Muslims and the Book (of the comic and graphic variety)

Oh so many moons ago, I read a post on Dove’s Eye View on a new series of comic books coming out Egypt. There are more details on her site, but the salient point is that the author/illustrator has Muslims fighting for the City of All Faiths; religious harmony is still an aspiration in the Arab Middle East. He grew up reading DC comics, and my personal take is that Marvel was always better at allegory and moral ambiguity (see, for example, these descriptions of the X-Men graphic novel, “God Love, Man Kills”), and DC better at black/white, right/wrong stories. For the author to be influenced by DC says to me that, at least in his mind, not only is inter-faith harmony an aspiration, but a moral necessity. I’m still trying to support my local comic guy and see if he can get them, but I think I’ll eventually have to break down and get them on-line.

Hot on the heels of Muslim heroes coming out of the Arab world, I see that there are Muslim super heroes in Bradford, England. What is really interesting about this book is that it is penned by Grant Morrison, a non-Muslim. From what I’ve seen and heard, it sounds like he does a pretty good job of representing the Muslims of Bradford. That fact that he’s done some research on early Islamic theology is pretty cool. It is a DC series, and it seems to hold to the right/wrong dichotomy. Not a bad thing, but more didactic than I’m used to seeing in literature about Muslims.

Before I let all the boys have all the fun (yes, I know the figures of women in the comic world are impossible, but have you looked at the men?), I don’t want to miss mentioning Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis series (1, 2). Arguably, this series of graphic novels is not about Muslims in the same way the first two mentions are. However, it is still about Muslims (the language I can use here is limited. None of these books deal with Islam, but they are clearly Islamicate. Please bear with the failings of your humble servant). She uses the combination of image and word so effectively; there are times I can predict what the characters will say later because of the way she’s inked an earlier interaction. It’s just good story-telling. I’m particularly partial to the first book, but both are worth reading.

Yes, I’ve plugged a few comic books/graphic novels (yes, there is a difference). However, as interesting as these items are, it’s the not the purpose of my writing this random post. Much like hip-hop, the graphic novel is an American art form, yet none of these examples are from the US. Clearly an example of globalization, it also begs the question as to where the American Muslim voices are in this art form. At at least 6 million, you would think there are artists in the community, but no one is writing. I raise this point for two reasons. One, I’ve argued before about the US being the New Mecca, and if the art form is traveling the ummah, shouldn’t our ideas go as well? I’m not suggesting that I disagree/agree with any of the above authors thoughts; rather, I want American Muslims to be part of the dialogue. Two, I believe that until Muslim Americans are part of popular culture – meaning, not something distinct or less than high culture, but something that everyone participates in – we will always be outsiders. Other people have defined us on screen, on television, in the radio, in books, etc.. We have made inroads in some of these areas, but literature, of any variety, is still a gaping hole in our output.

Akbar shouts out “What’s the battle cry? Ndugu sasa! [Swahili: Brother, come!]/What’s the battle cry? Allahu Akbar [Arabic: God is greater…].” So come brothers and sisters, if God is greater, why can we not be great?

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