Spotlight on Arabs in the Arts: Deena Mohamed, comic artist

I’ve been picking up Arabic again, trying to expand my childhood home’s tongue, and frankly, so I don’t forget words, which I’ve been experiencing lately. One way I’m trying to hold on to my language and culture is to follow Arab or Arab-American bookstagrammers. With Instagram’s uncanny (re:manipulative) ability to recommend all things Arab lately (not that I mind), I found the “caveofkutub” account run by Ayah A. And on her account, I spotted a graphic novel written in Arabic, Shubeik Lubeik, written by Deena Mohamed.

Of course, I had to go purchase a copy. Turns out, it’s out of stock, at least to the US, but…I now know about Maamoul Press, with its library of Arabic-language books for me to gorge myself on. Maamoul, if you didn’t know, is an Arab dessert, a semolina cookie filled usually with mashed dates or figs. It’s delicious.

In stumbling on Shubeik Lubeik, I realized there are so many Arab creators I don’t know about. And partly, it’s because I don’t hear about them, even on social media. Maybe I don’t follow the right accounts to have them recommended to me, maybe I’m not “Arab enough” to be in-the-know, but I plan on changing that.

Cue: Spotlight on Arabs in the Arts.

And this month’s spotlight is on Deena Mohamed, comic artist, illustrator, and designer.

Deena is an Egyptian illustrator and designer who started creating webcomics about a muslim Egyptian superhero. Her goal: address issues like islamophobia and misogyny. Here’s the first comic in that series.

Deena’s debut graphic novel, Shubeik Lubeik is urban fantasy, published in Egypt in Arabic, though there’s also an English translation for all three parts of the comic, published by Pantheon Books. The English translation comes out in 2022.

Shubeik Lubeik has been awarded Best Graphic Novel and the Grand Prize of the Cairo Comix Festival (2017.) Shubeik Lubeik was also part of the Contemporary Arab Comics at the Museum of Comics exhibition in Angoulême, where Deena was an artist-in-residence.

Deena is also part of a project to bring comics to young refugee children, including Syrian children, using their cultural folklore int the stories. The project is called Comics for Youth Refugees Incorporated Collective (CYRIC). According to their mission page, they are a “nonprofit organization formed to produce and deliver free comic books for refugee children, based on the folklore from their own homes. In conjunction with mental health professionals and on-site experts, the tales are adapted for their potential healing content. Supported by the principles of art therapy and the use of comics’ unique visual-verbal hybrid for therapeutic use, we aim to encourage children not only to reconnect with their homes but also to express themselves through the medium as well. Ultimately, CYRIC aims to provide assistance to such children interested in developing skills applicable to related publishing industries, long term.”

Check out Deena’s other work, as well as her gorgeous website.

Note: Cover art by Deena, from her character art profiles.

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