Monday 8 August 2016

Comics and drawing exhibition in Beirut

In connection with the conference “Being Palestinian: Human rights, identity and mental health”, in Beirut May 15 -16, there was an exhibition on comics and drawings by Palestinian young refugees in the UNESCO Palace. The exhibition was prepared by Ms. Jamal Abou Saleh of Beit Atfal Assumoud (Finnish Psychologists' cooperation partner in Lebanon).

A group of youths at Mar Elias Camp working
with drawings for the exhibition.

The exhibition showed artworks by youths from all Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon. Jamal coordinated the preparations of the artwork within the BAS network during two months in the spring. All the centers made drawings, comics and presentations to be exhibited and to highlight children’s thoughts about human rights and identity.

Jamal says: “Children have inside them their sense of identity and human rights. They need help to get this expressed to the world.”

World Comics Finland and the Finnish Psychologists for Social Responsibility ran a comics training workshop jointly in Lebanon in 2005, and this exhibition shows that these skills are still at good use in BAS.

Even after the bombardment of homes, schools, hospitals, the children want to study, although they have only tents. By Youssuf Ahmed Al Hameed, who comments on the situation of Palestinian children in Gaza.

A detail from the exhibition.

This comic, ”I have a right to education”, by Abeer Ayda from Mar Elias Camp, tells the story of a girl in a wheelchair who gets an education with the help of Beit Afal Assumoud. After her studies she gets a job and leads a happy life.

Ms. Jamal Abou Saleh, Culture Coordinator in Beit Atfal Assumoud, who was in charge of creating the exhibition.

Some refugees' perilous sea journey ends in a dramatic air rescue in
this comic by Samer Ahmed Azzam, 13, from Rashidieh Camp.

The lure of the people smugglers.

(NB: Read speech balloons from right to left)

Father, I don’t want to go, please…
My son, our life will be better and happier.
Mother, I am afraid of the sea journey.
My daughter, don’t be afraid, I am with you and God will protect us.


By Darin Abed Elaa’l, BAS, Nahr el Bared

Posted by Leif Packalen, based on material provided by Sirkku Kivistö.

Sunday 10 July 2016

Grassroots Comics in Udmurtian

Maksim Agafonov (in front) draws a story about red hair
The Finnish Embassy in Moscow organised a grassroots comics workshop together with Udmurtian language activists in Izhevsk, Udmurt Republic (Russia) in May 2016. The workshop took place at the youth center LIFT, which is run by Izhevsk City. The eight participants were artists, art students, graphic designers and library staff. Most participants had experience in comics, but the grassroots comics method was new to them, as was the idea of making comics entirely in Udmurtian language. Some comics that were made in the workshop dealt with minority language issues and differences between Udmurtian and Russian languages. Other comics had a variety of topics, but all were made in Udmurtian.

In spite of the fact that the Udmurtian language is the official language of the Republic, general attitude to it and its speakers is often contemptuous (arrogant) as it is mostly spoken in villages. State structures don't use documents in Udmurtian. However, there has been a rise of the interest to the language and ethnic roots recently among progressive young people. It has been a trend in other republics of Russia as well. Udmurtia hosts annually Finno-Ugric language congresses, international film festivals, and other intercultural events, but popularization and preserving of the language is still a big problem as the amount of its speakers is diminishing. It disappears from schools and gets replaced by English.

The workshop was tutored by comics artist Sanna Hukkanen from Finland and Anna Voronkova from Moscow comics festival KomMissia (, who is also a linguist and translator from Finnish.

Sanna Hukkanen and Anna Voronkova are also planning to take grassroots comics workshops to other Finno-Ugric language groups in the near future. The purpose of the workshops is to promote the use of minority language in new medias.

LIFT also hosted two comics exhibitions at the time of the workshop. One displayed comics from Karelian language activists from Petrozavodsk, Karelian Republic from 2015. The other exhibition introduced workshop tutor Sanna Hukkanen's comics translated in Udmurtian.

Posted by Sanna Hukkanen ja Anna Voronkova

This link takes you to a newscast about the workshop:

Comic from the workshop: Anna Obraztsova's poetic comic about misunderstandings between Udmurt and Russian

Monday 27 June 2016

GADO wins Cartooning for Peace award

Godfrey “GADO” Mwampembwa, one of Africa’s most outstanding cartoonists and a longtime contact to World Comics Finland, received the 2016 International Editorial Cartoons Prize issued by the Cartooning for Peace organisation. The other recipient of the Prize was “Zunar” from Malaysia.

From left Mr. Guillame Barazzone, Gado, Zunar and Kofi Annan at the award ceremony in Geneva, Switzerland (Photo: Cartooning for Peace website)

Gado is a longtime friend of ours. I first met him in 1993 at the Daily Nation, Kenya, when he had just started as the editorial cartoonist there. 

Sadly, Gado's contract with Daily Nation was not renewed any longer in February this year. The owners of the paper feared a backlash from the rulers and the powerful in Kenya, the same people whose actions have been closely monitored by Gado during his long career. His audience will miss him terribly.

Finnish readers have enjoyed Gado's cartoons in several magazines over the years, most recently in the June 2016 issue of "Kehitys" (Development) magazine.

Check out Gado's website:

Leif Packalen

Wednesday 22 June 2016

Comics on life in Moscow by African immigrants

The comics are spread out on the immigrant center's table in Moscow.
A Moscow-based center for African immigrants invited Finnish comics artist and teacher Sanna Hukkanen to lead a comics workshop in their premises in January 2016. The center provides health services, language courses, and assists the immigrants in day-to-day issues. The people who use the center come mainly from African countries, such as Cameroon, DRC, Ivory Coast, Guinea, Senegal, and Ethiopia. Many of them are undocumented immigrants and asylum seekers who find it almost impossible to be legally registered in Russia.

