Archive for January, 2012

A day in the life of … a garbage truck team

Sayyed: Hearing a thank you or a pat on the back is what keeps us going

By Mike V. Derderian

After scanning the six mirrors lining the left and right sides of the truck’s compartment, Khader Abu Rommaneh nodded before he started operating the trash compactor. Two men dressed in orange overalls, in the meantime, could be seen standing at the rear loading area of the truck as its lifting contraption landed a dumpster onto the asphalt surface with a thud.

A short beep followed. Abu Rommaneh turned off the compactor before shifting into first gear gunning the truck through the back streets of Shmeisani. It is 8:30 a.m. and it is time to move on to another alley to collect the trash.

Nael Al-Joughol and Omar Al-Sayyed, the two waste disposal employees at the Greater Amman Municipality (GAM), had already stepped onto two foot ramps and held on to the iron handles that are fixed to the rear of the truck as it labored its way uphill.

The three hardworking men, whose first shift starts at 7:00 a.m., constitute the team that operates this colossal vehicle-cum-machine.

“I always was into heavy machinery. I used to drive a truck, which made it easier for me to learn how to operate this one,” a vigilant Abu Rommaneh told The Star; boasting that he knows his work route like the back of his hand.

Despite the air conditioning, a tangible acrid smell that Abu Romaneh didn’t seem to mind filled the driver’s compartment. Imagine how the smell is in the rear loading area, where the two men are forced to stay throughout their shift.

No sooner had he turned on the compactor, than the compartment started shaking irregularly. “It has an 8-tonne capacity. If the trash we collect is moist the compactor would work more efficiently through more piles of garbage” shouted Abu Rommaneh, always on the lookout for his two colleagues, before he added with a note of sympathy, “I try not to push those two as they are literally running the route.”

According to Abu Rommaneh there are 126 garbage trucks working round the clock in the capital Amman and its suburbs. So how does a compactor work? The rear loader compresses the waste against the moving wall of a cylinder hidden under a rectangular crate. The elliptical non-stop motion moves the waste to the front of the waste collection compartment of the vehicle.

Moments before Abu Romaneh pulled over, the two men could be seen running past the truck and reaching out to few plastic trash bins lined at the entrance of a villa; they hauled the bins and unloaded them inside the compressor in a matter of seconds.

“Look they’ve started honking [referring to three cars stuck behind the garbage truck]. We try as much as we can to avoid creating traffic congestion but people who shift the dumpsters to the left side of the street force us sometimes to park more to the left. This is the biggest problem that we face during our work, which is the result of conflicting neighbors, who keep shifting the whereabouts of the dumpsters that are in place according to municipal charted plan,” complained Abu Rommaneh, who mans the large truck with dexterity.

Another problem that faces them is solid waste like pipes, rocks, dirt, bathroom accessories and tree logs that the compactor is unable to crush. “There are special vehicles that roam the streets and clear such harmful objects out of the dumpsters,” Abu Romaneh, added, “People think the compactor can go through anything.”

As the two men stood knee deep in a pile of garbage at the loading area of a mall both men worked a total of 11 minutes. They patiently cleared bags of decaying meat and vegetables in addition to other types of soggy foodstuffs that emanated an unbearable stench—all the while without a mask.

“It is our job to keep Jordan clean,” said Joughol, who started out 12 years ago as a street sweeper and is now a truck runner, “I am content with what I do for a living.”

The three men, who head out to their families at the end of a non-stop six-and-a-half-hour shift, are proud of their jobs, which help maintain their country clean and disease free.

“Hearing a thank you or a pat on the back is what keeps us going,” stated Sayyed, who has been working for GAM for the past ten years, adding, “Surely there are people who sometimes treat us badly; however we cannot do anything but be polite and ignore their remarks and continue our work. “

The three men, Abu Rommaneh, Joughol and Sayyed, work together with an uncanny synchronization. They don’t need radio communication as their facial expressions and hand gestures are more than enough to get them through a taunting day, whether it was during hot summer mornings or freezing winter afternoons.


A few days prior to the writing of this article Joseph Zakarian and I took a ride with the hardworking team of this garbage truck. While I sat in the front talking to Abu Rommaneh the amazing Joseph Zakarian, a great friend and a greater photographer, spent the entire time with the two GAM employees. It was one the best outings for a Day In the Life piece.

This piece/blog post is dedicated to all the hardworking waster collectors of GAM without whom are country would be flooded with garbage.

These pieces have been taken verbatim from the original edited series “A Day in the Life of a …” published in The Star Weekly on December, 16, 2004 , as I want to remind myself of my progression as a writer.

The series was edited by Walid Kalaji without whom I would have never scratched the skin to reach the mettle. I added the V a few years later as a tribute to my amazing father.

A total of 44 pieces were written. God willing I will publish one each month.

