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Egyptian Comic Magazine Drawing Increased Attention

April 25, 2013

toktokIn January 2011, just a few weeks before the revolution began, a group of Egyptian artists launched a comics magazine called Tok-Tok .

Although financed almost entirely by the artists who draw/write for it, it has been apparently been thriving in–and because of–the ongoing revolution. And lately its picked up some international press. There was a video segment about it on Al-Arabiya news, mention of it and interview with one of the artists in a recent article on the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation’s web site, and an account of one of the features  was the subject of a short feature released by Common Ground News Service.

It’s revolutionary in that it’s not a kids magazine, as are most collections of comics in Egypt; it’s a collection of illustrated stories, some gritty, some funny, some quite dark. Tok Tok is described on the cover as a medicine “to be kept out of the reach of children”.

This is a significant departure from the cartoons I describe in the children’s magazines in Connected in Cairo.

In an interview with Swiss Broadacasting , TokTok”s originator, Mohamed Shennawy explained why it was named after the motorized tricycle that negotiates Cairo’s jammed streets by weaving in and out around bigger cars but which in doing so adds adds to the traffic problems. The little vehicles are gritty and streetwise and urban, which is a tone the magazine wants to capture. Moreover:

“Our magazine is like this tricycle: efficient but annoying thanks to its ironic tone,” he said. “Laughing and satire are characteristic traits of the Egyptian spirit – they let us get across what we’re trying to say.”

“Thriving” is a relative term, of course. TokTok sells 1500 copies per issue, at five pounds per. This means it’s probably in the black, but nobody’s making a living out of it. But its fans are loyal enough to show up at special venues to buy the latest editions and get them signed by the artists.

A story in the Egypt Independent when Toktok was launched described the new magazine in this way:

Tok Tok’s focus on the everyday embraces what comics do best and what gives the medium its subversive political power: mixing the high and the lowbrow without sentimentality or propaganda, and carrying a huge potential for ambiguity.

It also makes the magazine undeniably Egyptian, whether in its dealings with sex, traffic or great works of literature. Among the narratives is a spread of funny satirical advertisements and altered logos, and a “Made in Egypt” series inside the back cover, which will select one stereotypical Egyptian character each issue for a drawing and witty biography.

A story also appeared in mashareeb.com. The author wrote:

The artwork of the magazine is fascinating and the Egyptian spirit can be felt in all the stories and the drawing styles. The whole thing is not just graphic novels and comic strips, it also contains a short story, a poem and a section dedicated for talking about the history of Egyptian comic artists and their work (wich is a GREAT idea!).

A recent issue featured a comic about a superhero named “super-Makh” who fights against the sexual harassment that has always been part of Urban Egyptian life but has become particularly aggressive and noxious since the revolution. The superhero was the subject of a short feature released by Common Ground News Service.

The story is penned by Sophie Anmuth, who writes:

Dressed in floral print clothing, he needs cinnamon chewing-gum to fight against his foes and a long rest after his encounters – It’s Super Makh! Reappearing this year in the Egyptian comic publication Tok-Tok, Super Makh is the Egyptian version of Superman in a popular cartoon where his main mission is to the help women and girls stop their harassers

The comic is by Ahmed Makhlouf, who just signs himself Makhlouf. The Common Ground story notwithstanding, this is not the work Makhlouf himself features on his web site, and the title of the comic seems to me to be ironic, reflecting what he wished he would/could do when he witnesses women being harassed.

Other artists include Andil, Hicham Rahmah and Tawfik. You can check out the magazine at its web site, of course: www.toktokmag.com.

A toktok, for those who don't know, is an autorickshaw, a three-wheeled car originating in South Asia but spreading throughout the global south.

A toktok, for those who don’t know, is an autorickshaw, a three-wheeled car originating in South Asia (where I took this picture) but spreading throughout the global south, including Cairo, where they are now a common urban sight.

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