Speaking Up As A Palestinian: Interview with Comics Artist Marguerite Dabaie

Photo Credit: Marguerite Dabaie. (www.mdabaie.com)

Palestine Square recently spoke to Palestinian-American comics artist Marguerite Dabaie, who has drawn an exclusive comic for our blog. Interview below comic.

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May you tell us about your family background?

My father’s side is from Ramallah and, according to family lore, my family had been one of the original inhabitants there. After the Six-Day War, the Israeli military confiscated my family’s property (including their olive press and bus company). My entire family decided shortly afterwards to immigrate to the United States, and eventually ended up in California with many of the Ramallah “ex-pats”.

That’s what I had heard, anyway. I was born long after any of this had happened.

How did you acquire an interest in comics?

I’m pretty sure the first comics I ever “read” were Naji al-Ali’s. It was impactful to check out al-Ali’s work at such a young age.

I also watched a ton of anime in Arabic but didn’t realize it was a Japanese construct until the day I walked into a Japanese bookstore and made the connection between the artistic style of the animations and the artistic style of the comics. I then devoured as much manga as I could and it was a major influence in my work for a long time (there’s still some of that manga style in my work that I can’t quite shake off). I decided when I was twelve that I was going to draw comics.

What have been your influences?

The older I get, the more I look at a larger variety of influences. Since I’m working a lot in historical fiction lately, I’m looking at ancient work, how people are depicted in older work and just how artists thought people looked back then. I also tend to work with patterns and luckily most world cultures had a thing about using tons of patterns, so that’s a gold mine for me. But I really am taking bits and pieces of everything nowadays, there’s just so much good art in the world.

How does being Palestinian-American fit into your artistic vision? 

My work is sometimes personal. When I first was making The Hookah Girl, I did so out of spite because I wanted to talk about being a Palestinian in this country but I knew I’d get some kind of flack for it—I knew that it would be unpublishable in the traditional sense. But I wanted to have a conversation, something that I feel every person has a right to.

The good parts are that I have been able to connect with people with the work. I’ve had total strangers come up to me at comic shows and tell me how some of the stories remind them of their German grandma or their Chinese uncle. Even though I’m specifically talking about Palestinians, it’s exactly that kind of universality that I wanted to touch on. That outpouring of positivity really transcends any of the bad, and it’s why I still draw comics.

And what are the pitfalls? 

The bad parts are that there are very, very few cartoonists in the United States who talk about Arab issues and I’m convinced at this point that comics publishers don’t know what to do with, or what to make of, my work. I find this ironic, when the burgeoning “independent” comics scene is so relatively young, but unfortunately I find it already becoming rigid. Some may disagree, but that’s my experience.

Regardless, I don’t have a single regret. The bumps have solidified my love for drawing.

Would it be easier to just avoid Palestine as a theme?

Commercially it would definitely be easier, but it feels very disingenuous to me, personally.

Looking forward, is there a story you’re really eager to tell?

I’m currently working on a historical-fictional longform comic set in 7th-century Sogdiana (present-day Uzbekistan). I did a great deal of research before I even started drawing, and it is unique in that there are only a few historical-fictional comics in English, let alone any having to do with the Silk Road.

Check out more of Marguerite’s work on her website. 

Related article: The Role of Comics in the Palestinian Narrative

Interview conducted by Khelil Bouarrouj.