The riotous pages of Tuk Tuk
The second issue of the comic book Tuk Tuk has hit the bookstores, and like the first it is chock-full of chuckles and challenges, writes Rania Khallaf
When the first edition of the comic book Tuk Tuk came out in January it heralded a brand- new attitude in what was to prove to be a revolutionary year. The first issue of the magazine -- the first of its kind in Egypt -- was published on New Year's Day and was the result of eight months of brainstorming and preparation.
Tuk tuk is produced and published by a group of young graphic designers and caricaturists whose aim is to open Egypt's gate to the comic-book world. The cover of the first issue was an eye-catching purple background with an illustration of a traffic policeman, wearing his traditional black fatigues, busy taking notes of traffic violations. Tuk Tuk was defined on the cover as the 'Comics' Station' and had a short advisory note on the side: "Keep away from children". This is a comic that is, indeed, intended for adult readers.
Although caricature is certainly not new in Egypt, and is one of the nation's most popular art forms, this is the country's first initiative in the publication of a comic book for adults. Appropriately, the first issue was dedicated to the great caricaturist Mohieddin El-Labad, a pioneer of comic art in Egypt who died last year. El-Labad once published the underground comic book Nazar (Saw).
The group of young illustrators, who include among others Mohamed Shenawi, Hesham Rahma and Makhlouf, have all had experience in working as caricaturists or comic illustrators for daily newspapers or periodical magazines. The first issue was given a huge welcome by readers and art critics. A reception and a signing ceremony held at the Townhouse Gallery saw the huge sale of the first 500 copies.
According to Shenawi, the graphic designer and layout editor at Tuk Tuk who kick-started the magazine, the only precedent in the region of this totally new experience was Al-Samandal, which was published acouple of years ago in Lebanon.
"We chose this form of a black-and-white comic book largely because it was our favorite magazine size and format from the time we were kids," Shenawi said.
Shenawi, who graduated from the Applied Art College in 2000, came up with the magazine's odd name, Tuk Tuk, as a tribute to the new type of transport whose popularity has spread over the last few years in Cairo and other large towns. Most people who drive this small, cheap and easy-to-drive vehicle do not have a driving licence. However, the noise it makes and the dangerous way it negotates the traffic on the city's crowded streets stirs up a spirit of tension and disquiet among residents, pedestrians and car drivers.
"I wanted to come up with a popular and easy name, something that invoked the readers' interest and at the same time created a sense of unease," Shenawi told Al-Ahram Weekly.
"El-Labad's comics resemble a sort of discipline for all of us. We also learnt a lot from other pioneer caricaturists such as Hegazi, Ihab Shaker and Bahgat."
The magazine has no definite line, and the comics discuss various topics, but for the most part these are social issues. The main message of the January issue its was to 'create crowdedness and a mess of comics, drawn in a free, post modern spirit.'
When the revolution broke out, however, the illustrators, most of whom were young people who were heavily involved in the Tahrir Square demonstrations, were also caught up with preparations forge the second issue. "It was very difficult for us to focus on both facets, but we decided to unite our efforts and come up with the second issue, one that largely reflected our view of the revolution," Shenawi said.
The cover of the second issue, which was published in April, sported a yellow background and another amusing illustration of an angry policeman, this time standing beside a fat thug, who is holding a large stick and a television set with the head of a whale coming out of it. These are symbols of the tools the government set loose in its unsuccessful attempt to quash the revolution.
The second issue has also been warmly received, and this time an event was organised by the French Cultural Centre in Mounira. One of the comic strips was entitled The Battle of Umm El-Karateen (Mother of Boxes). Illustrated by Andil, a Tuk Tuk staff member, it tells the story of the magazine's staff coming to Cairo on 28 January, the Friday of Anger, straight after a signing ceremony in Alexandria. It features in a funny way the harassment they met from the police, just because they were carrying boxes full of magazine copies, Shenawi told the Weekly.
The second issue, now increased to 58 pages, is more integral than the first. Its contents include a reproduction of a famous comic strip by El-Labad entitled Question Time, which deals with queries on resistance and revolution. Another amusing revolution-themed strip is one by Makhlouf, entitled The Birth Of My Own Wound, is the story of a 29-year old man who is virtually unemployed and yet thinks of nominating himself as the future president of Egypt.
To the average reader the comics sound funny and easy to digest. However, since this is Egypt's sole comic magazine the content could tackle events in a more serious manner.
The magazine, which is now available at Downtown bookshops such as Alef and Al-Balad, does not receive any financial support from publishers or donors. "We insist on publishing at our own expense," Shenawi says. "We haven't made any financial losses. We are barely covering our expenses."
Although caricature and comics for adults are usually about resistance, when reading the magazine one is aware that it adheres to the cultural taboos on religioun and sex. This means that a spirit of of self-censorship permeates through the pages.
"This is partly true," Shenawi admits. "The magazine reflects different views, because the staff themselves have different views: some are liberal, and others are more conservative. But social issues are the main focus of the magazine."
"Our long-term plan is to establish a powerful institution that supports the publication of Tuk Tuk as well as other activities related to reviving this unique art in Egypt, including exhibitions and workshops for beginners in illustration in Egypt and the Arab world. We are also dreaming of taking part in international comic festivals and competitions." Shenawi's confident smile as he says this reveals his high expectations.
Answering the classic question about the worries now being folt by Egypt's cultural elite about he fthe Salafi trend, which seems to be increasing its grip Egyptian society, Shenawi said the next issue of the magazine would reflect this particular concern.
"I guess our duty is to face up to this trend by telling people that diversity is a good thing, provided that each sect respects and coexist with the other," he concluded.