Their innocent faces and miniscule bodies became part of the photographs in the photo book that I’ve been carrying around in my shoulder bag for the past few days. I needed the book to remind myself that I had a video interview to edit and finish.

Every single page in the book had a child, or two and more, huddled together, innocently smiling or gawking at the camera in bewilderment. Like an eye catching detail, painted with vivid colors in the edge, center or upper right or lower left of a painting, the Palestinian children standing next to graffiti art produced by the Hamas and Fatah artists give Mia Gröndahl’s Gaza Graffiti: Messages of Love and Politics a humanitarian aspect.

Gaza Graffiti: Messages of Love and Politics is more than a photo archive of the graffiti art movement in Gaza that according to the book started in 1987; it is a book reflective of a photojournalist’s journey; a photojournalist who was intent on capturing the bigger picture but found herself capturing pictures that came with smaller pictures within: The children of Gaza.

Gröndahl, who was born in 1951, and lives in Cairo and Southern Sweden, is a photojournalist and the author of another photo book In Hope and Despair: Life in the Palestinian Refugee Camp (AUC Press, 2003).

She was aided by Sami Abu Salem, a Palestinian journalist from Gaza, who eventually became her eyes and ears (her guide and interpreter).

Children with glittering eyes and friendly smiles peer into our own eyes through Gröndahl’s lens that also caught, as she puts it in the first pages of her book, the gray walls of Gaza that were heavily splashed with the spray paint colors of graffiti artists from Hamas and Fatah. The majority of graffiti pieces in this amazing book were produced part of an unofficial graffiti war between the two warring factions.

In Gaza Graffiti: Messages of Love and Politics you will find politicised graffiti art, slogans and murals of Palestinian martyrs from both sides of the Palestinian political spectrum. Some are amazing and some are simple; and you can also go as far as saying childish.  You will also spot congratulatory letters of Hajj, marriage and other social occasions worth celebrating with a graffiti.

I had the pleasure of meeting Gröndahl and Abu Salem during the launch and signing of her book part of The Festival of Alternative Arts: Urban Expressions in 2010. Prior to our interview at books@café I interviewed Miss Gröndahl and Her Excellency Mrs. Charlotta Sparre on my morning radio show on 96.3 FM, Radio Jordan.

You can find the video interview that I conducted, shot and edited here. Just click on this link Gaza Graffiti: Messages of Love and Politics, The Interview

Blog post photo by Mia Gröndahl from Gaza Graffiti: Messages of Love and Politics

What’s the best way to start a presentation about comics and graphic novels? Stack all the comics and graphic novels you have and photograph them, maybe!

The excerpts and photographs of comics and graphic novels are part of a presentation I did for the launch of Palestine: The Graphic Novel, a collective anthology with over 30 amazing artists, on November 6, 2010, in Amman, Jordan.

The graphic novel is in the design process and will be published once funding for printing is found. I will keep you updated.

This is the original transcript of my presentation [I will soon publish the one in Arabic].

Palestine: The Graphic Novel & the Art of Comics & Graphic Novels Presentation

By Mike V. Derderian

First and foremost excuse my Arabic that I love in the form of prose yet don’t exactly understand grammatically; thanks to inane and conscious-free teachers.

What are comics and graphic novels?

I am not going to take you back to the caveman days, nor will I take you to the beginnings of storytelling or novels.

Let us just say that comic books and graphic novels belong to an art-form that fuses words with images.

Why did this fusion come to be?

To give a story, a character or a cause another dimension!

Had Johann Gutenberg, who invented the printing press, been an illustrator he would have opted to illustrate the Holy Bible instead of printing it.

Gutenberg sadly died poor.

Another example on how not all creative people make good money out of their creativity especially writers in the Middle East.

Actually William Blake, the English poet and engraver, did that. He created engravings of scenes and stories from the Holy Bible. The man was so creative that he illustrated his own poems. Blake is probably one of the first graphic novel writers and illustrators in the world.

Last night and while I was preparing my presentation I reminded myself to keep things simple and not try to come out as a know-it-all as I don’t know it all – I am not; I am still a student learning how to make comics.

You’ve all probably heard of Joe Sacco’s Palestine in which he brilliantly fuses the art of comics with journalism. After spending two months in the West Bank, Gaza and the Occupied Territories Sacco wrote and illustrated a total of 280 pages.

Upon reading Palestine I asked myself, “what is stopping us from creating such a work that reflects our ideas and vision as Arab writers and illustrators?”

This question is the main reason why we are here tonight; to work together on producing Palestine: The Graphic Novel.

Many artists and writers have expressed their ideas and visions of Palestine before us, however, not in a collective comic book or graphic novel format.

