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Daily Life in Syria in a New Digital Comic Book Called Madaya Mom

Olivia Snaije By Olivia Snaije Published on November 3, 2016

Graphic novels have long been a medium for telling stories about real events as Joe Sacco demonstrated with Palestine during the first Intifada, or Safe Area Goražde, during the Bosnian war. The Internet and mobile phones have paved the way for a new form of real time story-telling coming from countries under authoritarian regimes or occupation, or from war zones. The real time published chapters of Zahra’s Paradise, which tracked demonstrations in Iran in 2009, were at the vanguard of a trend that has continued, as witnessed in the 2015 digital graphic series by Marc Ellison that tackles the subject of child soldiers in Uganda.

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One month ago ABC News and Marvel Comics released a free digital comic book based on the life of a mother in the small town of Madaya, in Syria, on the Lebanese border. The idea came about when ABC producer Rym Momtaz and her team were unable to enter the village, which has been under siege by the Syrian government for over a year. By communicating via text messages with a mother of five about her daily life in besieged Madaya, the idea for Madaya Mom was born. It came to life when Marvel Comics (like ABC, owned by Disney) picked up the project and chose Zagreb-based artist Dalibor Talajić to do the illustrations. Talajić himself had lived the disintegration of former Yugoslavia at age 18. The result, Talajić hopes, will help people in the US relate more to what Syrians are living, and show that real live super heroes do exist. 

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A page from Madaya Mom by Dalibor Talajić 

Two years earlier, in a similar mode of story telling, New York artist Molly Crabapple used images sent to her via cell phone to recreate visuals for two feature-length illustrated articles published in Vanity Fair about daily life in parts of ISIS-occupied Syria and Iraq. 

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The clocktower in Raqqa, Syria, by Molly Crabapple

In Syria, earlier still, the uprising and consequent repression was filmed with mobile phones, footage of which was used by Syrian filmmaker in exile, Ossama Mohammed in his 2014 film, Silvered Water. Mohammed also relied heavily on film shot by a young Kurdish schoolteacher called Wiam Simav Bedrixan, who was living in the besieged city Homs and collaborated with him on the project. 

As Molly Crabapple said at the time of her projects in Raqqa, Aleppo and Mosul, people have become numb to the news, and showing daily life is essential, it is “worth caring about…I wanted to complicate the picture, showing people who have lives and raise families and wait on long lines for bread…”

Olivia is a Paris-based journalist and editor.


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