Conflict and Harmony in the Middle East through Graphic Novels

By Becky Thornton

A rich and complex area of the world that is often in the global spotlight, there is a movement of artists who want to tell the story of their real experiences growing up and traveling throughout the Middle East. Here are some selections that seek to explore the diversity of those experiences.

  • The Arab of the Future : A Graphic Memoir

    2015 by Riad Sattouf

    Riad Sattouf, award-winning French-Syrian cartoonist, recounts his nomadic childhood growing up in rural France, Gaddafi's Libya, and Assad's Syria—but always under the roof of his father, a Syrian Pan-Arabist who drags his family along in his pursuit of grandiose dreams for the Arab nation. Thoughtful, entertaining, and engrossing, you will find yourself sympathizing with the plight of the son, father, and mother as they adjust to each new (and old) world. Arab of the Future 2 is out as well, I suggest getting both at once since you will want to continue the story right away!

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  • The Complete Persepolis

    2007 by Marjane Satrapi

    The story of Marjane Satrapi's unforgettable childhood and coming of age within a large and loving family in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution; of the contradictions between private life and public life in a country plagued by political upheaval; of her high school years in Vienna facing the trials of adolescence far from her family; of her homecoming--both sweet and terrible; and, finally, of her self-imposed exile from her beloved homeland. It is the chronicle of a girlhood and adolescence at once outrageous and familiar, a young life entwined with the history of her country yet filled with the universal trials and joys of growing up.

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  • A Game for Swallows : To Die, to Leave, to Return

    2012 by Zeina Abirached

    The city of Beirut is cut in two by bricks and sandbags, threatened by snipers and shelling. East Beirut is for Christians and West Beirut is for Muslims. This is the story of a single evening where the neighbors in Zeina's apartment building create a world indoors where they can share cooking lessons and games and gossip. Every character is beautifully rendered to illustrate the personal impact of living in a war zone.

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  • Rolling Blackouts : Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq

    2016 by Sarah Glidden

    What is journalism? How are stories retold? Where do memory and truth meet? Cartoonist Sarah Glidden accompanies her two friends—reporters and founders of a journalism non-profit—as they research potential stories on the effects of the Iraq War on the Middle East and, specifically, the war's refugees. As the crew works their way through Turkey, Iraq, and Syria, Glidden observes the reporters as they ask civilians, refugees, and officials, 'Who are you?' Everyone has a story to tell. This is an amazing capture of the people involved in these areas. It is so human and moving.

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  • Dare to Disappoint : Growing up in Turkey

    2015 by Özge Samancı

    Growing up on the Aegean Coast, Ozge loved the sea and imagined a life of adventure while her parents and society demanded predictability. Her dad expected Ozge, like her sister, to become an engineer. She tried to hear her own voice over his and the religious and militaristic tensions of Turkey and the conflicts between secularism and fundamentalism. This is a lovely story weaving together history, politics, and the very familiar story of finding out what your path in life might be.

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  • Zahra's Paradise

    2011 by Amir.

    Set in the aftermath of Iran’s fraudulent elections of 2009, Zahra’s Paradise is the fictional story of the search for Mehdi, a young protestor who has vanished into an extrajudicial twilight zone. What’s keeping his memory from being obliterated is not the law. It is the grit and guts of his mother, who refuses to surrender her son to fate, and the tenacity of his brother, a blogger, who fuses tradition and technology to explore and explode the void in which Mehdi has vanished. Heartbreaking and affecting.

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  • Jerusalem : Chronicles from the Holy City

    2012 by Guy Delisle

    A thoughtful and moving travelogue about life in contemporary Jerusalem. Delisle expertly lays the groundwork for a cultural road map of the Holy City, utilizing the classic "stranger in a strange land" point of view. "Jerusalem" explores the complexities of a city that represents so much to so many. It eloquently examines the impact of conflict on the lives of people on both sides of the wall while drolly recounting the quotidian: checkpoints, traffic jams, and holidays. The vignettes are brief and gentle and give one outsider's personal perspective on a very complicated area of the world.

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  • Rise : The Story of the Egyptian Revolution as Written Shortly Before it Began

    2011 by Tarek Shahin

    "Cairo-born cartoonist Tarek Shahin, who counts Garry Trudeau as one of his idols, reveals many of the same insightful, irreverent, and humorous attitudes toward life in this collection of his own cartoons as Trudeau has shown in Doonesbury during his long career. Published every day in the Daily News Egypt, an independent English language newspaper, from April 2008 through April 2010, Shahin's "Al Khan" cartoons foreshadowed the popular revolution which eventually took place in Tahrir Square between January 25 and February 11, 2011." —Mary Whipple , Amazon Review

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  • Mike's Place : A True Story of Love, Blues, and Terror in Tel Aviv

    2015 by Jack Baxter

    There's a rule at Mike's Place: never, ever talk politics or religion. This is based on the true story of the authors' experiences as filmmakers who were working on a project on Mike's Place, a Tel Aviv blues bar where Jews, Christians, and Muslims freely mingled with expatriates, and the events that led up to the destruction of the bar in a suicide bombing. The slow build of tension leading up to the tragedy and the experience of survival and coping afterwords is incredibly well done and will draw you in to the whole experience.

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  • The Attack

    2016 by Loïc Dauvillier

    The Attack opens with Amin Jaafari, an Israeli surgeon of Palestinian origin, trying to save the casualties of a suicide bombing. A day after the deadly attack, an Israeli police officer informs Jaafari that the suicide bomber was his wife, Sihem. Believing her to be on an overnight trip, he completely refuses to accept the accusation. They were leading an ideal life in Tel Aviv, moving among both Arab and Israeli society with ease, or so Jaafari thought. Desperate to understand how he missed even the slightest clue, Jaafari leaves the relative security of Israel and enters the Palestinian territories to find the fanatics who recruited her. This one is brutal and heavy to read, but absolutely worth it for understanding the sense of frustration.

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  • Exit Wounds

    2014 by Rutu Modan

    Set in modern-day Tel Aviv, a young man, Koby Franco, receives an urgent phone call from a female soldier. Learning that his estranged father may have been a victim of a suicide bombing in Hadera, Koby reluctantly joins the soldier in searching for clues. His death would certainly explain his empty apartment and disconnected phone line. As Koby tries to unravel the mystery of his father's death, he finds himself piecing together not only the last few months of his father's life but his entire identity. A very different take on a someone's search for the identity of a suicide bombing victim to that of The Attack. The artwork is beautiful with its thin lines and stark colors. The pace is relaxed and thoughtful. Modan is one of Israel's best known cartoonists and this is her first graphic novel published in North America.

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  • Habibi

    2011 by Craig Thompson

    Habibi gives us a love story of astounding resonance: a parable about our relationship to the natural world, the cultural divide between the first and third worlds, the common heritage of Christianity and Islam, and, most potently, the magic of storytelling. Craig Thompson is a wonderful storyteller, and the research and care he put into this fantasy tale is apparent. The artwork is beyond gorgeous and every page is one to get lost in.

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