Archive for the ‘beTwixt & beTween’ Category

Gruff voice. Piercing eyes filled with warmth. Well built. Strong manly handshake that compliments a stronger embrace. These are some of the characteristics that one notices in Walid Kalaji, or the ones who were fortunate enough to know him personally.

I met Abu Hassan in 2003. We were sitting two computer screens apart at The Star Weekly‘s office at Addustour. It was 2003. It was my second day, or third day, on the job. I was interning as a journalist.

As the ice thawed, and upon introducing myself, Walid asked me if I was the son of the very same Abu Mike, the owner of Photo Paramount the photography studio between Jabri and Al Quds Restaurant. I said yes. He burst in excitement and said, “you are the son of Abu Mike? I know your father. He used to take our portraits. He knows my entire family.”

I asked him if he was related to Fida Kalaji. He said yes adding that she is his cousin. Small world that just got smaller.

Abu Hassan, one of Jordan’s disciplined and couth journalists, and sharp opinion writers,  and a true gentleman by all means, sadly passed away a few days ago.

It took me a few minutes to process that the man I knew, and whose friendship I appreciated throughout the years, no longer existed in our physical world. A mutual friend called me about his passing away. Two days later I almost came to tears as I drove to work. He was my editor; my mentor.

This amazing man edited my words for a period of eight years. I knew him since 2003. 10 years of friendship, or what I would love to call true camaraderie. We talked assignments, discussed news, talked politics, disagreed and agreed on many things like words, phrasing, syntax, passion, objectivity, journalism, cinema, the world and life.

He tested my mettle. He pushed me and I pushed back. He appreciated my being and I appreciated his being.

A few days ago his body was laid to rest and a wake was held in a tent adjacent to his childhood home, where his mother still lives. I went with my father to pay respects.

We live as if this life will never come to end. We live by the hope that we will call or visit each other in a day or two. We never realize that! I didn’t realize that either. Deep down in my heart I know but I choose not to know.

A night before his death my childhood friend, one of six in my close circle of trusted friends whom I grew up with, his wife and daughter paid me a visit. We somehow ended up talking about Abu Hassan. Yazan was a friend of Abu Hassan’s nephew. He was the one who told me about Abu Hassan’s death.

I cannot recall what was the line that led us to talking about my wedding, that was held in Syria, and that Abu Hassan attended. Yes, he honored me with his presence, which leads us to what happened when my wedding party wrapped up and I, with my other half, Nesrin, were about to leave our guests to go on our honeymoon.

Abu Hassan, with the warmest of smiles, a smile that you only see on the face of a close family member, approached me. He slipped a white envelope in my jacket’s inside pocket saying, “Mabrook Mike! See you upon your return!”

When it was time to open all the envelopes that contained money – a long time tradition to help the newlyweds to start their life with a humble sum – I was surprised to find a 10 dollar bill in his envelope. I didn’t give it a second thought for it must have been a mix up!

A month later and upon heading to work and entering The Star office Abu Hassan met me with a warm embrace. After a few minutes he pulled me aside and asked me, in a rather embarrassed tone, “What did you find in the envelope? I pulled a 10 instead of a hundred. Here is your 100 Mike. Mabrook!”

Every time I, or my wife, kids and family have a drink of water, it is from the water cooler that I bought with Abu Hassan’s 100 dollars.

In late 2008 I ended my career as a full time journalist and writer for The Star Weekly. I was leaving a home. It was more than a workplace. Colleagues became family members that you see everyday. People you love and respect. I haven’t told Abu Hassan about my intention to leave. I was blinded by my frustration of a profession and an community that looked down upon our work as English writers journalists.  Sadly, many Arabic language journalists are no more than idiotic self-centered prigs who hide behind a badge.

Abu Hassan was shocked and refused to talk to me for a week. Eventually and after a few visits I managed to unlock his heart. He chided me saying, “How could you, of all people, not tell me of your plans?”

