At a time when the majority seek to disassociate from reality as a form of refuge from the real world, we meet Deena Mohamed; a woman who cares about living in the now, while also capturing the reality around her and sending out important messages through an engaging and unique web comic.
The hero of Mohamed’s web comic is an Egyptian hijabi female who fights crime and combats stereotypes around the city of Cairo and beyond. Her adventures include putting misogynists in their place and breaking the knees of sexual harassers.
The illustrator and graphic designer recalled the birth of Qahera, the Superhero; a character she created at the young age of 18. Translated into English, the character’s name means ‘the conqueror,’ and is also the name of the Egyptian capital, Cairo.
— Qahera the Superhero (@QSuperhero) August 27, 2015
“I wanted a name that could work in both English and Arabic, and at the same time show that the character is Egyptian. I also wanted it to be powerful enough to portray a proper superhero. The name ‘Qahera’ fit that criteria perfectly,” Mohamed said.
While many people assume that Qahera is based on Mohamed herself, Mohamed begs to differ. “People are surprised when they find out I am not her,” she laughs.
However, meeting the laughing, bubbly personality behind the character gives you an idea of where the satirical wit in the comics comes from, making you appreciate their whimsy even more.
In fact, Mohamed put in as much thought into the concept of Qahera and how she is dressed as she did with the heroine’s name. She mentioned that she made Qahera an abaya-wearing hijabi in order to combat the global stereotype that hijabi women aren’t seen as free thinkers.
“Egyptian art needs to represent more of the Egyptian society. The problem with art, in general, is that there isn’t enough variety and much of it doesn’t represent the majority and how they live,” Mohamed added.
From Islamophobia, sexual harassment and illegal immigration to the false portrayal of Muslim women as oppressed souls who need saving, Qahera cleverly tackles a variety of sensitive topics in a satirical light; offering its readers a singular, humorous perspective into issues affecting our current world. It even won the award for Best Digital Comic Series at the Cairo Comix Festival.
Qahera’s first ever appearance showed her tackling the issue of misogynistic tendencies, ending the story by introducing her readers to another cause she cared deeply about; countering the rise of organizations like FEMEN seeking to ‘save’ oppressed Muslim women from their cultures. But even though that first comic witnessed tremendous engagement on social media, Mohamed couldn’t imagine what was about to come next.
“The web comic wasn’t really intended for an Arab audience at the beginning since it focused more on global issues like Islamophobia and FEMEN. But when I published the sexual harassment comic, people asked me to translate it to Arabic and that was when it gained a lot more attention. I was actually pleasantly surprised that Egyptian and Arab readers were so receptive of the concept,” Mohamed said.
It’s worth noting that the sexual harassment comic was posted during a time when sexual harassment was at an all time high, with a few famous incidents going viral, particularly during political protests.
As her fan base broadened, so did her topics. Mohamed cares about writing stories that are important and relevant, while also paying attention to the feedback provided by her readers in the process.
“The comics may be a little political at times, which is expected of a female superhero living in Egypt. In the future I hope to discuss topics like domestic violence, especially against children,” Mohamed said.
The latest work on Qahera isn’t a comic, unlike its preceding works. Instead, it is a digital painting portraying Qahera holding up a collapsing bridge. Mohamed hopes to incorporate more digital paintings into her work, showing Qahera in various day-to-day situations around Cairo.
Another admirable quality about Mohamed is her attitude to her art and how she plans on moving forward. When asked about the next steps for Qahera, whether in the form of a compiled book or an art gallery, Mohamed was adamant about keeping Qahera as a passion project outside of her day-to-day job.
“I want this project to be free to consume because I don’t want to depend on appealing to people. While I appreciate the feedback I receive and learn a lot from it, I don’t want to use it to make a living,” she declared.
In the next few months, Mohamed is planning on publishing a new fantasy graphic novel. While its concept differs from that of Qahera, those who enjoyed Mohamed’s web-comic are anxious to see what she will tackle next. Mohamed has promised to announce its release on Qahera’s facebook page.