Algerian manga artist Fella Matougui, 18, with some of her comics in Algiers.
Manga is flourishing in Algeria.
IT is a massively popular book form that originated in Japan where it became a cultural phenomenon. Now manga is flourishing in Algeria as well.
“The Algerian manga is our trademark,” said Salim Brahimi proudly. “It’s what we call DZ manga.”
He is the founder of Z-Link, Algeria’s first publisher of manga. And Z-Link’s manga are 100% Algerian, from the drawings to the text.
Published in French, colloquial Arabic and soon in north Africa’s Berber language, DZ manga has put a distinctly localised stamp on the form, and the comics are flying off the shelves.
“We are printing 3,000 copies per title,” said Kamal Bahloul, Z-Link’s representative at a book festival in the eastern city of Tizi Ouzou.
“In 2008, 40% of our print run was sold against 70% today,” he added. Since its launch in 2007, Z-Link has been increasing its catalogue and its staff.
”When we started this adventure there were just two of us,” said Kamal. “Now we have nearly 30 employees. We are growing 5% on average every year.”
In 2008, a year after Salim co-founded Z-Link, he launched a key weapon in its marketing armoury: Laabstore magazine, a monthly review of Algeria’s burgeoning manga, cinema and video game scene.
Japan’s manga, a sometimes lurid style of comic strip, cover a wide range of themes and are massively popular both at home and abroad. DZmanga respects the basic Japanese ingredients of sharp humour, suspense and a hyperactive artistic style, but the scripts also add the crucial local flavour.
“The stories we deal with are typically Algerian scenes,” said 28-year-old Sid Ali Oudjiane, a manga writer whose Victory Road series – featuring a schoolboy’s quest for sporting glory – has already won him three national awards.
DZ’s catalogue includes a variety of genres and claims plenty of young talent, both male and female.
The Revolution, published in 2012 to mark the 50th anniversary of Algeria’s independence from France, is one of a string of titles from 18-year-old Fella Matougui.
Problems in the desert
One of the first major successes of the DZ scene was Samy Kun by Yacine Haddad, about a teenager who gets mixed up in the problems of the Algerian Sahara.
As well as the different subject matter explored by the writers, the artists have sought to break away from the purely Japanese style by bringing distinctive local touches to their work.
Despite its success, however, DZ manga is often more of a passion to pursue than a way of earning a living, even for the award-winning Oudjiane.
“I work on manga on the side. I can only devote my free time to it, at the weekends and at night,” he said.
Likewise for manga author Amir Cheriti, whose day job is as a graphic artist in an advertising agency. “For us, it is still for pleasure,” he said.
Algeria’s DZ manga has had its own special billing at prestigious industry events, including two international book fairs in Angouleme and Montpellier in France.
But surely, the greatest recognition so far has come from manga’s homeland itself.
This year, Japan’s Kyoto International Manga Museum acquired several Algerian works, “not just to be exhibited, but also for research”, said Z-Link founder Salim.
The influence of the Algerian brand is also attracting attention in the United States, where it is the subject of a doctoral thesis at Philadelphia University.
And there is growing interest from companies seeking to harness its marketing potential.
“Firms like Sonelgaz and Panasonic have called us about advertising illustrations,” said Bahloul.
“In 20 or 30 years, young Algerians will all have manga on their bookshelves,” said Kamal, predicting the continuation of a trend that few would bet against right now. – AFP Relaxnews