue contain a vast range of comics ranging from your not-so-average superhero action comics, to mind bending imaginative fantasy universes with a social backdrop and agenda, mythology based stories, others based on Egyptian folklore and superstition, science fiction mixed with an ancientEgyptian motif, Action comedy social satire, funny gag strips, re-imagining of famous literary icons and highly Experimental comics. I can’t really say more details because I would rather people experience it first-hand.

- Do you believe in the power of comics? Can it really change something or affect people somehow?

Marwan: I think I’ve answered that question in part throughout the interview, YES, I absolutely believe comics areprobably one of the most powerful literary mediums and I think when properly applied and producedcan create a lot of change in the world and truly propel society forward, because it combines both thestrength of books and image. A picture is worth a thousand words and the pen is mightier than thesword, combine both together and you get UNLIMITED POWER(and that sounds like something out of asuperhero comic, but hey we love all types of comics so unlimited power it is).

We too, at Mashareeb, believe in the power of comics and we’re always happy to hear about a birth of a comics magazine in Egypt. We wish Division Publishing the best of luck with their first issue Autostrade and beyond that too.

For more information:

You can check out their website: www.divisionpublishing.com

Their Facebook page: Divsion Publishing

And Twitter account: @DivisionComics

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