It was heartbreaking for the both of us but not as heartbreaking as The Star closing its doors for good. The idiots, behind that call, killed a great weekly that held within its pages passion, good reporting, spine and integrity penned by motivated individuals like Abu Hassan and Maha Al Sharif, and everyone who worked there from Ghassan Joha, may he rest in peace, to Marwan Asmar, Mahmoud Fares (Abu Fares), Zaki Qurban, Zeid Nasser, Ali Al Khalil, Nour Saleh and Osama Al Sharif.

“Always stick to your guns!” he used to tell me, an advice that I used more than often even when doors were slammed after heated arguments over edits or story angles. He even once kicked me out of his office and when he realized I haven’t slammed the door he said in a rather cold tone, “What? Aren’t you going to slam a door?”

What saddens me most is that of all the years we worked together we never paused to take a photograph together. We were too busy learning about each other and working  our way through journalism in Jordan. The only photograph I have with Abu Hassan is from my wedding album. I ended up going through the internet hoping I’d find a photograph that captured his essence. The one in his FB profile was of low resolution. I wanted one that captured the man he was. I was fortunate, and after a few clicks, to find the one I uploaded with this piece.

The things I mentioned here are but a few things that I experienced with an amazing man, who will not only be missed by his loved ones but by his friends and colleagues. Maybe in time these stories will surface in one way or the other: Here or somewhere else. I am sure your legacy will live on dear man.

The Abu Hassan I know and love is now in a different realm. This is life: Birth and death. There isn’t much we can do about that. But now I know better. When you miss someone and want to pay him a visit with a package of hot Armenian Safeeha make sure you do it on the very same day that thought occurred to you because you will never know if he will be around to eat it with you or not.

Rest in peace Abu Hassan; rest in peace Walid Kalaji …

Love and respect to your beautiful person and soul!

Wish you were here to edit this!

Mike V. Derderian

Watchmen …

“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.”

I wrote the above paragraphs part of a lecture about the history of comics two years ago.  So much has happened since then. I started illustrating and drawing more.

The following images in this blog post are part of a series of minimal posters that I’ve started doing over a period of six months. They were produced using Adobe Illustrator CS5 & Adobe Photoshop CS5.

Each print (size A2 – 23.4 x 16.5 in) is from a limited edition of 100 and are available for sale at Mlabbas’ Upstairs space.


Framed: 65 JDs
Unframed: 40 JDs

I hope you liked them :-}) The below images showcase how I created them using Adobe Illustrator vectors.

When the time is right and after I finish a few projects I will return to their amazing universe with The Minutemen series as suggested by my friend Sami Nazer :-})

For of my work as Sardine check out my portfolio:


Posted: July 14, 2012 in beTwixt & beTween

No one expected the surfacing of a second sun especially the inhabitants of a certain blue and green planet at the edge of the universe. Seraphima found herself on a course to the place she loved most: Earth.

Tired of the company of warring gods, who find joy in ploys that turn men, women and children into toys, she decided to visit a former lover. There was a sense of innocent familiarity to the darkness and stillness of the space through which she traveled, and that enveloped her sinewy alabaster figure; it was similar to the emotion that flows through a child’s body as he reenters the home he/she have been away from for a while.

“Soon I will find myself amidst those lovers of life,” thought Serphima. “So short is their lives yet so meaningful. Wish Arev Shad saw through my eyes! Maybe he has; maybe he refuses to see.”

Suddenly this goddess of light found her self remembering the words of a song written by a person she once knew, a lyricist and a musician, called Ashcroft.

“Check the Meaning!” She was most certainly checking the meaning; her own meanings. A long voyage to the place you love gives you a lot of answers. The last thought painted a smile on her face as her tattered wings cut through the void.

What an odd instance! A centuries old immortal remembering the words of a mortal, one of thousands she knew.

Check the meaning … Always!


Illustration by Mike V. Derderian

Word bubble translation: Deprive them not of your light Arev Shad!


The worst thing that could happen to someone, supposedly creative, is the loss of faith in what he is doing.

A few months ago I lost faith in what I was doing.

Until .. a double headed deus ex machina suddenly descended upon the stage of my mind where I was performing. I was finally free!

I am now working as a Business Development & Art Director at Mlabbas; designing t-shirts and art related objects. I still have a lot to learn and a lot to say about this new hardcore artistic development in my life.

