Joseph Kai illustration comic
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February 26, 2022
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Joseph Kai’s illustrations and queerness in Lebanon

Under the bright colors of his palette, Joseph Kai portrays love, sexuality, and marginalization in a city destroyed by decades of war.

Joseph Kai is a young Lebanese artist. Illustrator, painter, writer, there are many things he can do, but comics have always been a central part. Kai is a member of the Lebanese comic collective “Samandal” (Salamander in Arabic) since 2010 after he graduated from the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts graduate. At university and then through the collective, he evolved in the underground art scene of Beirut, a marginalized world that is now a core of his work.

Full of color and sensibility, the work of Joseph Kai comes in Arabic, French, and English. Three languages you can hear while walking in the streets of Beirut. In his short comics or illustrations, some themes stand out: gender, sexuality, and marginalization, which Kai describes as the ‘unspoken’. There is a delicacy and a vitality that can be found in his work, a way of addressing issues that is both subtle and bold.

As the situation of artists in Lebanon is precarious, Kai considers comics as a form of activism. There is a form of disruption in Lebanese comics themselves: they address taboos, they reinvent symbols and imagery, and they’re a voice of change from the youth.

Joseph Kai’s graphic novel, ‘L’intranquille’, embodies this disruptiveness with fragility and poetry. Samar, the protagonist, is his alter ego. With the other characters, he embodies the state of fear and indifference that characterize the Lebanese youth. In the novel, we follow Samar through the queer underground art scene of Beirut, but also through major events: Joseph Kai started writing ‘L’intranquille’ in 2018, and his writing approach evolved as the situation in Lebanon was evolving too. The explosion of August 4, 2020, is then a turning point of the novel. Introspective, it rightly portrays anxiety, hypersensibility, or the imposter syndrome through the character of Samar.

Joseph Kai’s first long graphic novel is a promising debut that leaves us craving for more. If you want to keep yourself updated on his projects, we invite you to follow his Instagram account and website. And for our french-speaking readers, to run to your local library to get a hand on ‘L’intranquille’!

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