Comic relief

he excitement was palpable. A number of enthusiastic teenagers and young adults gathered with family, friends and admirers at the Palestinian Youth Center in Shatila refugee camp this Thursday to hear the results of the “Let’s comics” competition they had entered.

The event, the culmination of a yearlong workshop for Shatila youths turned comic enthusiasts, also coincided with the release of the 9th edition of Samandal, an Arabic-language comic book produced by the collective of the same name.
Among the competitors, 20-year-old Rania al-Ajouz stood by her two-page submission, eager to answer visitors’ questions as they wandered past.

“I’m studying graphic design at the university, so this workshop was really a great opportunity for me,” she said. “It was the first time I was led to draw comics, and I really enjoyed it.”

Just next to Ajouz’s work, colorful books splayed on a table vied for attention. Behind, members of Samandal sold their latest publication to the eager crowd.

“Every time we issue a new magazine we choose a different place,” explained Hatem Iman, a member of the collective. “This time we have been invited to Shatila because we participated in the workshop that took place here.”

Iman explained that the collaboration between Samandal and Shatila residents went far beyond the day’s event. “Some of the participants’ comics here today are present in our 9th magazine and all of them will be gathered in another publication which might be released in about four months,” he said.

Let’s comics,” the workshop in which Ajouz and Samandal participated, was founded by the European Union and implemented by three NGOs, COSV, Najdeh and Insan.

Over the course of one year, about 30 Lebanese students, Palestinian refugees and migrant youth were taught how to draw comics by members of Samandal. The activities took place in Shatila and Nabaa - where Najdeh and Insan have their centers.

Cecile Abadie, representing the European Union, explained in her speech that the project was aimed at promoting “intercultural dialogue among young people.” She also expressed her belief that comics can “transcend language and cultural boundaries.”

Intercultural dialogue is also what drove the creation of Samandal. The group works to promote comics as a legitimate vehicle of expression and is the first initiative of its kind in the Middle East. Samandal’s inexpensive (5000 LL) quarterly trilingual (Arabic, English and French) magazine is now widely read by a diverse mix of people in Lebanon.

Fadi Baki, another member of the collective, was particularly pleased with the Shatila venue.  “When we hold events in art galleries we meet people who came on purpose,” he said. “What is great here in Shatila is that we can reach people who were not basically interested in comics.”
The top six participants of the “Let’s comics” workshop received laptops, cameras or collections of comics. The competition also included two other categories of competitors. The two winners of the “Lebanese artist” category, open to artists beyond the initial workshop, won a trip to Italy to participate in a European Comics competition.

To watch a video about Samandal, click here. Or, visit their Facebook page here.