In brief I returned to drawing a few years ago. I wasn’t able to rip out this passion out of my heart. It took me sometime to catch up; actually I am still catching up.

Enough about me and let me tell you about my first solo exhibition, Cirque du Habaleeno, that was held at Jacaranda on July 3, 2012.

Yes, apparently we are still talking about me ;-})

Cirque du Habaleeno and its performers arrived to Amman thanks to Barbara Rowell and Rana Haikal (Jacaranda Images), whose decision to allow this macabre circus set camp at their lovely art space was truly inspiring to me as an illustrator and a writer.

It was time to bring out to the world the Habaleeno universe that was floating in the circus of my mind for over a year and a half. The first performer I met was a clown called Habaleeno.

Four more characters arrived. The story was constantly developing in my head. I had it outlined.

When Barbara showed interest in Habaleeno and his lot I found myself drawing five more characters and giving everyone a back story. I ended up producing 10 large portraits (the performers), two interconnected landscapes (The Cirque’s Front Yard) and a large portrait (A Tango Under the Tent feat. Habaleeno and Mon Mon).

My exhibition is on display until July 20 so if you are in Amman do pass by and meet the performers and get acquainted with their vicious macabre disposition.

It was an amazing experience and I am grateful to everyone who attended the opening night. A big thank you goes out to Imad Shawa (Mlabbas) for his staunch support and for printing my first t-shirt design, V for Palestine, and of course a bigger thank you to my Other Half, Nesrin, who is still bearing with my madness, and my family.

The following lines are my answer to the simplest of questions that could arise from such an exhibition:


The first circus movie I watched was Charles Walters’ 1962 Billy Rose’ Jumbo that we had on a VHS tape. We still have it; it is in my parents’ house collecting dust. The tape itself might be covered with dust but the fond memories it gave me are as fresh as the day my mother inserted that tape in the video player to divert me from my divine mission as a child – to drive her mad. The magic of that movie is still with me to this day.

Wait … don’t just brush off my Cirque du Habaleeno as a fantasy the result of celluloid dreams.

Sometime around the early 80s my parents decided to take me and my sister to a circus that was visiting Jordan. I believe it was called The Russian Circus. It was my first time under an actual circus tent. I vividly remember how my parents, my sister and I sat at the top of the bleachers with pop corn and soft drinks in hand. We smiled, laughed and gasped in suspense at the performances that were delivered by talented individuals, who dedicated their lives to entertaining others. It was a night of pure magic under a starry Amman sky.

A second magical night that happened in the late 80s, quite possibly with another Russian Circus, although the name eludes me now. This time I found myself sitting a few centimeters away from a lion that kept eyeing me from behind the steel cage that was erected moments before the circus ring hosted a lion trainer and his beasts. Another magical night was spent under the tarpaulin tent.

Sadly at this time and age it is hard to go to a circus especially in the Middle East so I found myself one night drawing some lines on an A4 paper. The lines soon connected into a smiling clown and that is how Habaleeno and some of his friends walked into my head.

I hope you find some magic under my Cirque du Habaleeno tent.

Thank you Mom and Dad for taking me to the circus!

I haven’t included the snippets of back story material that I wrote about each performer so as to give you an excuse to visit my exhibition before it ends, however, here is a brief glimpse into the story of Cirque du Habaleeno. I hope you enjoy reading this prelude that I am planning to expand into a comic book.

Cirque du Habaleeno

No one knows from where the members of Cirque du Habaleeno originate.  Sightings of this mythical circus in countries like France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Russia, Armenia, Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Palestine date back to as far as 1915.

Whenever Cirque du Habaleeno visited a city its population of stray cats and dogs started to dwindle. There were also some cases of missing individuals. Police authorities weren’t able to link the bizarre happenings and disappearances to the members of the circus.

In 1977 and after digging through his grandfather’s belongings Gerard Sova found 10 line art portraits of Cirque du Habaleeno performers.

His grandfather Mikhail V. Derida was an avid comic artist and a commercial illustrator. Along with these portraits Gerard also found his grandfather’s leather bound memoires that were entitled The Scribblings of a Smelly Sardine, in which he chronicles the time he spent traveling with the circus and its monstrous-looking members.

