How Hobos Magazine hopes to usher in the next generation of children’s comics in Egypt

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How Hobos Magazine hopes to usher in the next generation of children’s comics in Egypt

Second issue of Hobos Magazine. Photo credit: Hobos Magazine Facebook page.

Spreading a fascination with culture, instilling a passion for adventure and embracing diversity: these are the reasons mentioned by Hanya Seleem when asked about the inspiration behind Hobos Magazine, a fantasy adventure comic book for children .

Seleem, 25, is a designer and illustrator. Alongside writer Esraa Hesham, the two embark on an ambitious journey to bring their vibrant and diverse cast of characters to life.

Available in Arabic and English, Hobos targets young audiences aged six and over.

Travel, acceptance and teamwork

Hobos is described by its creators as “a magazine for young travellers”, and it follows five children, Benjie, Daria, Jameela, Luca and Maria as they travel across Earth in an attempt to save the mysterious parallel universe of Wooland, and unite its three regions of fire, forest and ice.

In each edition, the five main characters, magically transported to Wooland, find themselves in a new land in the real world, with an arduous task at hand. Along the way, they discover fascinating people and places, including Seleem herself who was first exposed while traveling with AIESEC, a non-profit youth organization offering global exchange programs, in as a volunteer in India and Turkey.

“A lot of what became of Hobos was inspired by my own love of travel, but also living the normal, everyday life of the locals,” Seleem says. “I would finish my work for the volunteer program in the morning, then go out in the evening and come back to a host family or to crowded apartments with other volunteers. »

The Hobos themselves are deliberately brought together from various parts of the world and couldn’t be more different in their personalities and interests.

For example, Benjie, the daring prankster with undiagnosed attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), is from Ghana. His polar opposite is Maria, their serious, detail-oriented planning expert and fearless leader who doesn’t shy away from lecturing on good organization.

The group also includes “girly girl” designer and fashion enthusiast, Daria, who hails from Russia and happens to be color blind. On the other hand, Iraqi Jameela, the trivial-obsessed and competitive class nerd, cares very little about clothes and more about books. Finally, there’s Luca, the talented but easily scared and sensitive Italian chef who wears his heart on his sleeve.

All characters are partly based on friends and acquaintances of Seleem.

“We had to change the names and genders of a few of them but, for example, Benjie has the exact same mannerisms and disposition as the person who inspired him, and I think that automatically makes him more real and closer to a lot of children,” says Seleem.

The Hobos. Photo credit: Hanya Seleem.

She clarifies that she chose the nationalities and personalities she chose because of the importance of inclusivity. Something she fully understood for the first time while working in Turkey with people from 16 different nationalities on the same volunteering project.

Seeing how their individuality amplified the results of their work, Seleem thought about the importance of getting this message across to children, whom she feels are more open to ideals of mutual acceptance.

Hobos was therefore created to be her medium for communicating the relevance of inclusivity and the steps to achieve it. According to Seleem, children should be introduced to other cultures, traditions and personalities, allowing them to understand, recognize and even celebrate the existence of those who are different from them as they begin to appreciate their differences.

“Once you have this knowledge [that individuals are different but as compelling], you can kiss others,” she continues. “By doing so, you can create a stronger, much more complementary and harmonious team, capable of anything. Saving the universe is possible if we cooperate to overcome its evils. This is what I want our readers to understand.

Maria, the team leader. Photo credit: Hobos Magazine Facebook page.

Another choice highlighted by Seleem was the ratio of two boys to three girls. Not only was this a tactical move to prove to parents that young girls are capable of traveling and being independent, but with the headstrong Maria as team leader, Seleem proves that girls can be assertive and being intelligent without the negative connotations often associated with these traits.

Wooland and the metaphors of reality

The mission of the Hobos is to save the kingdom of Wooland. This adventure acts as a metaphor for the problems the real world faces today and has faced in the past. By mimicking the realistic struggles for territory and strategic energy sources, which have caused hatred and led to war, she hopes to give children a first clue on how to overcome them.

“Wooland represents Earth on a smaller scale, and it alludes to all that is going on in the world of greed, lack of cooperation, and hatred in a simplified way,” Seleem explains.

