Academic journal article European Comic Art

The Frontier and the Affrontier: French-Language Algerian Comics and Cartoons Confront the Nation1

Academic journal article European Comic Art

The Frontier and the Affrontier: French-Language Algerian Comics and Cartoons Confront the Nation1

Article excerpt


Algerian and Algerian-French cartoonists have often thematised national identity in their art. Their interest in this subject has created problems for them when they have crossed the 'affrontier', a line of demarcation whose nature and place have been determined to a considerable degree by the military regime. The analysis of some of its key dimensions - political, religious, spatial, historical and symbolic - allows us to understand how it operates. By studying striking examples of cartoons and comics, their production and consumption, we can come to an understanding of how the affrontier has functioned since 1962, when Algeria gained its independence. The year 1988, when the Algerian regime killed and tortured hundreds of young rioters, stands out as a watershed, because cartoonists then began to redefine their relationship to the military regime, the nation and the affrontier.

Draw Me the Nation: The Affrontier2

In spite of the increasing globalisation of the market, and despite the revival of those universalising religions that had seemed to have been supplanted by nationalism,3 it is clear that national identity is still, even today, a defining constraint for the vast majority of the inhabitants of our planet. It can be felt in the very concrete restrictions that are imposed on us whenever we travel or settle abroad, in the demands made by the process of integration, and in what Étienne Balibar has called the fictive ethnicity of the nation.4 In this article, I will analyse a number of aspects of national symbolism in French-language newspaper illustrations, cartoons and comics by artists and scriptwriters who are Algerian or of Algerian origin: Aïder, Boudjellal, Dahmani, Daïffa, Dilem, Farès, Gyps, Khélif, Malek, Masmoudi, Melouah, Saladin, Slim, Tenani, etc.

Algerian artists have repeatedly been asked to draw the Algerian nation, literally and figuratively; that is to say that if they choose to touch on issues that concern the nation, it is always insisted that they should demonstrate their allegiance to national ideology and their support for the government, or at least that they should avoid stepping over certain boundaries. In fact, not only are they urged to talk about the nation, but almost everything comes under that heading under this military regime which, furthermore, presides over a country that has had to wrench its identity back after French colonial rule. This does not mean that they (always) comply, or that they do so without protest, but obedience can confer certain benefits, and disobedience can lead to serious difficulties, including fines and imprisonment.

This point is currently best exemplified by the case of Ali Dilem, an Algerian press cartoonist. Whenever he is the subject of legal action in his country, a very frequent occurrence, it is on the basis of clauses added to the penal code in 2001, and sometimes referred to as 'Dilem laws' in Algiers.5 It is true that for the last few years, Algerian cartoonists have dared to target members of the government and Islamic leaders and their followers, even if they usually avoid specific attacks on the Algerian nation or the Muslim religion as such.6 They have often paid a heavy price when they have stepped over the limit of the acceptable affront - I will call this the 'affrontier'.7 For example, Chawki Amari was sent to prison for a press cartoon which compared the national flag to political dirty linen.8

The affrontier is, then, the frontier, or the limit, beyond which a cartoon or a comic is perceived or treated as an affront to the nation, its symbols and its essential components, including the army, the government and religion. But it is very rarely the case that there is a real anti-nationalist or anarchist attack on the Algerian nation itself (in fact, is such an attack actually conceivable?). On the other hand, what is sometimes at issue here is whether an artist has gone too far in relation to characteristics widely considered or decreed to be nationally defining, in areas like religion or sexuality. …

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