Our graphic novel and through the imagination of the participating writers and illustrators will not only be about the pain, death and tragedy that have surrounded the lives of Palestinians since Al Nakba in 1948 but will also be about their innate hope and optimism.

“What do we want to achieve through this cultural-artistic-literary project?” someone might ask.

A graphic novel about Palestine. Of course the proceeds from the sale of our graphic novel will go to a charity in Palestine.

I was at Books@Cafe buying comics when the young lady at the cashbox with a shy disposition suggested that I buy a book by Mostafa Nimer Da3mas and Mahmoud Al Aza about Naji Al Ali and Hanthala entitled, Hanthala: The Immortal Eye Witness. I did!

For someone who loved Naji Al Ali’s drawings but did not know much about him I found the book very useful.

This is a quote by Al Ali and that I believe summarizes the reason behind my passion and the passion of many, who are present here tonight, for this medium.

“Drawing to me is a profession, a job and a hobby. Even though I’ve been working as a caricaturist for over 20 years now, I’ve never felt satisfied with my work. Sometimes I feel helpless in my inability to employ this expressive language in conveying my angst as it is quite immense. Still, drawing gives me an inner balance; it consoles me and at the same time tortures me. I often say that the caricatures I draw make me a fortunate man, and luckier from others, as it allows me to vent out my anxieties; others may die of the anguish that burdens their hearts and injects its daily dose of venom in their blood system. Seeing these people makes me realize that drawing consoles me,” Al Ali says.

This applies to most of us, and more likely all of us.

It is the scenario that governs our lives since the moment we discovered the amazing images that we can create through pencil lines on paper: Our addiction to drawing.

Some smoke, some chew gum, some draw and some do all three …

Today and in the upcoming days we will bring together the three elements of comics and graphic novels:

– Writing … manifested in the writers present today …

– Illustration … manifested in the illustrators present today …

– Coloring … manifested in the artists and painters present today …

Even calligraphy and lettering is an important element in comics and graphic novels.

The most important aspect about Palestine: The Graphic Novel is that it is going to be bilingual (Arabic and English) in order to reach everyone.

Some pages are still white and some lines empty … help us fill them out and be part of Palestine: the Graphic Novel.

This is probably the first graphic novel panel in the world, on a cave wall from somewhere around the world.

Little Boy:

Mommy! Daddy and Uncle are going to hunt wild animals and won’t take me with them? 

The ancient ones knew how to illustrate and design but they weren’t much into writing yet.

Had Johann Gutenberg, who invented the printing press, been an illustrator he would have opted to illustrate the Holy Bible instead of printing it. 

Gutenberg sadly died poor. Another example on how not all creative people make good money out of creativity especially writers in the Middle East.

Actually William Blake, the English poet and engraver, did that. He created engravings of scenes and stories from the Holy Bible. 

The man was so creative that he illustrated his poems. Probably one of the first graphic novel writers and illustrators in the world. 

This one is entitled Eve’s Creation

Another William Blake masterpiece. 

This one is entitled: Expulsion from Paradise

Joe Sacco, Brilliantly fused the art of comics with journalism. After spending two months in the West Bank, Gaza and the Occupied Territories Sacco wrote and illustrated a total of 280 pages.

Sacco brilliantly captures the details of a Palestinian neighborhood. His art is a fusion of the Clear Line style with his own styling of both characters and surroundings.

Zionist soldiers in Ramallah. Sacco’s Palestine is filled with narration boxes and detail: Truly the work of a journalist, who has an eye for detail.

Sacco demonstrating the hardships that Palestinians undergo when traveling around Palestine.

A touching image of two women talking to their relatives through a barrier. Another brilliant panel by Sacco that reflects reality.

Comic books and graphic novels worth reading: 

Let us quickly go through some comic books and graphic novels that are part of my book collection and that I hope you will be able to read one day.

Many Arab artists covered Palestine in their writings and illustrations especially caricaturists, whose one panels rely on the one arch story-line and visual. This is an amazing panel by Mahmoud Hindawi, an amazing artist.

It is very important for us, as aspiring comic artists and cartoonists, to acknowledge the works of other comic artists especially those who have started before us like renowned and veteran cartoonists Jalal Al Rifai and Emad Hajja in addition to younger cartoonists like Cartoonist Omar Al Abdalat, Mahmoud Hindawi and Mohammed X Afefa. The Cartoonist is a book that features the works of some of the former comic artists and others.

Of course no one drew Palestine the way Naji Al Ali did. The man’s work is like a fragmented eternal love poem of pain, death, angst, pride and dedication to his tormented mistress Palestine.

