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Posts Tagged ‘comic’


Photo: The Economist
A statue of Juha, the wise old fool of Arab folklore.

It’s interesting to me that all cultures seem to have something like a wonton as part of their cuisine. Jewish cooks make kreplach, Italians make ravioli, Polish cooks make pierogis, and so on. We have more in common than we often realize.

The same goes for folktales. For example, most cultures have a wise fool, like the old court jesters or Don Quixote. I just learned about an Arab example.

The Economist comments, “Western audiences have grown used to the marauding heroes of Arabic folklore. Characters like Sinbad the Sailor and Ali Baba instantly conjure images of hidden treasure and desperate sword fights. But in the Middle East itself, many people prefer a more down-to-earth figure: Juha, a wise old fool, and his long-suffering donkey. …

“Juha first appeared in an Arabic book of the ninth century, though this was likely adapted from an older oral tradition. From there, Juha quickly splintered to the far ends of the Mediterranean world. He followed the Arabs to Sicily, where he became known as Giufà. In Turkey, his legend merged with a Sufi mystic called Nasruddin, while the Ottomans exported him to the Balkans. Some even claim that Juha inspired Cervantes’s ‘Don Quixote.’ …

“In some tales, Juha is accompanied by his faithful donkey and much amusement springs from it getting lost. One story begins with Juha looking for the animal around town; everywhere he goes, he thanks God. People are confused. ‘Why are you praising God?’ they ask. ‘Surely this is nothing to be thankful for?’ Juha smiles. ‘If I were riding the donkey right now, I’d be lost too!’

“Not all Juha’s tales are so innocent. Like court jesters in medieval Europe, his everyman style has proved an ideal vehicle for social criticism. In one fable, Juha is approached by a proud king. ‘All the great rulers of the past had honorific titles with the name of God in them,’ he proclaims. ‘There was God-gifted, and God-accepted. Can you think of a name for me?’ Juha pauses. “God-forbid,’ comes his retort. …

“Ali Ahmed Bakathir, an Egyptian nationalist, reimagined the fable of ‘Juha’s nail’ in 1951 to mock Britain’s obsession with the Suez Canal (just as Juha keeps ownership of a single nail at his old house so he always has an excuse to visit, Bakathir suggested that the British used Suez to justify their occupation of Egypt generally). …

“Amid the confusion of the modern Middle East, Juha is one way people find common ground. Last year, storytellers from around the Gulf met in the United Arab Emirates to celebrate Juha. The internet provides another space for communal appreciation. A popular Reddit page features dozens of volunteers reading a classic Juha story in their native Arabic dialect.”

More at the Economist, including sightings of Juha in unlikely parts of the world, here.

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Superheroes are coming in all shapes and sizes these days. Here’s an Afghan wheelchair-bound superhero created by a teen born in Afghanistan. Once an admirer of anti-Taliban warlords, he found Gandhi and Mandela a revelation and wants kids to know about nonviolent superpower.

Cristina Quinn reports at Public Radio International, “Mohammad Sayed is unstoppable. At the age of 19, he is already an inventor and entrepreneur. One half of his business, called RimPower, is providing assistive technologies. The other half is a comic book series centered around the hero Wheelchair Man.

” ‘My goal is to help people in wheelchair[s] both psychologically and physically,’ he says. ‘A world where every wheelchair user is empowered rather than disabled.’

“Sayed, who goes by ‘Mo,’ knows firsthand what that’s all about. At age 5, he suffered a traumatic spinal cord injury when his home in Afghanistan was bombed. …

“He spent seven years in a trauma hospital because he had nowhere else to go. To survive, he became a hustler, wheeling around the ward working odd jobs — repairing staffers’ cellphones and taking pictures for photo IDs. He even taught himself English by listening to the BBC — and charged for translation. …

“He never gave up. Even when the hospital staff eventually had to evacuate, leaving him alone with just a few guards. …

“His luck would change six months later, when Maria Pia-Sanchez, an American nurse working in Afghanistan, came looking for him. A doctor who knew Sayed asked her to check on him.

“ ‘So we stopped by the hospital where he had been living to see if anyone was there and if they knew where he was,’ Pia-Sanchez says. … Even though Sayed was so young, Pia-Sanchez says he was entrusted with many things in the hospital that the older staff were not. …

“ ‘Even though that life has ended for me, you know, you will never feel certain,’ the teenager says. ‘These are the kinds of things that stay with you. But what defines us as humans is that some of us don’t give in.’

“His idea of not giving in started to shift when he learned about Mahatma Gandhi. That was his introduction to using non-violence as a weapon, and the whole concept blew his mind.