“The goal was to show children how acceptance, inclusivity and collaboration, not hate, selfishness and greed, can lead us to a world of goodness and beauty as we overcome the forces evil that threatens us even in real life.”

Map of Woolland. Photo credit: Hobos Magazine Facebook page.

Through his description of the Forest Chief’s uncontrollable greed that leads to the destruction of Wooland’s nature and the misery of his people, Seleem indirectly refers to those who refuse to concede their contribution to deepening social disparities. and driving severe climate change.

Facing challenges and hoping for rewards

Hobos as a concept first started as one of Seleem’s projects when she was still a student at the German University in Cairo (GUC). The initial magazine project featured no comics and was hastily completed. After visiting Turkey, Seleem wanted to transfer her new achievements to those who could easily absorb the values ​​she had learned.

His first challenge was to adapt a new format suited to the idea. She first resorted to a style similar to picture books in 2019, but eventually called it quits on the project altogether. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, giving him seemingly endless working hours, Seleem restarted the project in July 2020.

Alone, Seleem managed to complete the character building stage and struggled to find a reason for the Hobos to meet. Enter Hesham, who previously commissioned Seleem to illustrate his graduation project, also a children’s book.

“Esraa is very creative, hardworking and an amazing addition to Hobos. Once she arrived, we communicated so effectively that we became in sync and started coming up with better storylines, trying to avoid cliches and such. », praises Seleem.

The second challenge for Hobos was the limited time and the difficulty of production. With a single illustrator and writer, both working at other jobs, and no editor, completing the new editions within the initial deadlines they had set themselves to mass-produce proved to be a difficult task.

“As our team is small, originally only two, it felt like a race against time to resolve issues in time.” Seleem said. “The production was a challenge. We had to find a place to print with high quality and reasonable prices, which was almost impossible. »

Teaser poster in Arabic from Hobos magazine. Photo credit: Hobos Magazine Facebook page

Their team has since grown, with Moroccan Hajar Ouhsine acting as Arabic translator and editor when parents, in the early stages of production, requested a version of Hobos in their native language. Translate into Arabic, a language spoken natively by 360 millions of people around the world, gave them access to a wider audience.

Seleem and Hesham’s dream is to eventually build a reader base similar to Maglet Mickey (Mickey’s Magazine), which was first published in 1959. They also hope that their project will become as popular, influential and long-lasting.

In a market segment dominated by digital media, the Hobos team is trying to engage audiences by adding QR codes to help kids learn about the captivating landmarks and neighborhoods the characters visit. Games and puzzles such as crosswords, word searches and mazes have also been added to the problems to attract more readers.

For Seleem, one of the most valuable rewards that comes out of this project is creative freedom.

“As someone who likes to have their own style, I love the fact that I’m not limited by someone else’s vision of how characters or settings look. That’s why it’s also very satisfying, whether we sell a lot or not,” says Seleem.

The joy she finds in parents and children remembering Hobos and reaching out, asking for new problems, is far more rewarding.

“At our first booth at the Cairo Comix festival, a family came up to us and were very excited as they remembered us from a social media group. They were looking for new issues. It was much more heartwarming than expected, and even more when we sold out all the issues at that time.

In the long term, Seleem believes the rewards will transcend income, ideally in the form of making a difference for children, positively affecting their lives, stimulating and encouraging them.

“When we received feedback from a nine-year-old girl who took inspiration from us and started writing her own comics, we knew there was no better,” Seleem beams. “That’s what we want for Hobos: for kids to even be inspired by it in ways we haven’t considered or anticipated. I really hope we can do that for our readers.

First issue of Hobos magazine. Photo credit: Hobos Magazine Facebook page.

From an idea floating around in the head of a young art and design undergraduate student to a physically printed comic in the hands of dozens of children, Seleem argues that this is just the beginning.

While the magazine is still in its infancy, with only two problems published, it plans to publish future editions on a quarterly basis. The third issue of Hobos should be available in bookstores by September 2022. Meanwhile, a fourth is already in production and illustrating.

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