Oct 24, 2023

From Children's Comics to Socially-Pressing Art: Shennawy's Creative Journey

This interview was conducted by Giraffics own Art Director Aya Marzouk.

With an old-school, nostalgic twist, Mohammed Shennawy has swept the creative scene by storm, and we couldn't let this pass by without diving into his hows and whys. Shennawy is a comic artist and graphic designer who started with children's comics and gradually shifted to more socially-pressing comics for adults, eventually founding Tok Tok in 2011. Working on expanding the borders of comics in Egypt and fighting for less censorship in artistic expression, Shennaway and three other artists founded Cairo Comix in 2015 to offer an open field of support and exposure for other comics artists and enthusiasts. If you still think comics are limited to 90s children's entertainment, then you have to check the interview below. 

1- When did you first develop a passion for comics?

As with most comic artists, this began very early! I think I was 7 years old when I tried to copy from Majid magazine Moza and her brother Rashoud, an Arabic adaptation from Nancy comics. When I was 16, maybe, I made up a book mockup, like an encyclopedia of comic characters in Arabic; it was only a cover, and inside were empty pages!

2- What were your favorite comics as a child?

I read TinTin, Lucky Luke, Majid magazine, Mickey and Samir.

3- Did your Egyptian art style change after you moved to Belgium? If yes, How?

It did not, actually. I was already following the new wave of Belgian/ French comics, and by the time I found that my Egyptian style was my point of strength, so I did not let it go. At the same time, I still do some other comics sometimes that are not Egyptian, but I still like and have a lot of things to tell about Cairo and Egypt.

4- Can you tell us about the challenges and successes of publishing the first issue of Toktok?

I was very lucky to meet Makhlouf Andeel just before creating TokTok. We worked for a year and a half to prepare the first issue. I think it was successful because it was sincere. We really wanted to make a new publication that respects the reader and be our freedom space platform. The challenge was the funding in the beginning. Now, TokTok artists, including me, wish to work more on their own graphic novels.

5- How did you come up with the idea of Cairocomix? What is your vision for the future of CairoComix?

It was a normal evolution right after the first year of TokTok's launch. I met Magdy Elshafei and Twins Cartoons and, with a great team, succeeded in holding up the first edition in 2015. The festival is getting known more and more outside of the artistic circles, which is great for building up a readers and comics lovers community. Maybe, in the near future, we will need to grow up a little more.

6- As someone involved in the comic scene in Egypt, how would you describe the industry's evolution from the first CairoComix to the present day?

The comics industry is a bit challenging all around the world; it's not an easy job, and it takes a lot of time to produce a book. Since the first CairoComix and until now, more and more artists have been producing their own comics every year, encouraging publishers to invest more in those kinds of books. Almahrousa Publishing is a very good example of that.

7- What is a typical working day for you as a comic artist? 

Ironically, I do a lot of other things than drawing! I also work as a graphic designer, so my day would start by replying to emails and writing my to-do list for the day or week. If I have a current comics project, I would sit and work and drink a lot of coffee, but I often work on several things during the day, not only comics.

8- Would you like to adapt one of your comics into a movie? 

I think it would be a great feeling, yes! Once, Youssra Elhawary told me she was writing a song inspired by one of my short comics. I was very happy, but I don't think the song was done!

9- Do you have any plans to work on a graphic novel? 

I do and have started working already, and I am still working on the first few pages to send them to a French Editor. The idea is to publish the Arabic and French [versions] at the same time in 2025. 

10- Do you have any other interests in the art world besides comics?

I do somehow, I like art based on design more than fine and classic arts or contemporary art. I also love the old Arabic manuscripts and drawings.

11- Can a fresh graduate make a living in the comics industry? 

By working and/or publishing in a magazine or a few magazines, yes. It's also easier now to send your work to magazines and publications abroad, and magazines often can pay well.

12- Can you recommend a book for someone who wants to learn how to make comics? 

There are a few books about the art of making comics; one book by Scott McCloud is very famous and could be useful. What I recommend more is reading comics and trying to tell a story in your own way and style. 

13- If you could recommend a comic book series to someone who doesn't like to read comics, what would it be? 

I like the French school more, maybe The Arab of the Future by Riad Sattouf or Habibi by Kraig Thompson.

14- What is most important in a comic book series: the art or the story? 

It used to be the art until very recently, but the new wave of comics presents a lot of "normal" drawing styles with great stories sometimes. It would be perfect if an author could make both very well!

15- What are your favorite films or TV shows based on comics?

I don't read or watch superheroes; I guess the Asterix and Obelix film series were really successful. 

Growing up reading all our all-time favorite childhood comics, Shenawy had a curious fascination with those ecstatic 2D-bubbled art and even tried to develop his first comic at just 7 years old. Despite growing up with French and Belgian influence, he finds that he gets his kick through his Egyptian style, constantly telling stories from the heart of Cairo and Egypt. Shenawy got his big hit with the publication of TokTok, the first independent self-published comic magazine in Egypt, circulating between 2011 and 2020. The first issue didn't go without its challenges, mainly in funding, but in the end, it offered a sincere and opinionated work of art that resonated with the readers. After TokTok's success, Shenawy thought of creating an on-ground platform that connected comics artists and enthusiasts under the same roof. With the help of other big names in the scene, he co-founded CairoComix, an annual comics festival filled with the latest updates and various opportunities and exposure for artists. Shenawy believes that today, the story has become the heart of most comics rather than the art; however, a perfect comic combines both killer visuals and a strong plot. The interview also focused on Shennawy's current affairs. Aside from doing comic-related work, he is also a graphic designer and is engaged in various projects. Currently, he is working on his very own graphic novel, which he plans to publish in Arabic and French in 2025. Shennawy believes there is a big future for comics in Egypt and that young artists have more opportunities than before working with magazines and publications. He advises artists to read more comics and try to fuse that influence with their unique style to create something spectacular.