Samir Magazine and the Art of Bootlegging Tintin
Since at least the 1920s, there has been a rich history of comics in the Middle East. For the first few decades, this comics’ history mostly took the form of political cartoons in newspapers or two-page spreads in text heavy magazines. But in Cairo in 1956, the landscape of Arab Comics was redefined. You see, this was the year that the publishers of Samir (سمير) envisioned a much more expansive role for comics in the Middle East, legality aside.
Out of all the children magazines of the day, Samir is my favorite by a sizable margin. To read an issue of Samir is to read a fully realized, very ambitious, globe spanning sampling of comics from the time. Like its contemporaries, Samir serialized comics month-to-month that were geared towards children (or more specifically their after-school allowance). However, Samir set itself apart by creating a unique international conversation between comics that gave equal weight to European illustrations as it did to those from the Middle East. In other words, a single issue of Samir can take you from a local tale of Jeha (a well-known regional trouble maker) to an adventure of Tintin with the flip of a page.
Instead of putting out a translated-only publication, the publishers of Samir invested in creating original regional comics. Therefore, in addition to introducing Arab kids to a world of comics abroad, the magazine introduced them to a world of comics at their own footsteps. For now my collection of 1950’s Samirs is too scattered around the world (and the online resources are too few) for me to look at these original local comics in greater depth, so I will flip the proverbial page to examine how Samir created Tintin’s first peculiar translation into Arabic.
Remember that time I told you about how Tintin was translated into Arabic legally for the first time in 1979? Well that caveat of “legality” is necessary because from the first issue of Samir in 1956, Tintin was being localized for an Egyptian audience on a monthly basis. These Samir translations differ in two major ways from those official later versions: language and color. To start with the most obvious difference, in getting bootlegged for an Egyptian audience Tintin became noticeably more psychedelic. As if filtered through Professor Calculus’s “Super Calcacolor,”* the colors of the Samir Tintins are distinctively different from their European counterparts. Take for example the transformation of these well-known panels from The Crab with the Golden Claws**(pg.31, C1-3 and pg.32, D1-3):
The changes here are stark and wonderful. Maybe it’s the novelty of it, but I sort of prefer the tripped-out Samir versions. This strange colorization may also help explain why a few decades later Arabic Tintin’s were available with every other page decolorized. The other major difference in these pre-licensed Tintin translations is that the Arabic is colloquially Egyptian instead of the universal classical. This gives the cast of Tintin the effect of speaking as if they were Egyptian, seamlessly incorporating local phrases throughout Hergé’s panels.
Although the methodology might not have been legal, I find it deeply encouraging that Samir was the format most Egyptian children were first exposed to Tintin. In Samir, The Adventures of Tintin were given a unique context that put Hergé in dialogue with — instead of opposition to — his Arab counterparts. The publishers of Samir embraced the blurry lines between culture and the result is a magazine that can start with Tintin in a distant land and end with a young Muslim boy praising God.
* A very-earned congratulations if you caught the reference:
** In case you were curious, the Arab Henchman made it into the Samir versions: