Graphic novelist Khalid Hussein tends to tackle heavy political content in his work. In The Case for Revolution, his graphic novel adaptation of Dennis Loo’s Globalization and the Demolition of Society, the subject revolves around “the historical and ideological development and underpinnings of modern global capitalism.”
Not the easiest subject matter to illustrate graphically. But the Pacific Grove High School and Youth Arts Collective alum doesn’t do it because it’s easy. In addition to Monterey and Pacific Grove, he’s lived in Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Minnesota. In college he studied the political movements, history, the Middle East and Islam, the Medieval era, the Ottoman empire.
He chooses his subjects based on different reasons, which he will talk about (among other things) when he leaves his home in Los Angeles and returns to Monterey for a presentation at Old Capitol Books 4pm Saturday, June 29 (timed to coincide with the Youth Arts Collectives 24-hour Art-a-thon fundraiser). Here is a preview, in Hussein’s own words.
Weekly: Who inspired you to do illustration and graphic novels?
Hussein: The mentors [at Youth Arts Collective], Marcia Perry and Meg Biddle, who is also a cartoonist. They were great inspirations and really supportive of developing individual artistic expression. I was never really a comic book kid. But it was a way to blend my art with my political and historical interests. I had a two-track mind. On one hand I was an avid reader of politics and history. I was also a painter and illustrator. [Comics] were a way to blend those two interests.
What topics do you gravitate toward?
I have two self-published graphic novels. The first was about the 2011 revolution in Tunisia. The second one [The Case for Revolution] has more of an economic focus, about global capitalism, neoliberal [policies]. The second one focuses more on America. My general focus is the Middle East, the Islamic world. I’m working on a third book, covering Saudi Arabia.
Joe Sacco merges the graphic novel with journalism in covering wars. Were you influenced by him at all?
He’s great. My work is slightly different. He’ll go to a place and take photos and talk to people and draw it partially from photos and imagination. My work tends to reproduce news photographs. I make comic books that have footnotes. I try to limit the imagination, for credibility. It’s based on historical research, not personal experience. Almost every image in my books has a source from a video from an activist posted somewhere, or news outlet that photographed the actual events. In some cases no one photographed it and I have to fill it in. I try to keep it as close to what happened. I’m working essentially as a historian.
How do you avoid getting too dry or didactic?
You have to avoid cultural stereotypes, ideological blinders. You try to tell the story. Everyone has a background and beliefs. But you try to tell it in a way that doesn’t depend on someone being familiar with, or agreeing with, your ideological background. With imagery, especially a cultural divide like the Middle East and the Western world, you have to avoid cultural tropes.
It’s hard to illustrate economic policy. How do you illustrate the world’s economy? I try to find visual metaphors for abstract ideas that can communicate what’s happening with a visual element without being heavy handed or overly simplistic. It’s a balance between demystifying and nuancing…if I can make that a verb.
Khalid Hussein speaks 4pm Saturday, June 29, at Old Capitol Books, 559 Tyler St., Monterey. Free. 333-0383, oldcapitolbooks.com.