Comic Con Tunisia draws thousands of pop culture fans

Sunday 16/07/2017
Interactive platform. Tunisian youth attend the closing of the second edition of Comic Con Tunisia in the town of Le Kram, on July 9. (AFP)

Tunis - Roaming the aisles of the Kram Exhibition and In­ternational Trade Centre, visitors passed a variety of characters, including Spider-Man from Marvel Comics, Monkey D. Luffy from One Piece and the Joker and Harley Quinn from DC Comics. In addition to cosplay participants, there were gamers, comic enthusiasts and pop culture fans at Comic Con Tunisia.

The event, which ran July 7-9, featured various activities, includ­ing competitions and panel dis­cussions with guests from Tunisia, Egypt, Indonesia and the United States. The only pop culture con­vention in Africa, Comic Con Tuni­sia this year attracted thousands of people.

“The first edition last year was a challenge on the level of organisa­tion and sponsoring,” said Mariem Oueslati, a member of the event’s organising committee, “but it is paying off since this year’s edition proved to be a great success. We had thousands of visitors and this will give us a push for the next edi­tion.”

Oueslati said: “Comic Con Tuni­sia has a specific message, which is to produce our own culture of com­ics instead of consuming, to net­work and to have a market for these creations.”

Comic Con Tunisia looks to be­come a regional hub for pop cul­ture fans and a forum for Tunisian audiovisual artists to showcase their work. It creates an interactive platform for fans of cosplay, comic books and online gaming, Oueslati said.

“This culture remained under­ground for years as the fans never had the platform here in Tunisia,” said Oueslati, noting that online gamers rarely have an opportunity to meet in person.

Here they got to meet in real life and the connection can lead to ca­reer opportunities. It is not just a show,” she said.

In addition to cosplay and online gaming, the Tunis convention fea­tured artists from different parts of the world.

Amr Hussein, an Egyptian comic book artist, emphasised the impor­tance of promoting Arabic comic books given their relative lack of exposure.

“You look at these comics and you get a lot about what the medi­um is,” he said. “We need to use the Arab culture in the same medium.

“Everyone knows about Ameri­can communities and Asian values through comics. It is time to put some Arab thought in the comics and push it. The basic idea is to have the technology to boost cross-cultural integration. Comic books can do that. I think this generation is the generation that will create more for the community.”

Tunisian artists Chakib Daoud and Seifeddine Nechi, who found­ed one of Tunisia’s leading comic magazines, Lab 619, shared Hus­sein’s vision.

“A lot of people here think it is too hard to make comic books. Creating a comic book is easy but it is about storytelling and how to communi­cate the message. It is about getting inspired by the world around and retelling its story using your own perspective using illustrations,” Daoud said.

Nechi stressed the importance of collaboration between artists in the Arab world in the evolution of the Arabic comic-book market.

“The important thing is to keep producing and not wait months to read a Tunisian comic book,” he said. “In the Arab world, we are all interconnected. We are working on evolving this art in our regional dialects such as Tok Tok in Egyp­tian and Lab 619 in the Tunisian dialect and others in the Moroccan dialect.”

“As far as Arabic comic books are concerned, we need to reach the next level, which is the industriali­sation of comics to be able to pro­duce more and reach more people,” Nechi said.

Lab 619 won the award for “Best Comics Magazine” at Cairo Comics in 2015. Its founders were finalists for the Mahmoud Kahil Award in Lebanon, an honour that promotes comics and editorial cartoons in the Arab world.

Hussein pointed out the impor­tance of conventions such as Comic Con in showcasing the work of Arab comic artists and inspiring other artists.

“It is important to have these conventions, to bring these young people together, to have all cultures of comics and anime and have the artists’ alley to meet the Tunisian artists. This is an amazing step to promote the art of the region,” Hus­sein said.

“This will take years but it is a good beginning and we are follow­ing the lead of other successful in­stitutions to look at their history and to begin where they end.”

“I am here because I am a fan of comics and this is great,” said Rania Karmous, a 21-year-old attendee. “We can attend panels and today we got to talk about Tunisian com­ics and Tunisian anime. It would be great if more people knew about how amazing Tunisian comics can be.”