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Issue 63 - December 2009

Wednesday 30 December 2009 by Ina Doublekova

Wishing you a very happy New Year!

BEIRUT: WHERE COMIXCULTURE II GOT STARTED

The official languages of Lebanon are two: Arabic and French. The country also has two main religions: about 60 % of people are Muslims and the remaining 40 % are Christians. Its capital – Beirut – is often described as one of the most diverse cities in the Middle East. It is inhabited by both Muslims (primary Sunni and Shiaite, but also Druze and Alawites) and Christians (Maronites, Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholics, Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Catholics, Roman Catholics, Syriacs, Copts, Methodists, Protestants). They all used to live together well, in heterogeneous neighborhoods, before the Civil war.

Doesn’t that sound like the right place to have a workshop on diversity issues with renowned East European comics’ artists, whose work demonstrates their interest in contemporary social problems, but yet they do not have any first-hand experiences with the Arab world?

It did to us, though! After several months of preselection, the first meeting of the participants in comiXculture II initiative of Next Page took place in Beirut in mid December. Eight East European comics’ artists and five Lebanese illustrators met to explore together the multiple faces of post-war city, to discuss issues of diversity and to share professional knowledge.

(JPG)
An evening of presentations and discussions in Beirut

We had a great and a very diverse group: Aleksandar Zograf, Toma Pan and Vladimir Palibrk (all from Serbia), Irena Jukic-Pranjic (Croatia) and Helena Klakocar (Croatia/the Netherlands), Jakob Klemencic (Slovenia), Matei Branea (Romania) and Ivan Bogadnov (Bulgaria). The Lebanese comics scene was presented by Lena Merjer and Omar Khoury, who together publish the Samandal magazine for comics, Ghassan Halawani, Zeina Abirached and Ghadi Ghosh. All of them, in addition of doing comics are involved in other artistic activities such as animations and movies, writing and teaching.

Besides many discussions of professional topics such as on drawing styles and techniques, the five days of the workshop naturally turned out to be an intensive process of getting to know each other out of the box. For the artists coming from different countries in Eastern Europe, neighboring one another, but still separated by many ideologies and historical narratives, it was exciting to compare and contrast the development of their art in each country and to look at the socio-political forces which affected it.

Moreover, they had the chance of exploring Beirut off the beaten touristic tracks with the good guidance of the local participants. They took their guests to the best falafel shop in the city and invited them to celebrate the Lebanon’s favorite cheese – labneh; showed them around the newly rebuilt downtown but also let them see the former Palestinian refugee camp, which now has become rather a ghettoized district of Beirut. What is worth mentioning is that one of the main themes which were popping up many times was the issues of war, which the people from ex-Yugoslavia and the Lebanese artists find out to have very much in common. However, they were talking mainly about the personal experiences of growing up and living in a war situation.

The short-term result of this meeting will be the appearance of eight exciting comics on Beirut as seen by the European participants. Thus, another workshop is planned to happen in spring time in Sofia, after which the Lebanese artists will share their impressions from the city in drawing. Those short strips will be then published in one book. Further, every month in 2010 we will have several comics works, expressing a view point on issues of diversity in English. Those works will be translated and regularly published in high-quality magazines in Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Romania, and Lebanon.

The first meeting of comiXculture team was part of the “Comics Encounters” festival, organized by La Maison du Livre in Academie Libanaise des Beaux-Arts (ALBA) as part of the official program of Beirut World Book Capital 2009.

For more information on comixculture II, please contact Ina Doublekova at comix@npage.org

NEW BOOKS PUBLISHED

(JPG) Josef Wiesehofer, Ancient Persia, transl. into Arabic by Muhammad Jadeed and Ziad Muna (Cadmus Press, Damascus, Syria 2009), supported by the South-South Translation Project of Next Page Foundation

This comprehensive survey of the Persian Empire under the Achaemenids, the Parthians, and the Sasanians is praised as "an outstanding contribution toward and appreciation of ancient Persia." Based on primary written, archeological, and numismatic sources, it covers a huge time span – from the beginnings of the Achaemenid Empire to the Arab conquest. The study questions the reliability and accuracy of the Greek and Roman historical evidence and accounts, disputes the interpretations of the Western scholars of 19th and 20th century, thus offers a fresh Near Eastern perspective on the pre-Islamic Iranian social, cultural, and political history.