BEIRUT: Hard-hit Lebanese might be struggling with soaring prices, food shortages and power cuts, but that did not stop the French Institute of Lebanon from pressing ahead with the country’s first comic book festival.
Forty artists representing 14 nationalities came together to show their work, some combining music and drawing. Exhibits in French, Arabic and English were displayed at 20 locations across the capital, including the Sursock Palace and Dagher Villa.
The big names in comics gave master classes to aspiring young talent. (Supplied)
Mathieu Diez, literary director at the institute and a former director of the Lyon comic book festival, said that the Beirut event had to be held “because a country that is going through troubled times needs artists more than ever.”
He added: “Lebanese artists that we reached out to have overwhelmingly responded. It is also an act of resistance.”
Diez said that the positive reaction to the four-day festival, which ended on Oct. 10, has been overwhelming.
“It was founded on a common ground between Western and Arab authors and audiences, and this merger met our greatest hopes.”
The event was held in three languages: French, Arabic and English. (Supplied)
Leading names in the comic world gave masterclasses to emerging talents. Guests included Penelope Bagieu; Charles Berberian, father of the famous “Henriette” series; Fabien Toulme; Mathieu Sapin; and Michele Standjofski, illustrator and head of the illustration section of the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts.
According to Standjofski, the festival gave students the chance to meet and learn from professionals in the sector.
During the opening concert held at the Sursock Palace, Lebanese illustrator Raphaelle Macaron signed the festival poster, and also completed drawings while accompanied by the Acid Arab band, a French group that plays electro-oriental music popular in the Maghreb, Europe and the Middle East.
Macaron said that the festival offered a chance to boost people’s spirits amid the turmoil in Lebanon.
40 artists from 14 different nationalities are exhibiting their work and experiences. (Supplied)
“I am motivated by certain projects, either because they are liberating for me or because they contribute to the country’s progress. To me, the illuminated lighthouse in the poster represents hope at the end of the tunnel,” she said.
Among many subjects tackled during the festival, the themes that captured most attention were the status of women — an issue that also affects the comic world — and the Lebanese revolution.
The exhibition held in Dar El-Nimer arts center — organized by the Mu’taz and Rada Sawaf Arab Comics Initiative of the American University of Beirut, and managed by illustrator Lina Ghaibeh — allowed the public to explore the new Arab comic book scene through original boards, dozens of magazine copies and individual or collective albums.
Designers from Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Syria and Tunisia were featured in the display.
A number of topics were discussed during the festival (Supplied)
“Arab comics are over a 100 years old, but today’s young illustrators relate their everyday lives,” Ghaibeh said.
“The street is at the center of their creations, because they invaded it during the Arab Spring. They first met through graffiti and social media, then started collaborating. They have revealed themselves, affirmed their identity and managed to make their voices heard.”
For Tunisian illustrator Othman Selmi, the festival offered a chance to “review the problems and challenges to be met,” while Egyptian painter Migo said that the Dar El-Nimer exhibition “allows us to know where we are and what we can reach.”
All agreed the festival was the ideal antidote to the prevailing gloom in the country.
This story was originally published in French on Arab News en Français