*Cairo — Best of 2007

I look to comics to show me experiences I haven’t had and get me thinking about new perspectives, with bonus points for unusual, interesting settings. Cairo has all of the above. It’s written by G. Willow Wilson, a journalist who lived and worked in the area, which gives the fantastic events verisimilitude.

It starts with a drug smuggler, but it quickly sprawls out through his connections and those he meets through chance (or more likely, destiny). His sister is friendly with a frustrated journalist experiencing censorship, who meets a lost American girl who speaks a little Arabic. The smuggler sells a stolen hookah to a Lebanese boy, but a bad guy wants it back and takes the reporter and girl as hostages to get it.

That’s because it actually contains a genie. Then there’s the lost Israeli soldier who needs to get back across the border and hijacks the smuggler to give her a ride. It all comes together in creative ways as the journey leads through a legendary land on a quest for a magical artifact. There’s even a flying carpet and an imaginative combination of playing with panel borders as the framework for a mystical task to complete to gain the desired object of power.

M.K. Perker is better known for his editorial cartoons and illustrations than comic work, but his experience shines through here. His characters are distinctive and emotional, his settings are fully realized, and the whole thing’s got a down-to-earth, almost grimy feel that suits such a life-threatening adventure in this ancient city. It’s the shading, with constant half-shadow, reminding us of the lack of black-and-white answers.

Honestly, when first opened the book, I expected to flip through it quickly. I suspected I’d find another forgettable Vertigo bid at self-importance through allowing writers from other media to slum in comics. I quickly realized how wrong I was as I was sucked into the adventure. I couldn’t turn pages fast enough to find out what happened. At the same time, I wanted to wallow in each page as it introduced me to the modern Middle East. It’s a brilliant blend of fantasy and modern political problems that reminded me of the classic Baghdad-set Sandman #50.

Of note is the showdown between the spoiled California girl visiting the Middle East to “make a difference” and the trapped journalist whose life is on the line. She values facts; he prefers emotional arguments to reach those who would otherwise patronize him and his people. It’s an eye-opening culture clash. The overall message is love instead of hate, living instead of dying, made more meaningful through the significance of its setting.

The publicity calls it a “modern fable”. It’s an overused phrase, but never more accurate than here. Also, be sure to remove the dust jacket from this original hardcover at least once — the binding, with purple foil outlining the city, is much more lovely than the subtle cover illustration.

Wilson wrote a little about her book for the publisher. She’s been interviewed by Sequential Tart. The American Muslim character is discussed at this blog about Muslims in the West.

(A complimentary copy for this review was provided by the publisher.)


9 Responses to “*Cairo — Best of 2007”

  1. Heidi Miller Says:

    A propos of nothing… a vanity Technorati search for my online alter-ego turned up this site. Wondering if you are the Johanna Draper I went to Trinity U with?

  2. Lisa Lopacinski Says:

    This IS a great book. I look forward to more G. Willow Wilson stories. She has a perspective we don’t get from most other current comic book writers.

  3. Keishon Says:

    Hi, I just started reading comics and am glad to see another perspective on this book. I had passed it up because PW gave it a low key review. Thanks. I just finished 30 Days of Night. Didn’t work for me.

  4. Best of 2007 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] Cairo by G. Willow Wilson and M.K. PerkerThese two books surprised me most this year. The first presented an up-to-date yet completely new take on forgotten superheroes, reassuring me that there were still imaginative things to be said with that tired old genre without resorting to sordid sex and excessive violence. Gorgeous art by someone with a solid grasp of all the necessary skills helps. The second came out of nowhere (at least for me, who hadn’t heard of it or the creators previously), tackling a Middle Eastern adventure in a modern, exciting way with distinctive, emotional characters and a thought-provoking take on a significant part of the world. [...]

  5. Religion in Comics Conference » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] (Marked!), Archaia Studios Press publisher Mark Smylie (Artesia Besieged), and G. Willow Wilson (Cairo [...]

  6. Coming Up in August 2008 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] planning on trying Air, a new series by G. Willow Wilson and M.K. Perker, because I loved their Cairo graphic novel, and the preview is intriguing. I may wait until the first collection, though. [...]

  7. AIT Graphic Novels 2008 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] looked more to my taste. I loved Wilson’s Cairo graphic novel, so I was curious about this fantasy historical adventure co-written with (and [...]

  8. Ralf Haring Says:

    I just read the softcover and couldn’t agree more. Definitely better than the standard Vertigo fare.

  9. Good Comics at the Comic Shop February 5 » Comics Worth Reading Says:

    […] — love that scarf!) this time around. Writer G. Willow Wilson has done some good comics in Cairo and Air, plus she knows the character […]

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