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Comics Artists Discuss Islam

Workshop teaches comics creation, informs about Islam

By Leanna B. Ehrlich, Contributing Writer

This Friday, April 29, from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., the Center for Middle Eastern Studies will host “Islam, the Middle East, Muslim World,” a drop-in workshop where attendees can learn techniques for putting their own ideas into comic book panels. Located at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, the event is co-sponsored by the Harvard Center for Middle Eastern Studies Outreach Center and the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program.

Krystina Friedlander, one of the co-organizers of the event and the Program Assistant at the Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program, wrote in an emailed statement that her desire to do this workshop grew out of a lifelong love of comic books. “We [co-organizer Anna Mudd and myself] thought about how great it would be to facilitate something creative that would allow the Harvard community to actually share their own experiences,” she wrote.

In the workshop, attendees will work with comic artists, learning to sift through their ideas and pick the most salient elements to transfer to the page. By learning how to make comics, they can create their own without any prior experience. In addition to creating art, attendees will learn about current comics and graphic novels that address Middle Eastern and Islamic issues. They will also learn about artistic techniques from comic artists currently working in the Middle East.

Friedlander hopes that this workshop will enable participants to share their own perspectives on the Middle East in a creative and non-judgmental outlet. “Storytelling can bring us into others’ lives in a really dynamic way,” she wrote. “I consider it one of the most important tools we have to address the current unease with Islam and the Middle East in the United States.”

Paul Beran, the director of the Outreach Center at the Center for Middle Eastern Studies, believes that the event will attract a diverse range of people. He expects that many teachers will attend, especially those hoping to use comics and graphic novels to convey important messages in their classrooms.

The workshop grew out of two areas of study that the Outreach Center focused on last year. “The first is contemporary art from the Middle East region—we focused on graphic novels and comics,” Beran wrote in an emailed statement. “The second is Islamophobia, as we started the year with a campus-wide teach-in on the Muslim community center controversy in Manhattan.”

The workshop is accessible to anyone with an interest in comic books or the Middle East, as Beran also expects to see artistic Harvard students and members of the Muslim community in attendance. “It is designed to be an outreach style workshop,” he wrote. “The academic content and discussion is robust and open, to both students of the topic and attendees who may be new to it.” Throughout the event, he will highlight additional resources on campus and at the Outreach Center for attendees to explore after the workshop.

During this past the year, Beran has been facilitating on-campus workshops and book discussions, as well as compiling comics and graphic novels related to Middle Eastern issues. He is also assisting in a nearly complete collaborative effort to establish a resource center of Muslim comics, one that educators can use with children of all ages when discussing Islam and the Middle East. This upcoming workshop, Beran said, is the culmination of all the work his department has been doing over the past year.

“We also thought it would be great,” Friedlander said, “for participants to walk away with something they’ve made, and ideally to inspire them, and others, to experiment with different ways of telling stories about the Middle East and Islam.”

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