What is Tok Tok? Most Egyptians would tell you that it is a recent mode of transportation found mainly in Cairo, which is cheaper than a cab but more expensive than the micro-bus. A luxury for many. But, since January, there is a new definition added to this child-like word: a comics magazine.
TokTok the magazine is a one-of-its-kind project which launched recently at the highly popular Townhouse Gallery known for promoting emerging Cairo artists. Camera flashes flared and the place was jammed with comic book artists, foreigners, teenagers, art students: people from all walks of life who came to see what is so special about this new comic book. Printed in black and white, the comic magazine mirrors some facts of everyday Cairo life: traffic, the military service nightmare, sexual frustration, harassment and others things.
Among those who collaborated in bringing us this contemporary comics magazine are Hicham Rahma, Andeel, Khaled Abaziz, Makhlouf, Mona Sonbol and Shennawy. Rahma’s first strip is based on Ibrahim Aslan‘s short story of an old sick woman who hears the phone ring, calls on her son to answer, and dies in the course of it.
There is more black humour. Makhlouf tells the story of a writer in distress: having a block, he finds himself tempted by his wife’s cleavage. Out of frustration, he takes a pen and… kills her. Shennawy chose to go for the subject of the life of a neon billboard. Illustrating, in a Bercovici-like style, Shennawy captures aspects of Cairo people, from the police to the fanatic.
In Egypt, nearly every young man must go through the military service, and every single one of them will have colourful and shocking stories to share. This is what Khaled Abaziz did in his first TokTok contribution. Last but not least, Mona Sonbol writes her own little misadventure of being a girl in Cairo: stuck in traffic, limited by curfews and other everyday challenges.
In the comics, you can easily see the inspiration from the French comic book style. TokTok is a bit like a Spirou magazine, but “for adults” (as clearly stated on the cover). Set to be published every two months, they encourage artists who are interested in contributing to submit their comics via their website.
While TokTok is a fresh initiative, Cairo did witness similar projects in the past, unfortunately none of which managed to survive. Ganzeer magazine was initiated in 2005 by creative designer and businessman Mohamed Fahmy, aka MoFa. The subjects that were dealt with in this 10cm x 10cm magazine are similar to the ones we see in TokTok. Done in a black and white style as well, with a similar twist and points of view on current Cairo social affairs, it begs the question: how much has actually been done since 2005?
Another unique step was the publication in 2008 of Egypt’s first graphic novel, Magdy Al Shafei’s Metro. Al Shafei tells the story of a young man who gets implicated in a secret service situation, which is the beginning of a cat and mouse game unfolding before your eyes. Metro met a brute reception from the police, who broke in to the publishing house and confiscated all copies of the book. Two days later, Al Shafei was accused with issuing a publication “contrary to public decency”.
The case got much attention and, among others, famous filmmaker Ibrahim El Batout supported the author at his trial openly on Facebook. Al Shafei, a pharmacist in training, was encouraged to start drawing when attending a 2002 workshop at AUC with French comic-book artist Golo. He continues to draw, and today we can see his freelance work in Alef bookstores and elsewhere. And, with the current regime change, who knows: maybe we will witness the republishing of Metro…
Image courtesy of TokTok