Text Description: This comic on climate change shows a world where sea levels have risen and gangs of divers are rumored to eat people after mugging them. A man and woman risk venturing out for eight minutes to watch the sunset, even more beautiful in the submerged city.
An Interview with Mohamed Salah and Elisabeth Jaquette
Why create comics? What drew you to the form?
Mohamed Salah: Comics only seemed logical. The medium encompasses both my lifelong obsessions; storytelling and drawing, working together in space rather than time like most visual narrative art forms. It just works perfectly for my intentions.
And what inspired you to specifically create a comic addressing climate change?
MS: The piece was made for an exhibition addressing the subject. A collaboration between the Swedish institute in Alexandria, and Mazg foundation who work closely with Egyptian comic book artists. Formulating possibilities stemming from the subject matter, and tampering with the outcome seemed appealing.
In writing and illustrating “8 Minutes,” were you influenced by anything or anyone in particular? Specific places, media, or events, for instance?
During the past couple of years the coastal city of Alexandria has been facing an acute “infrastructure failure” crisis every rain season. The progression of the crisis and how people just adapted to its consequences, along with all the lightheartedness that came along was my main inspiration. You need to check out the photos for yourself; in a few years “8 Minutes” won’t seem that fictional.
How did you become involved in this work as its translator?
Elisabeth Jaquette: I came across Salah’s comic on Twitter, when it won the Swedish Institute Alexandria’s “Facing the Climate” art competition in November last year, and an Egyptian cartoonist I follow retweeted it. Twitter has been a great way to stay plugged into the Arabic literary and comics scene now that I’m not living in Egypt anymore. 8 Minutes’ struck me for the juxtaposition of its poetic language with its graphic style, and for how effectively the reader is immersed in this future world through a single page. So I reached out to Salah to ask if I could translate it.
Were you a fan of comics before you became involved in this project?
EJ: Absolutely. I got into graphic novels before I got into comics, which is a bit of an inverse trajectory compared to that of many fans. The comics scene in the Middle East has become much more vibrant in the past several years, in Egypt in particular, with the creation of many new collective publications, festivals, and awards. I was a comics fan long before I became a translator, and so I’m always on the lookout for work to translate–a few others I’ve done are The Apartment in Bab el-Louk, “The Dump,” and “Stop Shehata.” Oum Cartoon, by the way, is an excellent resource for anyone interested in following the Arabic comics scene, and Ganzeer’s The Solar Grid (written in English) is the comic I’m most pumped for at the moment.
Is there a specific type of work that speaks to you as a translator? What projects are you passionate about taking on?
EJ: I find myself drawn to different kinds of texts for different reasons. Those reasons often coalesce around texts that have a compelling voice, or which open themselves up to a social justice reading, and I’m all the more excited when I find both of those elements together, as was the case in “8 Minutes,” as well as in The Queue, for example. I also actively seek out work by women writers, who are traditionally underrepresented in translation.
What are you working on next?
MS: Right now I’m working on two sets of stories. The first is a chronicle dissection of local vocational life, the other deals with myth and its reflection on Egyptian daily life. I also have an ongoing digital project informally documenting this ongoing Egyptian decade.
EJ: Next up is the full translation of The Apartment in Bab el-Louk, which will be out in print with Darf Publishers next year. It follows the reflections of a recluse in downtown Cairo, is atmospheric and strange, and is the type of work that doesn’t fit easy genre definitions. I’ve also just started translating The Frightened, a debut novel by Dima Wannous, a young Syrian writer, which I’m very excited to bring into English.