Arab Comics and Artists’ Collectives. Lena Merhej/Anna Gabai


Interflugs Lecture series presents:

Léna Merhej is a comic artist and editor from Lebanon. In her talk, she is going to give us an insight into the state-of-the-art of comics in the Arab world. she will take us from her own work, over the magazine Samandal that she co-edits, to what is going on in the comic scenes of Lebanon, Egypt and Algeria. Léna Merhej will be accompanied by comic curator and researcher Anna Gabai, who curated the exhibitions on Arab comics at both Fumetto Festival 2013 and Comic Salon Erlangen 2012.

Comics spread throughout Arab countries during the 1930s, mainly in the form of English or French comic books. Since the 1950s, stories have been drawn, written and published in Arabic. The development of comics as an art form is different from country to country, but there are some characteristics that are observable throughout the region. Comics are not connoted negatively, they are seen as children’s literature – though more and more stories for adults have been created in the last ten years. The main places of origin of these new developments are Algeria, Egypt and Lebanon. A lot of the more recent works deals with topics such as war and civil war, or comments on the current political situation in the respective countries.

Léna Merhej (1977) studied graphic design at the American University of Beirut and completed her MFA at the Parsons School of Design. She is currently a junior fellow at the Research Center for Visual Expertise at Jacobs University, working on her PhD: Narratives of Conflict in Lebanese Comics.
She thought at the American University of Beirut and at the Lebanese American University and gave workshops in animation, illustration, and comic books. She is a co-founder and editor of Samandal Comics Magazine.

Léna Merhej illustrated over 20 Arabic children’s books,  wrote several comic stories, and exhibited her work both locally and internationally. Her animation film, Drawing the War (2002) screened in major international festivals and has won the Jury Award of the 36th New York Exposition Festival. War is a recurrent theme in her work and the subject of her first comic book, I Think We Will be Calmer in the Next War (2006). Another Year (2008), the story of the friendship between 7 Palestinians spread between Palestine and the Diaspora, won the price for best comic book in Arabic in the year 2009 at the FIBDA
(Festival de La Bande Dessinée à Alger). Her most recent comic book, Jam and Yogurt, or How my Mother Became Lebanese was published in 2011.

Anna Gabai is an independent comics scholar. She graduated in Arabic Literature and Culture, Islamic Studies and Jewish Studies. She curated two exhibitions about Arab comics: 2012 at the international Comic Salon Erlangen and 2013 at international Comix-Festival Fumetto in Lucerne. She is now studing Adults Education at the Humboldt University of Berlin.