Hanthala: The Immortal Eye Witness by Mostafa Nimer Da3mas and Mahmoud Al Aza. “Drawing to me is a profession, a job and a hobby. Even though I’ve been working as a caricaturist for over 20 years now, I’ve never felt satisfied with my work. Sometimes I feel helpless in my inability to employ this expressive language in conveying my angst as it is quite immense. Still, drawing gives me an inner balance; it consoles me and at the same time tortures me. I often say that the caricatures I draw make me a fortunate man, and luckier from others, as it allows me to vent out my anxieties; others may die of the anguish that burdens their hearts and injects its daily dose of venom in their blood system. Seeing these people makes me realize that drawing consoles me,” Al Ali says.

I wanted to share with the attendees some of the books that shaped my imagination like this volume of Mickey and Batoot, which is Arabic for Donald. 

When I asked those who read these books to raise their hands everyone present did. Almost all of us read the same stories and comic books … yet we all found our different inner voices and styles as writers, illustrators and visual artists.  The interaction really encouraged us and we are looking forward to working with those who are on board.

In the Middle East The Smurfs are known as Sanafar, whoever coined the name when the series was being dubbed in Lebanon is a genius.  The Smurfs are the creation of Belgian Cartoonist Peyo, whose real name is Pierre Culliford. 

This is one of two albums that were popular back in the 1980s. The majority of comic books, like this book, were translated to Arabic by Lebanese Publishing Houses.

This 1987 volume was more like a comprehensive children’s magazine published in Egypt. Original Mickey Mouse and Donald stories were translated into Arabic with a dose of Egyptian humor.  The Egyptian publishing houses also published Mickey Jeep (a pocket sized Mickey mouse magazine with other Disney Characters) and Mickey’s Magazine. They were highly entertaining especially if you were into Duck tales ;-})

3antara Magazine, was a comics magazine produced by a Lebanese publishing house, Besat El Ree7, the Magic Carpet. Only this time its content was original and according to the magazine one line editorial, “drawn by university graduates.”

3antara is the name of Antarah ibn Shaddad, a.k.a Antarah Al Absi, was a poet and a warrior, who rose to prominence even though he was the son of an Ethiopian slave impregnated by a powerful tribal leader.

You don’t have to know and read all the comic books and graphic novels in the world but you have to know Tin Tin or Lucky Luke. Actually you have to ;-}) 

Herge’s The Adventures of Tintin (Les Aventures de Tintin) are among the most enduring and renowned comic series in the world. It is about a young journalist, his faithful dog, an alcoholic captain friend and absent minded professor.

Together the three or four counting Tin Tin’s dog Milou.

Lucky Luke was created by Belgian cartoonist, Maurice De Bevere a.k.a Morris.

Reading Lucky Luke equals watching a Western full of cliches that wouldn’t be passed by any politically correct editor. Disregard the cliches and you’ve got yourself one of the best cowboys from the west and to be more specific from Belgium.

You might as well look up Asterix, a series of French comic books by Rene Goscinny (writer) and Albert Uderzo (illustrator).

A children’s book by Maurice Bernard Sendak, an American writer and illustrator. Amazing visuals that sort of reflect everyone’s childhood especially the uber-imaginative.

Sendak is best known for his book Where the Wild Things Are. Imagination at its best. Kneading dough into a plane. You have to read it.

Who doesn’t know Abu Mahjoob! Emad Hajjaj over the years has managed to create a number of memorable characters. If you want to learn more about us and our habits and social norms this is the book to buy.

Not exactly a graphic novel Happens to Me of All People! is an original approach to the collaborative process between a writer and an artist.  Mohammad Tomaleh, who passed away, may he rest in peace, is one of Jordan’s renowned satirical writers.  Instead of illustrating his short essays Emad Hajjaj provided artwork that reflected the themes and spirit of Tomaleh’s pieces.

Hassan Everywhere is a book about illustrated dreams and poems written by its late writer Hassan Hourani. Hourani’s minimal illustrations and echoing words part of a jointed narrative are quite haunting and offer us a plethora of dreamscapes.

Samandal is one of the most successful comic magazines in the Middle East. The artwork reflects its Avant-garde approach to visuals and storytelling.

The brain child of Lebanese artists: Lena Merhej, Hatem Imam & Omar Khoury the dense magazine that comes in black and white is quite inspiring. It features the works of artists like Fouad Mezher, Ghadi Ghosn, Jana Traboulsi and Mazen Kerbaj.

P.S: ِ A group of Egyptian artists a few months ago launched a successful collective comic magazine entitledTok Tok Press on the name to check our their Facebook Page :-})  

Comics that have been often linked to children in spite of their often larger than life issues and topics discussed …

Charles M. Schulz’ Peanuts is the only reason why I grab a Jordan Times newspaper. Now I directly go to their website. 

Bill Waterson’s Calvin and Hobbes are quite the dynamic duo. A boy and a tiger. Won’t spoil the plot for you so try reading it to learn more about the amazing universe that Waterson created. Waterson’s stories are about childhood, unbounded imagination, growing up and pure child’s play mixed with angst. 