This is an excerpt from the opening prologue of Derida’s memoirs:

Got me a ticket to the Circus of Mind, where a clown called Habaleeno and his gang of misfits will perform tonight.

“Lights please! Ladies and gentlemen! I am Mustachio, the ringleader, and tonight we shall feed your thirsty and hungry imaginations with impossible feats and revelations!” a man dressed in a red long jacket with fervor announced.

Bemused by such a proclamation I look forward to a hellish program of stupendous strength, slithering stoic beauties, sleight of hand and sly sorcery. Pop corn, candy and refreshments in hand I peer into the void beneath my feet and between the bleachers to see stars center stage under a tattered tent, where I was once a child of life, while mean melodious music escape the intestines of brass instruments played by disfigured band.

Thank you for reading my blog and thank you for following my work as a writer and an illustrator :-})

Mike V. Derderian (Sardine),

A Homo sapien, a writer, a comic artist and a fierce windmill slayer trying to get a hold of a banana in a world governed by apes …


Far ahead into the mist shined an armor.
Terror prevailed for it was the Immortal.
Soldered by Volcan’s burning hammer.
Achilles wore his gift festooned with laurel.

With poor Patroclus being cast into Hades.
Not withstanding a waste of so gentle a youth,
Thetis in fear that Styx would fail her schemes,
A shield so strong for her son she ordered in ruth.

Alas, all men alike have flaws, mortals or gods,
Veiled with a shield or bare, the weakness surpass.
No longer wanton of war or shedding Trojan bloods,
Taken by Polyxena’s beauty a truce was no longer impasse.

Too late, for Paris’ venomous arrow was flung,
Avenging a city and a brother; treachery may it be.
Into the un-immaculate heel of our hero fixt it hung,
And fate’s emissary arrived from afar with all but glee.


Blog art Nahar (Daylight) by Mike V. Derderian (me) from the Arabic Sci Fi (ساي فاي بالعربي) collection

Word Bubble:  Daybreak has arrived casting shadows on the land. Taih monsters are lying between the rocks. Yesterday’s victory is with us Mecha-Falcon but we have to search for the victory of today, tomorrow and the day after … so let us move …

For visual vomit check out my Behance account:

Got me a ticket to the Circus of Mind, where a clown called Habaleeno and his gang of misfits will perform tonight.

“Lights please! Ladies and gentlemen! I am Mustachio, the ringleader, and tonight we shall feed your thirsty and hungry imaginations with impossible feats and revelations!”

Bemused by such a proclamation I look forward to a hellish program of stupendous strength, slithering stoic beauties, sleight of hand and sly sorcery.

Pop corn, candy and refreshments in hand I peer into the void beneath my feet and between the bleachers to see stars center stage under a tattered tent, where I was once a child of life; while mean melodious music escape the intestines of brass instruments played by a demonic disfigured band.

Sardine’s Cirque du Habaleeno, from The Journal of a Little Boy Called Mee, 2012

The above is a  line from a paragraph I wrote a while ago. It is now the prelude to my up and coming solo exhibition Cirque du Habaleeno, my first, at Jacaranda Images Art Gallery. I have a  lot of work to finish before this Sunday: 10 A2 portraits and two landscapes.

Will post the invitation card, where you can read the adjusted paragraph and learn more about my exhibition, here once it is ready :-})

Just wanted to take a happy a thought an extra mile especially after reading the quote that triggered this on a friend’s wall :-})

Here is the link the link to the actual oquote that inspired this:

“The Arabic Alphabet is so Friendly, it even has a smiley face.”

Feel free to share ;-})

Thank you Miss Wendy Merdian :-})

Light somehow found its way through the cracked edges. His eye lids shrank for a few seconds. A rock blocked a guarded entrance.

“So long ago,” he thought removing the covers that enshrined him. He softly rose out of bed. Night runaway but the day decided to stay. The sounds of happy children greeted him. The city was alive with familiar sounds. Thoughts of ancient Jerusalem flashed through his already crowded mind. Good morning and Happy Easter he said to his lovely wife and lovelier children.

Good morning and Happy Easter he says to you.

