(26 Jul 2017) LEAD IN:
The British Library is opening up one of the more colourful parts of its collection for the public.
It is displaying Arab comics, cartoons, caricatures and graphic novels that convey the political and social history of the region.
A sprightly looking Anwar Sadat looks out from the cover of Egyptian magazine Samir.
But in bright and bold colours this 1960s representation of the former president of Egypt is in cartoon form.
The magazine, then published by the government owned publisher Dar al- Hilal, presented Western and Arab culture characters, for instance the traditional satirical figure Juha.
It conveyed the political and national figures of the time, such as Sadat, then the Speaker of the National Assembly.
Fast forward four decades, and the first edition of the Lebanese magazine Samandal, from 2008, is published by an organisation of the same name, with the aim of pushing forward the art of comics in Lebanon and elsewhere.
Samandal shows personal stories, including the life story on an artist's mother.
These illustrated tales on show as part of the 'Comics and cartoon art from the Arab world' exhibition at The British Library.
The small exhibition highlights works from the 19th to the 21st Century, with pieces showing the political and social issues of their time.
"Comics, graphic novels and cartoons in the Arab world are really interesting, and I think they're being appreciated more, not just as ways of entertaining people but also as significant social and political texts," says the curator of Arabic Collections at The British Library, Daniel Lowe, who put together the exhibition from the library's collection.
"So you can learn a lot politically, across Arab history from them. For example, on the cover of Samir you find Anwar Sadat and other political figures."
"But you can also learn a lot socially. So they talk about social issues, and they are a way of educating children."
As well as Lebanon and Egypt, countries represented in the exhibition span the Arab world, from Kuwait, to Saudi, Tunisia and Algeria.
Even a rare 19th century political journal from Egypt and France is on show.
The Egyptian-Jewish dramatist and journalist James Sanua, who wrote and drew under the pen name Abou Naddara ('The Man in Glasses'), published newspapers in Cairo and then in exile in Paris.
Sanua wrote articles and drew cartoons alongside them that lambasted and undermined the Egyptian leaders and British imperial powers.
Other comic influences come from far and wide.
"You do see, I guess, taking influence from American comics, and even wholesale copying in a way," Lowe says. "But you do see the influence of Arab culture coming through."
"But interestingly you find other influences as well, so we have a comic strip here in the collection from a Saudi comic called Basim which has a very manga feel to it."
The reflection of and commentary on Arab life through the cartoons, comics and graphic novels continues to contemporary times, with many geared towards adults rather than children.
Lowe says some magazines were started before the Arab Spring but have been "really significant" since as a form of political and social commentary.
Every year The British Library collects 1,500 to 2,000 Arabic books, either by purchase or donation.
Lowe is aiming to make comics and graphic novels a significant part of the intake, seeing them as culturally important and visually interesting.
'Comics and cartoon art from the Arab world' runs at The British Library until 29 October 2017.
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