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6Qs with Comic Illustrator Marguerite Dabaie //

07.01.10
bydanah

Freelance illustrator and comic artist Marguerite Dabaie has managed to find a way of presenting her own perspective of what it’s like to be Palestinian-American through her visually stimulating and knee-slapping series The Hookah Girl and Other True Stories. She’s even illustrated her grandmother’s cookbook! FEN sat down with the charming Marguerite to discuss identity, her work, and being Arab-American…
STATS

Msakhan or Makloubeh: Definitely msakhan.
Favourite Arab City: Ramallah. I haven’t been yet, but I’ve heard so much about it.
Pencil, marker or pen: All three!

1. The fact that you have illustrated aspects of your Arab and American identity is amazing. What are some of the reactions you’ve received?
In general, the reception has been very, very positive. I have to admit that I was mostly worried about showing the comics to my family, since the stories have much to do with them (directly and indirectly). Since they don’t live near me, they only had a chance to see them when I had already published them in book form… probably not the best way to let a person know they’re featured in a body of work, in retrospect! But they took it well and like the work, so I breathed a sigh of relief.

I’ve also been thrilled about the positive feedback I’ve gotten from Arab-Americans who have read it. My original intention was to make the comic personal to my experiences but still have an “Arab 101″ feel for folks who aren’t as well-versed in the community.

2. Many Arabs claim that after 9/11 they felt it was important for them to educate Americans about being Arab and American by paralleling the two identities. Did the events of 9/11 play a role in the creation of The Hookah Girl?
9/11 was very, very important in its creation. I like to say that 9/11 helped me “come out of the closet” as an Arab-American. For the longest time, I would shun Palestinian-Israeli politics because it brought up so many strong emotions in people, which is something I was always bad at handling — in fact, I’m still working on it. I was also afraid of being treated differently if it came up, so I simply never talked about being Arab, let alone Arab politics.

The thing that really set me off was right after 9/11, when friends started advising me to tell people I wasn’t an Arab (‘especially not a Palestinian!’) if asked. I know they said these things with good intentions, but it helped me realize that A) I am a rational person B) I have nothing to hide and C) I’m in a position to help alleviate fear for everyone’s benefit, and I must take advantage of that.



3. How do you decide a comic is worth creating?
I have a comic brain! Right now, I want to make everything and the back porch into a comic. The Hookah Girl in particular came about one day when I was talking with my friends and fellow cartoonists, Tom Hart and Leela Corman. I was telling them crazy family stories, and they said, ‘You should make this into a comic.’ And I said, ‘Good idea.’

4. Most illustrators stick to one format and are often typecast in a specific genre. You have a versatile set of work — is this a choice in order to avoid being pigeonholed?
I primarily chose to change styles/storytelling formats so that the work would be visually interesting throughout and to evoke each story’s “feeling” through its own drawing style. I have a great time playing with the medium and seeing what sticks and what I can get away with. The added benefit to this is the fact that I definitely don’t like being typecast!

5. Do you feel that you can educate people effectively about culture through illustration?
Absolutely! Not just illustration, the visual arts in general. The arts have helped serve this purpose for years — I think this is where the Art History major was born.

I wish that there was more of a concerted effort to study current art worldwide to understand a culture, similar to how art historians/anthropologists study older work. Sometimes drawings are so much easier to understand than words.

6. Can you give us a look into your future projects?
I’m in the process of doing tons of research for a Silk Road comic I’d like to do next. There’s a lot to learn, and I want to make it right, so this will be slow going!

Browse more of Marguerite’s work on her site >>

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About the Author: Danah Abdulla was not born in Canada but has lived here since the age of two. A Palestinian with a degree from the University of Ottawa in something other than Engineering (Mass Communications, minor Commerce), she lives in Toronto but is currently roaming the Middle East. She’s a freelance writer and blogger. She likes to doodle, read, make jokes, and dance.



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