In her comic Mish Men ElMarikh (Not from Mars), Rawand Issaʹs protagonist discovers she is not alone with her depression. The graphic novel is a personal chronicle. "I drew myself and I talk about myself, but a lot of other women identify with it. There are so many common social, economic and political problems that Iʹm not the only person facing. Hence the title ʹNot from Marsʹ."

Drawing against everyday insanity

Rawand Issa uses comics to document feelings. "Documentation is important on a personal level. You change very fast because your surroundings are changing. And if you donʹt document that you go crazy." Documentation is also important for society, Rawand says: "If I want to know, for example, what happened in Lebanon in the 1970s at the time of the civil war – and I want to find out how people felt at the time instead of just reading about the events – then Iʹd understand everything."

The history of the Lebanese civil war has still not been fully written; the collective trauma is only gradually being processed. "We have five or six history books in Lebanon. Nobody knows the truth. There are so many myths about the war and so many things that havenʹt been uncovered to this day. The young generation is very confused. Weʹve all realised that documentation is important to understand what happened then and whatʹs happening now."

Lebanese comic artist Rawand Issa (photo: Rawand Issa)
Between social criticism and self-discovery: the 26-year-old Lebanese artist expresses what she feels through her comics. That works best with a black pen pressed firmly to the paper. Her introspective comics address socio-political themes: fears, emotional ties, the representation of women. Her female protagonist has thick eyebrows and black curls

Part of that historical legacy is the way people deal with emotions and attachments. "Everything is temporary because of the war. And people in Lebanon have one thing in common: we donʹt expect much. Weʹre getting older believing that nothing lasts long: jobs, loans, love. Weʹre always waiting for a disaster to happen, something that forces us to take flight."

Overcoming childhood trauma

Issa works on the traumas of her childhood in her zine Diary of a Hen. The story is about the chickens that grew up in her childhood garden. Issa was particularly fond of the rooster, playing with him and growing to love him. One day, though, he was gone without a trace. "I asked my mother: whereʹs the rooster? And my mother answered: youʹre eating him."

Rawandʹs comic is also a critique of capitalism, of a kind. While some hens play in the spacious garden, others perch in cages. "How can a child growing up in a poor family get the love, attention and support she deserves? So that she at least grows up a little mentally healthy. I truly believe our society treats love like a piece of bread. Love is not equally distributed."

Issaʹs introspective comics cover socio-political issues: fears, emotional attachments, the representation of women. Her protagonist has thick eyebrows and curly black hair. "You rarely see a protagonist like that in cartoons, comics or novels. If someone draws an Arab woman, then itʹs usually in an exotic way, more in the style of a belly dancer. But Iʹm not a belly dancer!"

Julia Neumann

© 2019

Translated from the German by Katy Derbyshire

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