Leila Abdelrazaq and Her Insight on Comics
What drew you to comics?
I have always loved storytelling and art, so it seemed natural for me to start drawing comics. The first major comics project I worked on was a web comic version of what later turned into my graphic novel Baddawi. I was drawing anecdotes from my dad’s childhood growing up in Baddawi refugee camp during the Lebanese Civil War. I wanted to share the stories with others, to help them better understand the Palestinian refugee situation. Comics seemed a good way to engage people in those stories and inform them, because people are drawn to illustrations, and they are accessible to people. A lot of people think the Palestinian issue is “complicated” so comics were a good way to show people that it’s not so complicated at all.
What themes drive you the most?
A lot of political and social themes drive me. When I first started, the motivations behind my work were educating a mostly western audience about Palestine. But as my own activism has shifted, I’m now less interested in that. I’m more interested in engaging with other Palestinians about what issues we face as a global community, what challenges we are undergoing in exile, under occupation, and barriers to return. So now, I’m more interested in talking to fellow Palestinians to work through our own issues in my art, and less interested in trying to use it to convince white people that I’m a human being deserving of dignity and human rights.
As a Palestinian comic artist based in the US, do you feel you have sort of a mission in your work?
Like I said, I did at first with relation to a western audeince. But now I think my “mission” is much more geared towards politicizing and mobilizing Palestinian diaspora communities, connecting with and starting conversations between Palestinians around the world, and also engaging with other oppressed and marginalized communities in the United States so that we can work together to challenge our common enemies.
Why did you start the blog Big mouth comics? Tell us a bit about it.
I started Bigmouth first as a blog, because I was really inspired by all the work that many others like myself were making. I started off with a web comic, posting my art online, and just happened to get a book deal. So I see myself in fellow artists doing the same, who like me, don’t have formal art training, and are just doing work because they love it and putting it out there because they believe in it. I wanted to lift up that work and use my leverage or access that I had gained as a published author to lift up other artists around me who were creating work with a similar mission we are all collectively challenging barriers that we face as artists, and we’re stronger together! Many people held open doors for me early on, so I wanted to hold open the door for others in turn. This is why I eventually ended up turning Bigmouth into a distributor of zines, and soon a publishing house!
Any future projects you would like to tell us about?
I’m currently working on a ten page comic about navigating borders as a Palestinian for The Believer Magazine. I’m also currently a finalist for the Qattan Foundation’s Young Artist of the Year Award. I don’t want to give away too much about my project, but basically it combines comics and animation, and builds on themes I brought up in my latest short comic, The Opening. The final project will be on display in Ramallah this winter! Finally, Bigmouth will be publishing our first book, Rawand Issa’s “Asiya/The Insubordinate,” which will be translated into English and will be available in both English and Arabic in one volume! So, all exciting things.