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Gaza tales told in comic book form

by Alison Hird

Article published on the 2009-02-16 Latest update 2009-02-17 13:09 TU

(© Gaza Collectif)

(© Gaza Collectif)

While many ordinary French people protested and demonstrated against the recent Israeli incursion into Gaza, a young comic strip artist decided to do his bit and set up the Gaza Collectif. Their book hits the shelves this week.

Culture in France: a Gaza comic book

16/02/2009 by Alison Hird

“I don’t know if the book can make a difference, but I hope it might help people understand this conflict was not fought on the same terms and that a lot of Israelis were against it”.

Maximilien Le Roy, aka Cmax, is a comic strip artist. He’s only 23, but when Israel launched the incursion into Gaza in December 2008 he took up the only arms he had, pencil and paper, and launched the Gaza Collectif.

Clement Baloup wanted to capture the fear in Nathalie Abou Chakra’s testimony.(© Gaza Collectif)

Clement Baloup wanted to capture the fear in Nathalie Abou Chakra’s testimony.
(© Gaza Collectif)

Less than two months down the line, a 300-page book hits the French shelves this week. Gaza December 2008 - January 2009 mixes cartoons, graphic art, photos and political analysis from Middle East experts, describing both what happened during those three weeks and putting the conflict in its political context. 

Literally half text, half graphics, Le Roy says it’s artistic and political in equal parts. But it’s the graphics that make this book different from so many others on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

During the Israeli incursion Le Roy gathered testimonies (largely over the phone) from Gazans and they appear as comic strip in the book. The majority were drawn by some 40 fellow comic book artists via an appeal on the web.

“The only criteria was not to be anti-semitic”, says le Roy.

In the end just a couple were rejected on that basis.

The results are impressive and allow the reader more space to reflect than many photos do. Comic strip can also bring the subject closer to home.

Clement Baloup chose to illustrate the testimony from Gazan poet Nathalie Abou Chakra. He was particularly drawn to the poetic way she described the fear of living and dying under the bombs.

“A lot of testimonies were very detailed and had political views inside but I found this one touched me; it was really deep and poetic” explains Baloup.

The young artist whose previous graphic artwork Quitter Saigon is based on testimonies about the war in Vietnam, presents Nathalie as a young dark haired woman, with no particular cultural or political identity.

Salma Ahmed describes returning to Palestine just three months ago, having seen Caen bombed during WW2. She dreamed of seeing the same reconstruction in Palestine. 
(© Renart)

Salma Ahmed describes returning to Palestine just three months ago, having seen Caen bombed during WW2. She dreamed of seeing the same reconstruction in Palestine.
(© Renart)

“Her first identity is a woman, not Palestinian. I wanted to draw her very netural and let people identify more easily with her.”

The book is published by la Boite à Bulles, a small publisher specialising in graphic novels with a geopolitical slant. Editor Vincent Henry was immediately taken with the idea while admitting such emotional testimonies can be difficult to illustrate.

“What isn’t easy [is] to transmit the emotion … without having the violins playing too loudly. You have to support the story, not to show I am the best artist.”

Most drawings are wilfully simple, just a few lines. Like one of Le Roy’s own comic strips of a woman’s face which loses its definition and features from one frame to the next. When only a thin grey line remains, it’s clear her children are dead.

All the contributors to Gaza December 2008 January 2009 have worked for free and the author’s rights are going to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights in Gaza City.

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