graphic artists in the arab countries

Being illegal is unbearable

The Lebanese comic artist Rawand Issa loves black. Her illustrations are satirical, sometimes funny, sometimes sad, and above all introspective. Her graphic novels also raise political questions, however, and combine minor everyday emotions with major social issues. By Julia Neumann

Rawand Issa draws thick lines and doesnʹt come from Mars. The 26-year-old Lebanese artist expresses what she feels through her comics. That works best with a black pen pressed firmly to the paper – Rawand often feels afraid, angry or not understood, almost as if she came from another planet.

After five years as a journalist, Issa realised she could tell her stories better in comic form. Her first characters werenʹt superheroes, but Syrian refugees. "I was angry because there was a lot of racism against Syrian refugees in 2015 and I wanted to raise my voice. I couldnʹt find the right words, so I wanted to find an easier way. I decided on a documentation in comic form – not a simple subject for my first work as an artist."

Her joy in visual representation also comes from her childhood in Jiye: "I come from a small village. People there donʹt like reading newspapers, but they do enjoy magazines and all things visual," says Rawand. Moving from El-Jiye to Beirut was exciting, at first. "When you move from a village to a city, your whole life changes. All there is in the village is the house where you were born, the neighbours, one supermarket, one cafe. I love my village, but only old people live there, itʹs very conservative – I canʹt do anything there."

Issa hoped to live the life of a successful city woman. "Do you know that Alicia Keys song, in Neeew Yoork…?" The song gut stuck in her head – and New York became Beirut.

Like an alien in new surroundings

But once she got over the initial excitement in her new world, her doubts began to grow and depression followed on behind. "Once Iʹd asked all the questions and knew a lot, I felt bad," says Rawand. "I was like an alien in my new surroundings. I saw the world very differently, dark and gloomy. Suddenly I realised the world is unfair and I have to deal with it on my own."

For instance, Rawand noticed her workmates at the newspaper werenʹt taking her seriously, as a young woman; she noticed overdue elections being postponed again and again; she saw that the young generation had no political voice. "I felt like Iʹd been ignorant all along. Getting so much information at once can be traumatic."