On Punch Reviews #63: Bahrain
There’s something about editorial cartoons that can be incredibly dangerous. Offend the wrong groups, for example, and you might find yourself running for your life. With televised, audio, or print media, you can build up or soften your argument by surrounding it with empirical evidence. There is rarely such a safety net for one-panel editorial cartoons. They are immediate an powerful in their brevity. The concise format strips the opinion to the stark naked core.
Josh Neufeld’s Eisner nominated webcomic, Bahrain: Lines In Ink, Lines In The Sand, follows the struggles of two editorial cartoonists living in Bahrain, a country caught in a politicl turmoil that, as of this writing, is still making news at the Bahrain Grand Prix. Neufeld has previously reported the personal stories of people caught up in Hurricane Katrina with AD: After the Deluge. Now he uses the same techniques, applied on a smaller scale, to take at look at the Arab Spring. It’s fairly short at 17 pages, but perhaps that’s as long as it needs to be.
Mr. Neufeld went to Bahrain on a State Department sponsored trip. There, he met two cartoonists whose works are included in the comic: Sara and Mohammed. Sara, in particular was the only female cartoonist that Mr. Neufeld met. Mr. Neufeld had been impressed by the country. It was a modernized nation, “incredibly liberal — by Arab standards.” Women had the write to vote. Political prisoners had been freed. Parliamentary elections had resumed. Mr. Neufeld didn’t sense any underlying tenions. But then the protests hit, and things unravel.
Neufeld shares the points of view from the two cartoonists he’d met, who’d independently friended him on Facebook. Mohammed would naturally seem to be the sympathetic one. He sides with the cause of the protestors, whose grievances stemmed from the years of second-class citizenship the Shia majority had felt at the hands of the Sunni elite. He was at the protests, where his friend, Ali, was one of the unfortunate casualties. Mohammed would publish cartoons mocking the government’s version of events. Eventually, the cartoons got Mohammed in hot water. He would be suspended from the University of Bahrain.
But each story has two sides. Unlike other comics about the political climate in the Middle East (like The Revolution Will Be Televised and Zahra’s Paradise), Mr. Neufeld doesn’t present the opposition as a one-dimensional bogeyman. While Sara published cartoons supporting the revolution in Egypt, she’s not so kind about the protestors in Bahrain. What she sees instead is betrayal. She had seen Bahrain come so far through peaceful means. She sees the protests being fueled by “racist and terrorist groups,” undoing the progress that had taken years to achieve. The protestors, to her, were not innocents. They were the agitators.
The protests tear Bahrain apart. “I imagine Bahrain like a paradise,” Mohammed says, “but unfortunately now it’s the opposite.” Hammering home the point is an event that turn out to be incredibly symbolic: the Pearl Roundabout, a monument where the protestors gathered, is torn down by security forces. It’s a stark reminder that things can’t go back to that way things were.
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5).