For two years, my friend of 10+ years, Tarek Shahin, has been contributing a daily comic strip, Al Khan, to Daily News Egypt, the newspaper I work for. And over those two years, Al Khan has slowly become an addiction that I realized is shared by many. For me the addiction wasn’t just about finding out what happens next, but my regular chats with Tarek about the fictitious news room, its journalists and their friends and families have become part of my routine in the paper, more like a ritual I look forward to.
Whether its Omar, Nada, Yunan, Dr Anwar, or Brother Levy, many of the characters were loosely based on some people we know (Guess which one is Tarek?) and that made them a bit more real to me – even without this additional link, it was easy relating to many of Al Khan’s characters, their dilemmas and their choices.
Tarek’s wit and talent made the storyline — intertwined with commentary about current events on the political, economical and social scenes — more engaging. In few carefully chosen words, Tarek managed to convey a lot every day. (By the way, he’s a perfectionist, selecting the words and sentence structures with painful caution to make sure they communicate the exact meaning he wants).
Even in the few times I didn’t agree with his opinions expressed in Al Khan, I couldn’t but admire the way he put it all together. (DNE Editor Rania Al-Malky charts the story of Al Khan in the newspaper here).
As Tarek said in this last installment of Al Khan, it was a comic strip about individuality. True. In so many ways it was a testament to the diversity in this country, the antithesis of the superficial and uninformed generalizations, an animated proof to all who thought they’ve known Egypt that what they’ve done is barely scratch the surface. I’ve seen him strip his characters to the most common stereotype, only to build up their complexity, layer after layer.
It’s for these reasons and many more, reading the word “Fin” on Al Khan strip last week was heartbreaking. I’ve known that it was going to end in April, but still, last week was surprisingly an emotional one.
It’s not like I won’t work with Tarek again; I’m sure that is bound to happen in one form or another. It’s not that we won’t be friends anymore; we’ve known each other for 10 years, even before we worked together for the Caravan, the student paper of the American University in Cairo.
I guess I was just too attached to Al Khan.
Tarek my friend, best of luck in your next project and I hope we run more of your cartoons in Daily News later on.
You can also check Tarek’s cartoon blog Cairo Freeze, but it has been inactive for a while.
The first season of Al Khan has been published in a book in 2009 and is available in local book stores.