The history of comics in Tunisia began in the 1960’s with magazines like Irfane (‘65), Chahloui (‘68), Chef (‘75), Anis (‘78) and other publications affiliated with the ruling destourian party. In 1984 appeared Kaouz Qouzah [Rainbow], a magazine for children which represented a turning point in the style, quality, and creation (in terms of political motivations) of Tunisian comics. In 1997, the country’s first international comic festival was launched in Tazarka. The festival held its 20th edition this month, August 20-28.
In spite of its important publications, events, and initiatives in the domain over the past fifty years, Tunisia has never numbered among the world’s prolific comic producers. But did the revolution mark the opening of a new chapter for the “ninth art” in Tunisia? In the wake of January 14, 2011, illustrators and writers found inspiration in the country’s political happenings, which, for the first time, citizens were able to openly address. Following the assassinations of Chokri Belaid and Mohamed Brahmi in 2013, many turned their attention away from politics to focus on other themes. In this context was born Couscous Belban, a magazine for children, and, for an adult readership, Lab619. Apart from their creative and logistical collaboration to publish the magazine, the artists and storyboard writers of Lab619 work regular jobs to earn a living.
In this video, five artists—Habib Bouhawel, Yassine Ellil, Seif Eddine Nechi, Nada Dagdoug, Chakib Daoud—describe their projects and the main obstacles (a limited market, lack of funding, the absence of a “culture of the Image”) in the production and distribution of comics in Tunisia. Regardless of their unique styles, approaches, and experiences, the artists interviewed share a common conviction to create, to be productive, to engage with and encourage young people to read, draw, write, and start their own projects. With the freedom of expression that has been gained since 2011, it is up to today’s illustrators, storyboard writers, and inspired youth to start a new chapter for Tunisian comics.