The comics workshop gathered together about ten African immigrants. There were also members of the staff of the center and many volunteers who work with the center through various NGOs. The participants spoke French, Russian and English so interpreters were present too. The visual language of comics, however, is quite easy to understand and the interpretation challenges weren't that important. The participants learnt the basics quickly and started working on their interesting stories. Together they chose the theme 'Life in Moscow' for their comics. The comics that were made during the workshop are one-page posters with four panels, also known as Wallposter Comics or Grassroots Comics.

The comics revealed many personal stories. A number of the immigrants had been cheated; they had paid a lot to get to the EU seeking for a better life, but ended up in Russia instead. Many were still dreaming about leaving for Finland, for example.

Life in Moscow proved hard; it was difficult to find employment or a place to stay. Discrimination was present at every level of society. The only job available was to hand out 'reklama', advertisement flyers on the streets. A few comics dealt with their encounters with Russian passers-by. The encounters were mainly positive despite the lack of common language.

Others were drawing stories about the help they had received from the center. There were plans of making a comics flyer that would help illiterate immigrants to find their way to the center. Many are in need of help, but they don't know how to look for it. Usually they hear about the center from other Africans.

One of the participants was an elderly man from DRC. He was very excited about the comics method. He talked about his artwork so enthusiastically that even the interpreter got exhausted! After the workshop he has continued drawing comics. It became a new tool of expression to deal with his stay in the strange and cold country.

The NGO activists and language teachers also took their new skill to their own workplaces. One of the Russian volunteers was especially interested in comics as a tool in teaching. She said she will definitely use comics in her work, a private English-language club for students.

All of the participants enjoyed the workshop because it was something new and different from their normal routines. It is empowering to use creative means to change the world instead of just waiting and struggling. The center has plans to use the comics made in the workshop in communication and in campaigns against racism.

Comic: Ethiopian Zinash Gizaw's story reveals how the ruble's exchange rate affects her chances of sending money home.

Posted by Sanna Hukkanen

Monday 22 February 2016

Johanna "Roju" Rojola awarded Comics Commissioner title

Johanna at the waterfront in Bujumbura, Burundi.

The Finnish Comics Society awards every five years the title of Comics Commissioner to persons who have significantly furthered the genre of comics. This year Johanna Rojola was awarded for her relentless work as an artist, producer, publisher, teacher and an activist spanning causes such as feminism, gender equality, global justice etc. 

She has paved the way for many female comics artists in Finland in one way or the other, being an inspiring teacher and mentor since the Nineties. There is a saying: Behind every successful female comics artist there is another woman. In Finland her name is Johanna Rojola.

Johanna has also participated in World Comics Finland's work, mainly as a workshop trainer. She has run workshops in Mozambique (1999 and 2005), Lebanon (2005), and Burundi (2010).

We all congratulate Johanna for the timely award, she really deserves it.

Leif Packalen

Johanna at a training workshop in Maputo, Mozambique in 1999.

Johanna sorting training manuals in Ngozi, Burundi in 2010

Thursday 7 January 2016

Maddo's take on Nairobi transport wins him a CNN Award

Maddo with his award

MADDO (Paul Kelemba)  Kenyan cartoonist and creator of the long running and extremely popular It's a Madd Madd World cartoon in the Standard (see blog posting August 2013) was in 2015 awarded a CNN Award for his cartoon called ”Sorting out Nairobi Transport”. It was chosen from entries spanning 39 nations across the African continent.

CNN gives annual awards for outstanding journalism in Africa.  Paul Kelemba's piece was the first CNN award to have ever been given to a cartoon. It gives recognition to the fact that also cartoons can be seen as solid journalism.

To complete ”Sorting out Nairobi Transport” has involved a lot of research, sci-fi modelling, etc. And, as usual, Paul Kelemba pokes gentle fun at his fellow Nairobians which makes the cartoon even more enjoyable.

Congratulations to Maddo, who is, incidentally, at the time of my writing this, struggling in severe  sub-zero weather in Estonia on a visit to the University of Tallinn.

Leif Packalen

The Madd Madd World Special "Sorting out Nairobi Transport"

Monday 4 January 2016

Iraqi refugees at "Hei Helsinki" comics workshop

Two panels from Firas Sabar's comic about his perilous journey from Iraq. The story ends with his arrival at Helsinki airport. Note: In Arabic you read from right to left.

Hei Helsinki arranged a comics workshop for a group of Iraqi asylum seekers. They stayed in Helsinki at at a reception centre, but the workshop was held at Kiseleff’s house in Hei Helsinki’s premises in three sessions in November - December. The workshop was facilitated by Leif Packalen of World Comics Finland. The Iraqi artist Mohaned Durubi did the interpreting at the workshop.

During 2015 an unprecedented number - about 30.000 - of migrants came to Finland to request for asylum. This put a lot of strain on the authorities, but also generated many positive initiatives from NGOs and spontaneous groups. The Hei Helsinki initiative is a good example.

Samples from the workshop:

Hasheim Jama's story about the car bomb that killed his father.

A detail from Khattab Uday's comic about the religious fighting in Bagdad. The man with the gun says: Either you follow us, or we will kill you.
A detail from Mohammad Al Fith's love story, which ends with a broken heart. 

Alaa Al Abady's story is about his journey to Finland and the reunification of his family here.

Posted by Leif Packalen