TIZI OUZOU, Algeria: It is a massively popular book form that originated in Japan where it became a cultural phenomenon.Now, manga comics are flourishing in Algeria as well.
“The Algerian manga is our trademark,” said Salim Brahimi proudly. “It’s what we call the DZ manga.”
Brahimi is the founder of Z-Link, Algeria’s first publisher of manga comics. And Z-Link’s manga are 100 percent Algerian, from the drawings to the text.
Published in French, colloquial Arabic and soon in North Africa’s Berber language, DZ manga has put a distinctly local stamp on a major Japanese product.
And the comics are simply flying off the shelves.
“We are printing 3,000 copies per title,” said Kamal Bahloul, Z-Link’s representative at a book festival in the eastern city of Tizi Ouzou. “In 2008, 40 percent of our print run was sold against 70 percent today.”
Since its launch in 2007, Bahloul explains, Z-Link has been increasing its catalog – and its staff.
“When we started this adventure there were just two of us,” said Bahloul. “Now we have nearly 30 employees. We are growing 5 percent on average every year.”
In 2008, a year after Brahimi co-founded Z-Link, he launched a key weapon in its marketing armoury: Laabstore magazine, a monthly review of Algeria’s burgeoning manga, cinema and video games scene.
Laabstore runs extracts from the work of up-and-coming manga writers – and also serves as a successful shop window for Z-Link’s own titles, with its print run having risen from 2,000 to 10,000 copies in five years.
Japanese manga, a sometimes lurid style of comic strip, covers a wide range of themes and is massively popular both at home and abroad.
The Algerian version respects the basic ingredients of sharp humor, suspense and a hyperactive artistic style, but the scripts also add the crucial local flavor.
“The stories we deal with are typically Algerian scenes,” said 28-year-old Sid Ali Oudjiane, a manga writer whose “Victory Road” series – featuring a schoolboy’s quest for sporting glory – has already won him three national awards.
DZ’s catalog includes a variety of genres – and claims plenty of young talent, both male and female.
“The Revolution,” published in 2012 to mark the 50th anniversary of Algeria’s independence from France, is one of a string of titles from 18-year-old Fella Matougui.
And one of the first major successes of the local manga scene was “Samy Kun” by Yacine Haddad, about a teenager who gets mixed up in the problems of the Algerian Sahara.
But as well as the different subject matter explored by the writers, the artists have sought to break away from the purely Japanese style by bringing distinctive local touches to their work.
Despite its growing success, however, Algeria’s DZ manga is often more of a passion to pursue than a way of earning a living – even for the award-winning Oudjiane.
“I work on manga on the side. I can only devote my free time to it, at the weekends and at night,” he said.
Likewise for manga author Amir Cheriti, whose day job is as a graphic artist in an advertising agency. “For us, it is still for pleasure,” he said.
Algeria’s DZ manga has had its own special billing at prestigious industry events, including two international book fairs in the French cities of Angouleme and Montpellier.
But surely the greatest recognition so far has come from the manga Mecca itself.
This year, Japan’s Kyoto International Manga museum acquired several Algerian works, “not just to be exhibited, but also for research,” said Z-Link founder Brahimi.
The influence of the Algerian manga brand is also beginning to attract attention in the United States, where it is the subject of a doctoral thesis at Philadelphia University.
And there is growing interest from companies seeking to harness its marketing potential.
“Firms like Sonelgaz and Panasonic have called us about advertising illustrations,” Bahloul said.
At the Tizi Ouzou book fair, Z-Link is busily raising manga’s “Made in Algeria” profile, with Oudjiane displaying his skills to a group of inspired young festivalgoers at one workshop.
“In 20 or 30 years, young Algerians will all have mangas and comics on their bookshelves,” said Bahloul.