All over the world, young artists are claiming the manga tradition as their own, adapting it to fit local circumstances and local audiences but siting their work firmly within the Japanese tradition as well as their own artistic vocabulary. One of the newest nations to establish a localised manga industry is Algeria. The former French colony with its strong links to Saharan and Arab culture is publishing manga-inspired comics (known locally as DZ-manga) in colloquial Arabic, French and Berber language Amazigh.
The home of Nobel Prizewinner Albert Camus, Algeria has a strong literary tradition but didn’t begin to develop a local comics movement until the 1960s. Comics and cartoons started running in local newspapers in 1967. Titles such as Naâr and une sirène à Sidi Ferruch by Mohamed Aram, Commando en mission by Noureddine Hiahemzizou, Le Pont by Rachid Aït Kaci, and Moustache et les Belgacem by Slim, created an eager audience. Written in French – the language of Algeria’s colonists – these comics could not avoid the influence of the incoming culture, whose own comics tradition is strong and distinct. Comics scholar Alexandra Gueydan-Turek considers that manga’s Japanese origin breaks the pattern of pigeonholing Algerian comics as responses to colonisation or western mass culture.
The first Algerian comic magazine, M’Quidèch, was founded in 1969. It folded in 1973, but a comics boom in Algeria in the 1980s led to the foundation of a local comics festival, the Festival de la bande dessinée et de la caricature de Bordj El Kiffan, and the emergence of new local talent. The decade-long civil war of 1991 interrupted this development, but in 2008 a new festival, Festival International de la Bande Dessinee d’Algiers, provided a focus and a forum for new talent. Manga- inspired artists have developed in this new young market.
In 2007 Salim Brahimi founded Z-Link as Algeria’s first dedicated manga publishing house. Its magazine Laabstore, founded in 2008 to review Algeria’s manga, cinema and game scene, showcases emerging artists, and by 2008 its titles were selling about 40% of a 3,000 copy print run. By sheer determination Brahimi and his colleague Kamal Bahloul have grown their market to the stage where Z-Link titles now sell around 70% of their print runs, with print runs for popular titles going as high as 10,000. The company now has 30 staff, though none of its artists can afford to make DZ-manga their sole occupation. 18-year-old Fella Matougui, a rising star with half a dozen titles in print, is still a student. Amer Cheriti is a graphic artist in an ad agency by day. Triple award-winner Sid-Ali Oudjiane makes manga in the evenings after work.
But the market is growing. Comics festivals and scholars are beginning to pick up on DZ-manga, and the Kyoto International Manga Museum has acquired copies for its collection. Artists are working to raise the profile of DZ-manga in the Francophone market: see Said Sabaou‘s lively Facebook page. A nation is adopting a new mode of expression right under our noses. I shall watch their progress with interest.