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Writers' Room: Sofiane Belaskri

  • By Sam Sedgman
  • 15th October 2013
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Sofiane is one of nine emerging comic artists from Algeria, Turkey and the UK who have created a series of new artworks for Reframe, an exhibition of comics exploring contemporary attitudes. We invited him into the Free Word Writers' Room to talk about his love for comics, how he works, and what Europe looks like from another continent.

What led you to become a comic artist? Why do you do it? 

I start drawing from my childhood and I've always loved telling stories, and if you mix the two that makes comics. I’ve been very attached to it since I was 13, when I discovered that the cartoons I watched were adapted from comics. 

I’m always curious about how writers and artists work – where do you do write/draw? How do you do it? Do you work best in the morning? The evening? On the roof? On the kitchen floor?

I’m a student and I don’t earn my living from comics, so I work when I have the time. I usually write the story and screenplay first, then the storyboard, and then I attack the boards. I usually work in my room, listening to music while I draw. 

I was sorry to hear you weren’t able to get a visa to travel from Algeria for the exhibition – I hear that this is a common problem for many artists: why is that?

I have no idea why they do this; it’s a great mystery! But it often happens, and not just to artists – for example in a sports team or a band, they sometimes don’t give a visa to one of the members. It’s sad.

Your strip mentions the ‘journey of death’ on a small boat – could you explain more about what that is, and why it’s called that?

This is a phenomenon that emerged in the early 2000s, and the number of people trying it has constantly increased. They are called Harragas – they’re people from North Africa who try to illegally immigrate to Europe in makeshift boats. Harragas literally means “people who burn” – they got that name because they burn their immigration papers if they’re about to be caught.

Why is Europe so desirable for the characters in your piece? Especially since the recent economic crash has meant there are so few jobs, and more far-right political parties are emerging – what is so appealing about Europe in Algeria?

Europe is so close. The Harragas are generally not highly educated people, and they often don’t understand the current situation in Europe – because Europe for them is what they see on TV and in music videos: the beautiful lives, beautiful women…

But I think it wouldn’t be like this if Europe hadn’t closed its doors to these young people in the third world. They could have gone there as a visitor, seen the truth and come back again.

How much did you think about what the other artists would draw, from Algeria and the other countries?

I've seen the work of Mahmoud and Soumia and I love what they did – now I'm really looking forward to seeing what other English and Turkish authors have done. I wanted to meet them in London, but alas…

Lastly, what are you reading at the moment? And how is it? 

Since my childhood I’ve only really read comic books and graphic novels, but I’ve recently got interested in novels: I’m now reading Leo The African by Amin Maalouf, in French, and I also discovered Arabic literature by reading the famous book Kalila wa Dimna by Ibn al-Muqaffa, and it's so beautiful that I’m wondering why I didn’t start reading novels and books of philosophy sooner!

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