Tosh Fesh showcases best of Arab drawing
BEIRUT: During a joint book launch, Tosh Fesh -- the Arab comics- and caricatures-promoting NGO -- released its fifth anthology, which collects work from the 2016 Mahmoud Kahil Awards with other notable graphic art.
The Mahmoud Kahil Award was created in 2014 by the American University of Beirut’s Mu'taz and Rada Sawwaf Arabic Comics Initiative, a program promoting the work of young and emerging Arab cartoon and caricature artists.
“Tosh Fesh 5” anthologises last year’s five winning works, as well as 16 entries from this year’s award finalists.
“The Mahmoud Kahil Award was created to celebrate the art of comics in the Arab world,” noted Lina Ghaibeh, director of the Mu'taz and Rada Sawwaf Arabic Comics Initiative. “This year we received 356 amazing [entries] of work at a high standard from 12 Arab counties.”
The awards are divided into five prize categories – editorial cartoon, graphic novels, comic strips, graphic illustration and children’s book illustration.
“We want to let people know about this type of art and that it’s not only for children,” Ghaibeh added. “It’s also for adults. It covers social and personal problems in life.”
“Tosh Fesh 5” will also be the NGO’s first bilingual anthology, with both Arabic and English translations.
“This was a decision we took in order to have a wider reach of audience and for the work of all these artists to extend broader than the limits of our Arab speaking world,” said Tosh Fesh designer Mohamad Abdouni.
“The aim has always been the same,” Abdouni added, “to shed light on the amazing work of these artists. Mu’taz Sawaf, who founded the Tosh Fesh, strongly believe in encouraging these artists who work hard to keep this field alive and thriving.”
Like previous installments, “Tosh Fesh 5” includes comics and caricatures from both young artists and veteran caricaturists.
Among the artists included in the anthology is Syrian editorial caricaturist Yasser Ahmed. He began drawing before graduating from teacher’s college in 1997 and quickly shot to fame after his work was featured in newspapers, websites and advertising across the Arab world.
His art is known for focusing on humanitarian and political issues, using grim irony to highlight important international problems.
His work in “Tosh Fesh 5” is a painful reflection of many contemporary issues -- such as human trafficking and the Syrian crisis. He uses small details to build a simple yet striking and thought-provoking illustration. In “Anatomy of a Refugee,” a refugee has been pinned upon a world map and vivisected, with location markers of safe havens pinning back his skin.
In the comics section features “The Reed,” an eye-catching comic by Egyptian-born Canadian illustrator Hatem Aly. Here, a young revolutionary compares the sorrowful sound of a nay (reed flute) to the unheard voice of Egypt’s youth.
The comic is beautifully drawn in gray scale, managing to express the character’s sense of longing and hope mixed with fear and anger, in just five, word-sparse pages.
With book printing sometimes challenged by online competition, Tosh Fesh believes that, for the world of comics, e-books and web comics are actually beneficial to the industry.
“There are lots of web comics that later get collected in volumes or there were many artists who became famous by publishing online and creating a loyal fan base,” explained Tosh Fesh’s art consultant Lena Merjeh. “It’s also for people outside the Arab world to see that we have our own comics and what they’re about.”
According to Tosh Fesh, the online presence will not bring down sales of physical copies because there is value in the experience of holding a book and seeing the drawings on paper.
Palestinian caricaturist Maher al-Hajj discovered many artists through Tosh Fesh’s website, but still felt people would buy prints and anthologies.
“As an artist I feel I have a strong relationship with pen and paper,” Hajj said. “Yes there are now graphic tablets and digital art, but as an artist I feel like if I didn’t use ink, pens and paper and feel the paper as I draw, I don’t feel like I have drawn at all.
“The value of a thing is to keep the original art. Artists have always drawn on paper for thousands of years.”
While the date for 2017’s award ceremony has yet to be set, Tosh Fesh has planned many future initiatives. “We’re launching a call for submission for comic artists and animators to submit their works, as we will be selecting four short graphic novels and three animations,” Merhej said. “We will be funding the production of the projects and awarding those artists with a cash prize.”
In addition to a French-language anthology featuring 50 artists and a school education project, Tosh Fesh also intends to improve its website, wanting it to be “by artists for artists.”
“We want it to be a website with news about comics, animation and gaming, with artists publishing these articles, comics or pictures,” Merhej explained. “This will create a news network online between artists, publishers and distributors.
“In the next few months we’ll also be visiting schools and universities to talk about comics and introduce young people to them -- What are they? Where can they read or buy them? Who’s creating them in the Arab world?”