Dear fastidious readers of Tor.com,
Allow me to introduce myself: my name is Alex and I’ve taken on a potentially impossible task. A task which, if I wrangle it right, is going to take us on a mind-bending journey through a realm of comics, science fiction, and fantasy that can often feel out-of-reach.
We’ve already got the great Niall Alexander voyaging through the British Isles to bring back told and untold treasures of British fiction over at the BFF, so I’m here to look a little farther afield. The plan, curious reader, is this: I will be putting together a bi-monthly post on the genre-lit scene around the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Thus the title of this regular feature is Tiamat’s Terrain—named after the terrifying sea goddess, Tiamat, a chaos monster from the time of the Babylonians. Her metaphorical tentacles spread throughout the region we’ll be talking about. So we should be in good hands/twisty limbs.
The difficulty of this mission of course is that this particular region is not exactly what you’d describe as homogeneous. It’s littered with different languages, dialects, politics, cultures, and religions. So, finding common strands in the genre fiction running through the area simply won’t be possible. This isn’t one place, it’s about ten different countries each with its own variety of cultures and peoples. So instead, and I think more excitingly, this feature should eventually highlight an explosion of diverse creators who are developing new, scintillating work out of their own cultures and traditions even as they’re occasionally interacting with the Western productions we’re more familiar with.
And the truth is sometimes we’ll veer off the intended map and end up somewhere more continental or even state-side. After all, the Franco-Belgian comics dominated this part of the world, from the commercial success of Rene Goscinny’s Lucky Luke etched in every childhood memory throughout the Levant and beyond, to the critical influences of Moebius and Enki Bilal on this region’s new generation of comic writers. So when I see that a seminal work like Les Cités Obscures by Benoît Peeters and François Schuiten is finally being re-released in English by the valiant efforts of Alaxis Press, I’ll probably give it a shout out (see what I did there).
Similarly, I’ll probably include writers from North America like Saladin Ahmed or Amal el-Mohtar, even though they live in/hail from Detroit or Ontario. Their books make substantial, human, and nuanced connections to their middle-eastern cultures and are rightly lauded by the home-grown sci-fi communities too. There is so much work that emerges from this region’s diaspora, either in France, or Australia, or North America, that returns to engage with the mythology and even the terroir of the authors’ places of origin. These are connecting lines I am interested in exploring.
And in terms of where the books and films are made, I’ll be looking at publishing and production houses across the world where necessary. It would be remiss, I think, to stick to local production lines otherwise that would mean I’d end up not including writers published abroad, like Israeli Rutu Modan, who’s award-winning graphic novel The Property was published by the montréalais house, Drawn + Quarterly last year.
Having said that, while our voyage might take us into waters already well charted by others here at Tor.com, I’m going to try and stick to the uncharted as much as possible. I’m hoping to profile and interview emerging writers and established ones that are just starting to get translated. I’d love to talk about how Cyprus and Malta have started their own Comic Cons over the last two years to rave reviews, not to mention the inaugural Egypt Comix Week that happened in September, or what went on at the Sindbad Sci-fi panel at the Nour Festival in London last week. Really, an entire cornucopia of material awaits us!
But I’m hoping against hope that you’ll help me steer this boat occasionally and give a shout when you see land or water worth exploring or that I’ve missed. I hope you’ll tell me when that Armenian comic-writer you love finally gets translated into English, point out new blog-posts about Gulf Futurism to me, or even bicker with one another about whether Tintin loses something in the Hebrew translation or not.
So keep your eyes peeled! But grab your hat and some sunglasses. I know it’s December but the sun can still be pretty scorching in some places. No, you really won’t need that thermal underwear. And we call that a “sea” around here, not an “ocean.” Look, you’ll pick it up as we go along, I promise. Oh hey, looks like we can get started right here.
Alex Mangles lives in the Levant and is confident that she’ll discover the lost city of Atlantis any day now. She tweets from @alexantra.