A few centuries ago, they say, a tomb was pushed open and a man from morbid death rose giving life hope. Today we all rose from our nightly death and into the arms of our loved ones ourselves found.

If that’s not a blessing I don’t know what is!

Apologies for not just saying a simple Happy Easter :-})

So …

Where have I been?

I usually hate this type of inane blogging! The blog post drafts that I have been working on are not to my satisfaction yet. You will know when they are.

Haven’t slept much in the past few days. Haven’t slept a lot during the past two months. I have a lot on my mind. I quit my full time job bringing into full circle my status as a Nomad Gun for Hire. This wasn’t the case when I started out in 2003. I worked for The Star Weekly for eight years until I realized I was sort of underpaid but not under appreciated in any way.

I was a hardboiled gumshoe who loved his job! Always after the kill – I am talking about journalistic scoops – but my dream of becoming a comic artist and an illustrator caught up with me. Add that to a not so impressive salary, rent, an amazing family to maintain and you’d realize I had to move on.

This is as far as I will go in mentioning my previous full time job at IKBIS that I quit a few weeks ago. I am not jobless though. A thank you goes out to the force above!

I still masquerade as The Mikeman, the in-your-face-no-bull radio presenter, on 96.3 FM. In fact I’ve come up with two more radio personalities who sort of co-host my Morning Madness shows on Monday, Thursday and Saturdays between 7:00 a.m. and 9:00 a.m.

Playing good music since 2003! That’s how I refer to my 8 year career as a radio presenter and professional news reader.

This is the online link in case you don’t live in Amman, Jordan

I am also writing the Cutting Celluloid page for On Campus magazine & Go Home (Q & As with local filmmakers) & Go Out (what is happening in Amman in terms of art + a mini classic film review) pages for Go Magazine. Working with the great people behind these publications allows me to stay in touch with the journalist within.

Now the best piece of news is: My Other Half three weeks ago gave birth to our second child, Andre-V, who is now the brother of my first Lovely Mouse two and a half year old Amie.

So far things are good …

Anyway, enough about me and let me share with you some of the things that I have been working on as an aspiring illustrator, a cartoonist and a designer under the nom de plume: SARDINE.

P.S: You can find my other illustration portfolios here behance!

I created the following posters using Adobe Photoshop CS3! Why? Practice in a way helps you become better at what you are trying to do. Started working on them last night. It must have been all the fish sandwiches that I ate last night! I think Mickey’s poster sucks!

I seriously need to stop writing here. Hope you like this dose of SARDINE Minimal Toon Pop Culture and my original illustrations!



The above are posters for my Minimal Toon collection that I want to produce part of a limited edition series. Once I decide on a point of sale, if they are worthy of sale, you will be the first to know. Will post part II of this blog post, in which I will share other posters and pieces I’ve been working on, in a few hours!

Until then have a pleasant warm day :-})

SARDINE a.k.a Mike V. Derderian

Oops! Before I forget: Thank you for subscribing to my posts!

Lately my dependency on the Social Network has been turning into guilt-filled-angst that is spread thick on spent hours. Another strong reason behind my writing and designing the above visual statement is because Facebook is becoming my work after work.

For a husband and a father of a lovely little girl, and, pretty soon, the father of another child, this dependency is really irritating the existential Homo sapien within me.

I’ve contemplated deactivating my account so many times, however, every time a strong argument that goes in my head prevents me from doing so:

I now have so many acquaintances, from the region and the world, who I really enjoy conversing and interacting with; some are now even amazing friends that I care for!

Facebook has also become my personal PR headquarters, where I post my work through pages that reflect my passions. It helps me connect with creatives, be they writers or artists, or just plain normal folk like you and I, whose work and thoughts I respect. Of course I regard myself more of a writer and an aspiring comic artist than an artist-artist.

Plus disconnecting in this time and age would be PR suicide and it will turn you into a castaway much like Robinson Crusoe, who is constantly searching for his Man Friday!

So the above poster is to remind me – I am sure you don’t need my advice on anything, especially the time you spend on Facebook – that there is a real life beyond the  few centimeters that make up a computer screen within which I am leading a cyber existence.