This Spring, I visited the Arab American Museum in Dearborn Michigan, for the first time. It just so happened that they also had an exhibit of comics there! Which was awesome. The comics were by Leila Abdelrazaq, an artist whose work I am familiar with; I have read her graphic novel Baddawi and highly recommend it.
There were four main things to see at the exhibit of comics. Circled around the room were framed original artworks by Leila, from her graphic novel and comics. It was neat to see another artist’s original inked pages. As an observer, you can imagine how the inked page gets scanned into the computer, and how the cartoonist edits and finalizes the page on the computer. Usually, it’s just a few finishing touches and minor details. There were even rare pages that were not included in the final comic, because they were redone. You could see how she changed and revised the layout of these pages, until they turned out the way she wanted. For cartoonists, this is part of the composition and story telling part of making a comic/graphic novel.
On the back wall was a large mural that Leila painted, featuring a map and a cartoon of a young refugee boy named Handala. Comic fans, especially those in the Arab world, may recognize Handala, who was created by the cartoonist Naji Al-Ali. Naji published work featuring Handala from 1975 to 1987, and it rates up there with some of the best comics ever made. They are very visual comics, usually you don’t even need words to understand them. His comics achieved world-wide fame and success before his life was brutally cut short by assassination. (You can learn more about Handala at www.handala.org) It’s easy to tell that this cartoonist is a big influence on Leila’s work. On the cover of Baddawi is a drawing of her father as a young child, who is one of the main characters in the book. The pose he is standing in mirrors how Handala was typically drawn.
Another thing to see was a video of the cartoonist, where she explained a bit about herself. And there were some new comic books by Leila, which you can find online. There was also an advertisement for a comic book-making workshop for teenagers, which was hosted by the cartoonist at the museum on a later date.
I thought it was a great idea for the Arab American Museum to focus an exhibit on graphic novels/comics and this artist, and I enjoyed the professionalism and presentation of the exhibit, as well as the work of the cartoonist. There were also some comics for sale in their gift shop. I hope to see an exhibit like this again some time. I also enjoyed the rest of the museum, it’s worth checking out, you can easily spend an hour or two in there; and there is tons of great Middle Eastern food nearby in Dearborn.