Hank Ketcham’s Dennis the Menace is a guide to mayhem and 101 on how to drive grown ups crazy. Simple illustrations with big words spoken by a cheeky kid.

Charles M. Schulz’ masterpiece about student angst and school blues. This should be included in our educational system’s curriculum!

If you thought The Ring was scary and creepy think again! Hideshi Hino is the man of horror. The Red Snake, which is the first in this series of Japanese maim and mayhem, is probably the best read in terms of storytelling.

Hino twists his Post World War II Tokyo memories into yarns of gruesome death and horror. Pure genius …

Three writers and illustrators and one character Phillip Marlowe, the relentless and unrelenting gum shoe. 

Film Noir at its best thanks to Raymond Chandler’s detective stories and central character Marlowe that in a way started the Film Noir genre that was solidified by a string of movies starring Hamphrey Bogart. 

It Rhymes with Lust is another example of Film Noir graphic novels. Quite fun to read thanks to its classic art and narrative.

R. Crumb is not for the coy and lighthearted. One of America’s most celebrated underground comic artists Crumb’s work is very sexual, crude and at times shocking.  His impressive illustration style will often make you overlook his shocking narrative.

Long before The Matrix movies there was Ghost in The Shell. Shirow Masamune’s cyber punk future graphic novel showcases a grim reality especially with the spread of techno terrorism and shady international affairs that quite prophetically reflect our present time after 9/11. 

Amidst all the chaos Motoko Kusanagi, a cyborg operative from Section 9, an anti-terrorism tech unit, soon finds herself asking existential questions brought about by the union between man and machines.

Fumi Yoshinaga’s Ooku: The Inner Chamber Volume 1 is a historical fantasy.

The same way the Japanese have a thing for technology and robots they have a soft spot for sexually themed comics.

Sexuality is an area still not touched upon, at least directly, in Arabian comics.  Compared to other Japanese comics, which are internationally known as Mangas, derived from the word Mangaka, which translates to comic artist, Yoshinaga’s Manga is quite tame.  Her style is simply beautiful …

Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s The Push Man and Other Stories as the title indicates is a graphic novel in short stories format. The simple yet clear line style captures the bleak post World War II Tokyo.  In spite of his disturbing themes Tatsumi’s stories are quite realistic and universal.

The main story in Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s The Push Man and Other Stories. About a man whose job is to push as many people he can into the subway. Still analyzing the moral behind it and will soon post it here ;-})

If you’ve seen the movie you’d say that V is a freedom fighter; if you read this graphic novel by Alan Moore and David Lloyd. You’d realize that there is more to this masked vigilante than fighting a totalitarian government … and its not all pleasant and noble. 

Unlike the movie that centered around V and Evey Hammond there is more to this masterpiece than just two characters brought together by fate. 

Moore’s words and characters are driven by what drives us all: Survival in hard times. This is more like a political essay enhanced by an amazing narrative and illustration.  Little by little and with every page turned we notice how the lives of the many characters in this brilliant work of fiction are affected by V’s actions. 

V for Vendetta is quite the page turner and the movie was merely a chapter from its chapters :-}) Remember remember the fifth of November. We tried to make our launch on the 5th of November to coincide with Guy Fawkes Day. We couldn’t still it was great to see you all last night.

How do you summarize a graphic novel of this magnitude? Written by Alan Moore and illustrated by Dave Gobbons Watchmen is about deconstructing the caped and masked superhero genre turning them into humans with obvious and hidden fault-lines. 

It also has a comic within a comic storyline. A very dense read that is worth the re-read once you are done and survived its slow pace. Introduced a new era of anti-heroes and heroes and probably influenced the current Batman graphic novels that tackled the caped crusader’s inner angst and psychological issues. 

Zack Snyder’s movie was quite faithful to the graphic novel-You can say it was a panel by panel rendition. A lot of missing parts from the movie will astonish you once you start reading the book.

Graphic novels are not just about caped superheroes, sci-fi, horror and romance; they can be about anything. 

Gareth Hinds decided to illustrate Beowulf, an Anglo-Saxon poem about a hero and superman called Beowulf, who is out to save the court of King Hrothgar from an evil and man eating monster called Grendel. The poem is quite amazing. 

You’ve probably seen the animated version with Angelina Jolie as Grendel’s mother. Animating Angelina Jolie’s nude body and painting her in gold is not the best of ideas or is it ;-}) They even made her feet look like high heels! Robert Zemeckis what were you thinking?

In the poem Beuwolf doesn’t fall for Grendel’s mom at all. Anyway … Hinds’s graphic novel is a great example that we as writers and comic artists can write and illustrate any story we want from our own folklore and history; this is the essence of Palestine: The Graphic Novel. 

Graphic Novels can be about real stories, people and countries, and can be the work of fiction. I should have included Ho Che’s graphic novel, King, about Martin Luther King, in my presentation. It is quite unique in style and narrative. 

This is a link to a video teaser about Ho Che’s graphic novel:

I don’t recommend this to anyone with existential issues as it is quite depressing. I was barely able to finish it.

If you thought the movie starring Will Smith was bleak this is bleaker! We want to create stories that also inspire and reflect hope.

Each and every writer, illustrator, painter, singer and poet participating in Palestine are free to choose the theme, spirit and style of their story. On the 26th & 27th of November we are going to have a literary-artistic get-together between 3:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. during which each and everyone one of us will present his or her story. We simply want to inspire each other!

Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novels, The Story of a Childhood 1 & The Story of a Return 2, bounded in one volume [the one you see above], are about her family and childhood in Tehran. 

Persepolis is an inspiring graphic novel about coming of age, consciousness, moral thinking, freedom, kindness, loss and above all creativity and imagination unbound.

As the title suggests this book is about the right to be hostile, the right to express your own thoughts and above all the right to be you ;-}) Aaron McGruder leaves no stone unturned in his scathing yet funny critique of the United States of America, Afro-Americans and everyone else. 

His characters Huey and Riley Freeman verbally abuse and bat everyone into a pulp. If you need to know they are only kids. Even George Lucas’ Jar Jar Binks and Lucas himself get their fair share of beating ;-})

Highly political, socially conscious, witty and full of punch-lines The Boondocks Treasury [The Right to Be Hostile] is a book you won’t be able to drop once you pick it up. It is a visual Stand Up Comedy routine in graphic novel format. Why did I include it in my presentation? To simply say that each and every one of has the right to write about anything he or she want especially for Palestine.

Thanks to Jeph Loeb (writer) and Tim Sale (artist) my love for the caped crusader was re-ignited. 

The Long Halloween is basically Batman vs. the Mafia, The Joker, Scarecrow and Catwoman in addition to other interesting characters. It also introduces Harvey Two Face and gives Commissioner Gordon a far superior role like in the recent Christopher Nolan movies, however, this graphic novel is far better than both movies. 

The term graphic novel came to prominence when comic series, like this 13-issue story, were bounded in one book. The same applies to all the graphic novel that I’ve included in my presentation. Before being published as graphic novels Ghost in the Shell, V For Vendetta and Watchmen were published in monthly issues. 

The illustration gives Batman a fresh outlook and to Ghotham City a twisted feel.  The muscular and clear line style was abandoned to give the blue and gray costumed Batman a surrealistic and dreamy feel that can never be achieved through film in fear it might end up Adam West campy.

Before reading Art Spieglman’s Maus I and II I decided that I should read Joe Sacco’s Palestine.

Palestine has always been in my mind since 1948. I know that my hand and the hands of the artists, who will participate in this artistic endeavor is not in the fire like those who are under fire in Palestine, but our hands can most certainly draw what our eyes can see, ears hear and hearts feel. 

In Maus Speiglman writes and draws his father’s story, a holocaust survivor, in which Jews are depicted as rats, Nazis as cats, Poles as pigs, the French as frogs and the Americans as dogs. 

Both graphic novels Palestine and Maus offer an in-depth look in two different mind sets: The occupier and the occupied; the hangman and the condemned; the murderer and the victim.


To learn more about Palestine: The Graphic Novel and the participating artists go to our Facebook page:

P.S: Thank you Anna Mudd for reminding me that I have to post this presentation on my blog. Life is all about sharing the knowledge and experiences :-})

Blog photographs: “Comic Books on a Cardboard Background by Mike V. Derderian

By Mike Derderian

Star Staff Writer

The only words that came to my mind as I ascended the unclean steps leading to Cinema Rivoli’s hall were Dante Alighieri’s “abandon hope all ye who enter here.”

Standing amidst suggestive and provocative posters of films, displaying men and women in affectionate caresses, I paid JD one for a screening ticket.

A man standing at the doorway told me to go up a narrow stair situated at the left of the entrance that overlooked the crowded street of Saqef Al Sel. Seated on a chair in the middle of the second floor lobby, a bulky man jokingly asked me if I had bombs in the bag or if I was wearing an explosive belt. After groping the bag without opening it, the unshaved person “the fatso as he is referred to later” then gestured me to the stairwell saying, “its upstairs.”

After one more flight of stairs I started to hear the faint moaning of a woman but to my surprise it was not coming from a pornographic film. All was pitch black—a normal side effect that accompanies those who step in from the light and into darkness—an atmosphere that made me fumble for a place in a hurry.

Before I knew it, I was sitting in the third or fourth raw. The stench of feces and urine filled the place and as my breath grew heavy I had an urge to leave. White tile glimmered at one corner of the hall, where bright sunlight penetrated.

It was almost 2:00 pm when I entered The Rivoli. Time went by and I was still watching a movie in which two women and a man were being terrorized by a mean biker on a beach. I took another look at my mobile’s clock: It was 3:00 pm; I’ve been inside over an hour.

Anyone expecting a hardcore picture from the very moment they enter the cinema is in for a surprise. The faint moaning of a woman turns out to be nothing but the hushed squeals of a low grade actress in a French dubbed B-movie. 

Another French-dubbed movie but this time a Martin Campbell film entitled Defenseless starring Barbara Hershey was now playing. Was everything I heard about these places false? If so why were those people sitting there watching a French dubbed movie that I myself barely understood?

An old man, who was smoking a cigarette, was eyeing a boy sitting next to him. At first the boy changed seats and went back a few rows—apparently refusing the man’s advances. A few minutes later they weren’t there.

Less than half way through the film the flash of neon lights suddenly went on and the whole place was pulsating with light. What came to my vision was the following: bitten sunflower seeds scattered everywhere, seats covered with a nauseating black layer of dry dust and scum, a tainted floor, a bloody-red colored center stage covered with a glossy matter and men, who lay motionless the same way an animal stands still when facing the strong beam of a flashlight.

A well-built clean-shaven old man—probably at his late 50s with combed fair hair—then entered the hall announcing it was time for refreshments. It was an intermission and apparently everyone was obligated to buy something whether they liked it or not.

“You …  Abbas do you want tea or cola? I have Sunflower seeds and if you want we also have sandwiches,” the craggy faced old man announced addressing the seated men. “Anyone who needs to go to the bathroom can use the big fat man in the lobby instead of a toilet,” the old man said before bursting into laughter.

“All those whose zippers are open close them its tea time,” remarked the man, who spent 25 minutes distributing and charging money for the beverages and seeds, “ok in about three minutes boys you will watch a lot of jackhammer action.”

It was 3:40 pm when the projectionist stopped the previous film and activated another: a hardcore porn movie. The whole spectacle went on for almost half an hour, during which the scenes were automatically reshuffling.

Suddenly an abrupt edit switched the audience’s attention to a scene in a club, where everyone was dancing salsa after which a cheap fight scene ensued. They were playing an ordinary B-movie. In a cat and mouse game whenever the people responsible for running such theatres receive a tip that the Recorded Audiovisual Materials Department (RAMD) at the Audiovisual Commission will knock on their doors they simply switch CDs.

“Once that happens it is impossible to find where they hid the pornographic films. Such places have very intricate corridors and hidden rooms that no one knows of because they are very old,” commenced Engineer Mohammed Al Shawakfa, the director of the RAMD.

Al Shawakfa’s explanation is not far from the truth for anyone entering such places will see for himself how impossible it is to find their way out without help. There are three more cinemas known for screening pornographic pictures in the Downtown Area: Cinema Al Hussein, Cinema Zahran and Rhaghadan Cinema that was closed that day.

Cinema Zahran is bigger than the Rivoli and anyone who enters there will marvel at its construction and décor that reflects a prestigious past—no matter how distant it may be by now.

“Cinema Zahran, Cinema Al Hussein and Al Khayam were the biggest cinemas in Amman. I remember going there in my youth back in the 1960s. It was also a place where families can go to have an enjoyable outing which is not the case nowadays,” said Michel, who is in his late fifties and remembers watching black and white Arabic and Foreign movies at Cinema Al Zahran that was “quite luxurious even for its time.”

Luxury now rings of nothing but a callous present brought about by ill management, low maintenance and its inability to compete with state of the art cinema houses in Amman back then and the time being.

Over the years Zahran Cinema attained a morbid and eerie atmosphere that is revealed to anyone, who scales its steep stairs and goes beyond its ticket box, which is nothing but a table on which a bespectacled man who charges you JD 1,5.

A hanger like screening hall that lost its glitter a long time ago and replaced it with a light mossy undertone filled with rusty metal chairs is what is left. Less than thirty people were seated. Some were reading newspapers, some snacking on something they bought on their way and some were conversing with their friends. Some were alone.

The old man in charge of the buffet came into the hall and drew the curtains to block light from entering. The amplifiers hanging on the wall all of a sudden gave way faint static. Words filtered and it took a few minutes before shapes began to formulate on the big screen.

A man and two women were huddled around an old man, who was in bed. Looks like a normal family reunion right! Wrong. One of the blond ladies a few minutes later appeared in her under wear talking to someone on the phone in Dutch. Two minute later a couple were copulating and I realized that I am watching porn movie with a strange man sitting next to me.

“You don’t need to get mixed up with such people. It will bring you nothing but headache besides no video or DVD storeowner will give you porn movies unless you were one of his good and trusted customers,” a young Jordanian, who preferred anonymity, said.

Pornographic outlets are not the only things that RAMD has to deal with, for in addition to this underworld of porn that harbors perversity, prostitution and even pedophiles (which comes part of the Internal Ministry’s jurisdiction), they have to keep an eye for pornographic CD and DVD film peddlers, who shamelessly flaunt their goods in broad daylight.

“Why go to such places when I can buy CDs? When you have the Internet you can download lots of stuff from the privacy of your home computer,” a man who refused to give his name said.

“I know a man whose face looks like something hit by a truck but once you get to know him you find out that he is a nice guy,” a Jordanian, who added that porn suppliers double their activities after nightfall.

Some of the people The Star met with including Al Shawakfa agreed that the people behind peddling pornographic CDs in the streets are mostly men, who do not hesitate to cut anyone who dares stand in the way of their livelihood. Of course we bought a few CDs and upon inspecting them, we enjoyed watching a Hindi film and listened to a collection of the latest Arabic musical hits.

“It not that we are sitting here not doing anything but it is just as we have our ways they have theirs. These places are like fortress and by going there you risk getting stubbed. That is why we go accompanied by police and personal from public defense, “Al Shawakfa explained, further adding that those people would do anything to defend such a profitable income.

“What matters most is having evidence to give the public prosecutor and our problem is that no sooner we reach the cinema everything would be gone…cleaned out,” Al Sawakfa exclaimed, who also said that such cinema are also found in places in Zarqa and Irbid.


This piece was published in 2006 and was edited by Walid Kalaji without whom I would have never scratched the skin to reach the mettle. I added the V a few years later as a tribute to my amazing father.

Blog Art: 

“Fail” digital art by SARDINE  (Mike V. Derderian). The reason why I called it “Fail” is because obviously someone failed in stopping the underground activities of these movie theatres instead of turning them into cultural-community hubs that would benefit local artists.

– Usually not suitable for the faint of heart but this post is okay –

The fiery flow in the unfathomed depths is rising. The acidic vomit has reached the esophagus. Weighed down by the bills of reality he is unable to move freely in the imaginary world.
Tired the writer decides to drink rum with his favorite author and journalist. He opens his desk drawer and pulls out a  water pistol that he safely tacks in his overcoat’s right pocket.
“You never know what might show up in those dark cerebral alleys!” he says to himself. Locking the doors he presses the lift’s button. Nothing! The elevator’s prehistoric engine doesn’t whir its usual symphony compliments of screechy cogs and oiled leather belts.
“Stuck again! Damn!”
With steps that are more like leaps he reaches the entrance of the old building that resembles the facade of a run down theatre in Al Balad (Down Town).
Spitting the gum, that lost its taste, the same way the memory of a teenage summer camp love affair fades in time, out of his mouth into the rat and cockroach infested drain he heads out to a pub not far away in his mind. After few minutes walk he finds himself in front of a shady establishment in Havana, Cuba.
The street sign reads, El Gato Loco. The moment he pulls the entrance handle fog-like smoke streams out the door.
There he is. His friend. Sitting with all the worries of the world buried deep in a young mind trapped in an old man’s body. He doesn’t show it. He will go out to the sea in about an hour or two.
His right muscled and hairy forearm is laid on the old wooden edge of the bar, inviting strangers to a manly game of arm wrestling, while his left arm is wrapped around the waist of a beautiful mulata.
He hasn’t shaven for a while. He is grumpy yet of jolly disposition that is obvious to everyone present. If life’s force was visible one would have been able to see it coming out of his pores and dripping from his furrowed brow.
He was talking out loud.
“Your sensibilities do not concern me. True one has to write for the ordinary reader but one must not relinquish his/her self while doing so. Writing is art reflective of one’s soul. You not only put your words on that piece of paper; you put yourself. You don’t see people complaining about paintings they do not understand. They simply refuse to talk about such paintings because they are afraid of being mistaken for idiots. Anyone can write and paint simple and that’s what gets them excited; a language they understand and that will move their swollen lips. Well, maybe they are idiots for not wanting to understand … a man’s effort, work, life … etc …etc … bullshit!” Hemingway barks.
His heartily laugh echoes across the stuffy room that smells of burnt out cigars, alcohol, cheap aftershave and delicious perfume.
“Welcome Mike! What brings you to Havana tonight? Have you seen Nick on the way here? You look thirsty dear boy. How about a drink of rum?”
I smile, take up the glass from his shaky hand, down its contents and go back to work. On the way back to my office I think to myself, “ADD is a bitch especially when you end up writing pieces of fragmented fiction instead of work! “

To be continued or not …

Blog art:

L’assassin  (Ink on A4 paper, canon scanner and Photoshop CS3) by SARDINE (Mike V. Derderian)