Henry Matthews and I met on LinkedIn. He was trying to raise interest in his project to establish a museum of Arabic comics. Seeing Superman in Arabic, to me, was the coolest thing ever.
Where do you live? What’s it like there?
I live in Beirut. It is a a nice place.
What’s you earliest memory of drawing?
In school (St Joseph School in Verdun Street, Beirut). I remember I loved the sight of color on my white paper.
What is your favorite comic book character?
Little Lulu (the Arabic version) She is cute and resourceful, loyal to friends and family. Her stories make me laugh. Important: She and her friends never grew up.
What was the first Arabic comic book you purchased?
Bissat El-Reeh Issue 127 (1964)
What drew you to Arabic comics?
I loved the ones I read in my childhood. Some were strictly translated (i.e. Superman, Batman, Tarzan); some were a combination of foreign and local material (i.e. Bissat El-Reeh). Some were strictly locally-made (i.e. Shatir Hassan). All were beautiful.
You are trying to get help to create a museum dedicated to Arabic comics. How is that going?
Frustratingly. Those who love comics do not have the means and those who have the means do not care for comics.
How are Arabic comics different from American comics?
The first major difference is that Arabic comics usually include textual material such as stories and science news. Not so the American comics. Second: American comics are getting more and more adult-oriented. The artwork is superb but the stories are complicated. Arabic comics have largely remained kids-oriented, but there are a few exceptions.
Tell us some strange and wonderful things about you.
There was a time when I wanted to be an astronaut. I am a passionate guy. I am a painter. Women are my favorite subject. I worry about cultural preservation. I hate the inevitable passage of time. I love animals. I feed a hundred stray cats every day including Saturday and Sunday. My finances are always in shambles. (Left: Henry at art show for his own work.)
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Always follow your heart. I added: but do not give your mind a long vacation.
What’s your favorite recipe?
I am a vegetarian. I love animals. I do not eat those that I love.
A native speaker of Arabic, Henry Matthews graduated in 1980 from Lebanese American University in Beirut with a BA in Fine Arts. He worked in the Arabic comics industry for many years and is a collector and a published historian of Arabic comics. He is a painter, a writer, a translator, a designer and an animal care activist. Henry is dedicated to the preservation and documentation of Arabic comics and children’s books and dreams of establishing a documentation center and a history website for these gems. This is a big challenge and finances are the main hurdle, but he has not given up yet. (To the right: Bissat El-Reeh (1962.)
Learn more about Henry’s work: