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Cairo by G. Willow Wilson

1/04/2011. Contributed by Ewan Angus

Buy Cairo: A Graphic Novel in the USA - or Buy Cairo: A Graphic Novel in the UK

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Cairo: A Graphic Novel by G. Willow Wilson and M.K. Perker. pub: DC Comics. 160 page hardback. Price: $24.99 (US), $29.99 (can). ISBN: 0978-1-4012-1140-0.

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Cairo is one of the world’s most understated metropolis. It is a city that flaunts a vast history whilst hiding a sardonic wit. Behind the sandblasted walls there is a society that us westerners struggle to comprehend. I visited the city a few years ago and it terrified me. The streets swirled with dust and debris, everyone was shouting, everything was different. In my own clouded vision of democratic society I see everything that isn’t tidy, priced and relatable to as my enemy. It is not the country’s fault, its mine.

This is a problem that G. Williow Wilson attempts to rectify with the standalone graphic novel ‘Cairo’. With the aid of M.K. Perker on art, Wilson, a journalist who has spent years in Cairo, has constructed a fantasy story that intertwines socio-political strife with thousands of years of historical myth. Featuring a cast of seven, the story weaves its way through Middle Eastern politics whilst appealing to a western world with its anti-heroic characters.

One of the characters admits very early on to heading to Egypt purely so he could head to Gaza and blow himself up. Yeah, that’s right one of the main focus characters is a wannabe suicide bomber. The other characters are an Egyptian drug runner, an Israeli soldier on the wrong side of the line, a spoilt Orange county brat, a super-liberal journalist and a Djinn or, to you and I, a genie. He lives in a hookah, one of those big tube smoking things that people always think would make a great souvenir but due to size restrictions and not having a bloody clue how to use it mean they don’t actually make good souvenirs at all.

As for the overall plot? Well in practice and on the blurb it seems like a great, liberal read soaked in political furore whilst burning with mythological mystery. Unfortunately, this isn’t quite how it reads. Yes, it is a good read, got good art and all gets wrapped up pleasantly. The young kid who wants to blow himself up finds that it’s easier to find peace through peace as opposed to violence and the drug runner finds the courage to stop running. It’s all very happy ending.

That however is the biggest problem with this. It’s a done in one. A nicely contained stand-alone piece. Which it shouldn’t be! There is way too many ideas clinging to the fringes of flying carpets to be pushed, ahem, under the carpet. It needs more depth and more back story. There are three demons introduced who spend most of the time alluding to past escapades. Now I may be sticking my ignorance out in the open here by mistaking these allusions as back story when they are in fact established myth. Either way, I want more in these pages. I don’t want to have to rely on wikipedia’s terrible grasp of mythology to enjoy a graphic novel. Maybe it’s just me being lazy.

My next qualm is the name of the novel: ‘Cairo’. Surely when in a graphic novel there should be massive sweeping city views, familiar landmarks or at least descriptive imagery, there is very little. It’s all very vague. The characters are beautifully rendered and each have a great believability to how they look, along with how they are described. There is also a great scene in which characters break the fourth wall, not to talk to the reader, but to pass items through the boxes and the layout. It works amazingly.

So why couldn’t there be more city imagery? I want Gormenghastian images, not vague whitewashed walls that seem to adhere to the west’s stereotypical image of the Middle East.

I wanted to love this graphic novel, unfortunately I just ended up liking it for what I wanted to love about it.

Of course, during the time I spent on this review the country went to a kind of political hell and decided to oust their own evil overlord. So good for you, Egypt. As for you, Cairo, you still terrify me. That’s exactly why I’ll see you again. Oh and the hardback cover looks amazing when you take off the sleeve.

Ewan Angus

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This book has 43 votes in the sci-fi charts

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