“ ‘Before learning about Gandhi, my role models were warlords,’ Sayed says. …

“Those warlords were replaced with Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela. But in the pantheon of heroes, there was still a piece missing. And it wasn’t until Sayed attended Comic-Con in Boston a couple years ago that everything came into full focus. …

“ ‘At Boston Comic-Con, I was like, why is there nobody representing the wheelchair community? Why isn’t there a wheelchair superhero wheeling around here?”

“So he set out to make Wheelchair Man, an Afghan-American superhero who, upon making eye contact, shows a would-be criminal the consequences of his actions before he commits them. That’s his power.”

More here.

Illustration: Mohammad Sayed
Afghan wheelchair-bound superhero created by Mohammad Sayed.

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I like to listen to the radio show Studio 360 (on the arts) as I drive to tai chi Saturday mornings.

In October, I heard about a contest the show was running. The Studio 360 website explains: “We challenged you to The Great Studio 360 Doodle Dare. Cartoonist and newly-minted MacArthur ‘genius’ grant winner Alison Bechdel started a drawing — of a disconcerted young woman grasping at something unseen — and we asked you to complete the picture.

“More than two hundred doodlers took our challenge, putting Alison’s character in every imaginable situation — fighting spaghetti, hitching a ride on a dragonfly, hanging off of Iggy Azalea’s backside. …

“ ‘I was amazed by how many submissions there were,’ says Bechdel. ‘And many of them were really, really wonderful.’

Carlolita Johnson explained in her submission that the drawing depicts something that really happened to her. ‘She had a little dog that was rolling around on a cliff above the ocean and the dog went over,’ Bechdel explains to [Studio 360 host] Kurt Andersen. ‘So it was exciting to me, because I like to write about my own life, to see someone turn this into a real scene from their own life.’ ”

More here.

Alison Bechdel’s original drawing next to the winning submission from Carlolita Johnson (Studio 360 Doodle Dare) 

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The website of radio show “Studio 360,” here, offers a glimpse into an intriguing new graphic novel. Check out the slide show illustrating:

(1) “The covers of Gene Luen Yang’s two-part graphic novel Boxers & Saints.

(2) “A page from the book. The author describes the Boxers, depicted here, as poor villagers who believed they could summon the Chinese gods from the skies, who would grant them superpowers. ‘I grew up reading superhero comic books,’ Yang says. ‘And that was one of the ways I found a connection with these Boxers.’

(3) “Boxers transformed for a battle.

(4) “Four-Girl, who isn’t accepted by her family, converts to Catholicism — but she has many questions about the new religion.

(5) “Yang, a practicing Catholic, says he ‘grew up within a tension of Western belief systems and Eastern culture.’ Aspects of the book reflect ‘an ambivalence I have about my own identity.’

(6) “American Born Chinese is Yang’s semi-autobiographical story of a kid desperate to fit in. At one point, the story turns into a sitcom with a laugh track and comic relief courtesy of the grossly stereotypical Chin-Kee. Yang says he wanted make his readers squirm.”

I heard the radio interview with the artist. He said it worried him when people told him they loved the character Chin-Kee in American Born Chinese. Kind of made me want to see the show — and figure out how his message could have gone so wrong. Find the whole interview here.

Photo: First Second Books
The covers of Gene Luen Yang’s two-part graphic novel Boxers & Saints.

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I read about this Plainville, Mass., cartoonist a while ago, but didn’t get my hands on a Providence Journal to see his new comic strip, Gil, until today. It’s sweet. I think regular readers of the funny pages are going to like following little Gil.

Taryn Plumb wrote about the glass-is-half-full antihero in the Boston Globe: “Gil is chubby, gap-toothed, not too bright, and his working-class parents are divorced.

“The central character of a new syndicated comic strip penned by Plainville cartoonist Norm Feuti, the 8-year-old bucks the idealized tradition of the comic pages, representing the norm of many 21st-century American families.

“ ‘I always wanted to do a family strip that was more down-to-earth,’ said 41-year-old Feuti, a full-time cartoonist.’’

Plumb notes that Feuti and “his older sister were raised in rural Rhode Island by his mother, who, much like [Gil’s mother], worked in a factory.”

“ ‘Immediately you love this kid,’ said Tom Racine, the San Diego-based host of the entertainment podcast Tall Tale Radio, for which he’s interviewed more than 250 syndicated and Web cartoonists and animators.”

He tells Plumb, “ ‘It’s one of those things where its time has come,’ … calling ‘Gil’ ‘truly one of the best things I’ve seen come along in years.’ ’’

Feuit’s blog is here. The Globe article is here.

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