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Girls can make you laugh, too
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 03 - 12 - 2008

Whoever said that cartoons belong in a man's world? Amira El-Noshokaty interviewed a young professional cartoonist who happens to be female
"I have always known that I wanted to be a cartoonist, it was even evident from my early drawings," says Doaa El-Adl, one of the few, if not the only, professional -- woman -- cartoonists in Egypt. As a professional, she draws her own ideas, not someone else's. Having attained a degree in fine arts, El-Adl has been working with various independent publications such as Al-Dostour newspaper and Sabah Al-Kheir magazine for the past three years. While it was not taught at university, the art of cartoon had always been her passion.
"To me caricature is an intense newspaper article with a sense of humour," she says. "The best part about it is that it is a means to channel your steam and elaborate when it comes to certain issues, through illustration," she told Al-Ahram Weekly. "However, the downside of it is that you have to be completely on top of the news -- which is quite depressing -- and the stories behind the news, because in some cases the truth is not clear and a cartoonist should not be hasty," she adds.
So is cartoon marginalised in Egypt?
"It was, in the past 20 years perhaps, but nowadays it is booming," El-Adl says. "In past years the link between well-established cartoonists and the younger generation was not that strong, unlike the golden age of caricature in the 1960s and 70s when figures like Salah Jaheen, Hegazi and Shaker were in their heyday. Sabah Al-Kheir is dependent on illustrations and cartoons. Nowadays, independent newspapers are numerous and they are all aware of the importance of caricature and provide space for young talents to illustrate."
A group of young caricaturists has emerged. Following the same line of thought, they are led by prominent cartoonist Amr Selim, or "the general of caricature" as they often call him. Selim has created a team of talented young cartoonists in Al-Dostour and has guided them with his experience. She referred to Selim as their godfather, since he has taught them the ethics of caricature and how one should not be concerned about the space allotted by newspapers: there should be room for everybody, he says. "Of course we cannot make a comparison between us and the generation of pioneer cartoonists back then, but we are trying to follow their path," El-Adl says.
She names just a few: Salah Jaheen, Hegazi, Ihab Shaker, Nagi, Bahget Othman, Georges Bahgory and Mohieddin El-Labbad whom she and her group came to meet, benefiting from his expertise in the field. "I believe El-Labbad documented the history of caricature in his book series Nazar (See) and this is unprecedented," she notes, explaining that El-Labbad liked their works, gave them technical tips and explained how lucky they were to live in a time where political caricature had a relatively larger margin of freedom and independent publications opened their doors to them.
Having published her works earlier in Caricature magazine, a publication that was launched in the early 1990s but did not survive, El-Adl insists that there should be more media channels for cartoons. "Why doesn't the Ministry of Culture launch an official website for Egyptian cartoons, like Syria and Iran for example? Why not have an annual exhibition, like the one that is done on an informal basis?" she wonders.
To say that cartoon is a man's world is an overstatement. To El-Adl it is more about what people are used to, hardly the norm. Despite being the only female among her co-workers, she is optimistic. "I know there are women cartoonists in Syria and Iran as well as in Egypt," El-Adl says. She draws because it is her passion, not so as to be the first woman cartoonist in Egypt. She draws because it brings her joy and that is what counts. "Women are usually taken for their looks other than their ideas in our society, but things are changing and lots of women are refusing to be taken lightly," she says.
As for her future. El-Adl is quite realistic. "Given the circumstances, sustainability is my goal at the moment," she says.

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