Cairo, City of Clay

A graphic novel probably doesn’t come more timely than Dutch comic artist Milan Hulsing’s City of Clay (“Stad van Klei”):

The book follows the misadventures of civil servant Salem and his descent into madness when he starts labouring on an elaborate scheme that involves the creation of an entire imaginary town and its police force. While personally collecting the invented town’s security budget, Salem finds himself forced to write an endless amount of believable police reports in order to keep the invented town off the radar of his superiors. For this he starts to obsessively build a clay model of the town and its citizens in his own living room. Soon the imaginary and the real world fold into one when the town starts to reflect Egypt’s corrupt and bureaucratic reality against Salem’s will. Instead of earning Salem bonuses, the police force is cracking down on self inflicted security problems. Salem finds himself victimized by the merciless and corrupt police inspector he himself created.

Milan Hulsing has been living and drawing in Cairo for some years now. City of Clay is based on Mohamed El-Bisatie’s novel Over the Bridge, “a compelling allegory about power and its abuse” in which “the bureaucrat’s elaborate illusion begins, gradually but relentlessly, to take on a reality and momentum of its own and, by the conclusion of the tale, reveals itself as having contained the seeds of its creators demise.”

About the state of graphic novels in Egypt, Hulsing says that “… (s)omething is moving: you’ll find more and more graphic novels on the bookstore’s shelves. And a group of comic artists recently also launched a new comic magazine. It’s alive.” (Interview in Dutch.)


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