My favourite mouse
As Egypt's most popular comic magazine, hits the news stands after a 10-month absence, Amira El-Noshokaty breathes a sigh of relief
s a little girl I cherished Mickey, the comic magazine of choice for the vast majority of Egypt's younger population, even before I knew how to read. The reading of Mickey was in fact a nearly sacrosanct Thursday ritual, usually preceded by a fight with my uncle, who often had it to himself first. Having procured the ink-and-paper treasure, I would lie victoriously beside my older cousin -- and as she read out loud I would stare at the colourful strips in awe. Some 25 years later, I catch myself slouching on the couch to read Mickey, having fought over it with my younger sister.
GOODBYE AND HELLO: (Top) Cover of the last issue published by Dar Al-Hilal; (Above) Cover of the new Mickey
Issued in 1959 by Dar Al-Hilal, Mickey Magazine remained the best selling Egyptian comic publication until 2003, when it was abruptly discontinued. Dar Al-Hilal's was the first Arabic edition of Disney's Mickey Mouse series of comics; a weekly magazine, 70,000 to 80,000 copies were printed. With 70 per cent sold, the remaining copies were bound into books for redistribution. It became a phenomenon.
The secret to Mickey's success was that Dar Al-Hilal, rather than supplying word-for-word translations of the original English strips, opted for adapting the material, giving the characters Egyptian names and employing very simple standard Arabic -- easily accessible to any Egyptian. The resulting Egyptian Mickey soon developed into a cult in its own right. And one result of this, combined with the magazine's excellent humour, which extended to the weekly joke on the front cover, made for a wide-ranging and loyal readership -- though one started reading the magazine at the age of seven, one seldom stopped in one's early teens.
The circumstances that led Dar Al-Hilal to discontinue the magazine began in the 1990s, when Disney's demands, according to Dar Al-Hilal representatives, became exorbitant. Opening the last edition, which appeared in March 2003, was a statement explaining that, while Dar Al-Hilal was willing to accommodate Disney's demands by distributing in Arab countries, the latter prohibited the implementation of any such plans. Soon afterwards, the statement went on, Disney imposed restrictions on advertising, and finally stopped posting material. Negotiations led to a dead end, ending Disney's last ever collaboration with a state-supported publishing house.
Mickey's devotees were already losing heart when a brand new edition, published by Nahdat Misr -- a private-sector publishing company -- hit the news stands last week. Nahdat Misr representatives claim that the new enterprise is a success -- sold out within days, the magazine, they say, had to be reprinted. Mohamed Sami, a 21-year-old newspaper vendor and himself a devoted Mickey reader, corroborated the company's statements, asserting that he sold 59 of the 60 copies he was to distribute. Yet, voicing what seems to be a fairly widespread opinion, Sami feels that the new edition lacks the humour and excitement of the original Mickey. One feature that he misses is the Atfal Abtal, (Child Heroes) and the riddle. A smaller magazine covered in polystyrene, with Mickey Mouse smiling and counting one with his finger, make the new Mickey (priced at LE2.50 instead of LE1.50) easy to spot.
"Mickey stopped appearing in Egypt almost a year ago," Dalia Ibrahim, the vice chairman and publishing director of Nahdet Misr, told Al-Ahram Weekly. "Back then the pound was being devalued and the prices of even the most basic commodities rose. It is only natural that the new magazine should be more expensive, now that the costs of the imported commodities used for publishing have gone up -- besides which, we pay the copy right money in dollars," she explained. "In fact LE2.50 is much lower than we thought we could manage, but we feel the national obligation to resume the tradition of Mickey within a reasonable price bracket," she continues. Paper quality has improved, Ibrahim added -- 90 gramme instead of 80 gramme coated paper; and since it now abides by the specifications set by Disney, the magazine looks identical to its sister magazines all over the world.
There is no reason to expect lower quality from Nahdat Misr, which has been working in education for 66 years. Among its more popular publications is Al-Adwaa, a popular book summarising school curricula. Nor is Mickey its first international venture -- the company has issued publications based on Batman, Superman, The Ninja Turtles and Harry Potter.
Perhaps it is the company's involvement in education that made for Mickey's new, didactic concept -- which, besides the comic strips, which cover 75 per cent of each issue, provides for amateur artists and creative young people, publishing the winning entries of the Suzanne Mubarak literary and artistic competitions for children.
The new Mickey opened with an editorial by Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak and a drawing by one of Egypt's highly respected illustrators, Ihab Shaker. The language, too, has shifted towards the classical end of the scale. "We decided on this form of language though it might negatively impact our sales," Ibrahim explains. "It was a difficult decision, but, since there are those who read nothing but Mickey, we decided we had an obligation to improving their language through the magazine. Improving our readers' Arabic and presenting a providing humour are not mutually exclusive aims."
Mo'men Basil, 11, for one such reader, is rather disappointed with the long-awaited return of his favourite magazine. "This new edition is different," he says. "It's not as funny and the language is too classical." Perhaps it is the persistence of readers like Basel that will prompt Nadhat Misr to alter its plans, for he, for one, is not giving up just yet. "Though I hate classical Arabic, because it is so difficult to understand," he says, "I intend to buy Mickey again, because who knows. Maybe it will get better."