The OttoMON-STER Upstairs II

ottomonster-upstairs_01 …
ottomonster-upstairs_02
The second to last frame marks the end of long-held antagonism between Kuli and Sarg. Kuli recognises Sarg as a fellow “roomie”, which is a step towards progress since it affirms that Sargon does indeed rightfully live within the bounds of Heidar’s apartment (i.e., Iraq/Mesopotamia).

Much like Iraq and Syria have seen a sharp increase of turmoil in the past several years, we must also acknowledge that the disagreements between ethnic groups and communities in these regions that seemed major at the time, are insignificant today. There are much larger threats—threats that may destroy us all. The roots of these major threats must first be vanquished before we can, once again, focus on solving our smaller issues/regional disputes. If we are strong, we will survive.
The time for us, humanity, to unite and fight against ISIS and its legions is urgent. URGENT.

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Important Notice: I will try to continue publishing 6 panels per week as a part of this never-ending narrative series. That said, this is just the beginning. I promise to show Temür’s good side in future episodes. He may seem like a true villain if you consider this my final piece, but believe me — there is more to be seen!

Happy (Hopefully) New Year!

"Festivus" was never observed in ancient Mesopotamia. This century, however…

“Festivus” was never observed in ancient Mesopotamia. This century, however…

Happy Holidays and New Year, everyone. It’s been a while. This year, let’s make this world a bit of a better place, amidst the escalating chaos, starting with making one stranger smile today! Well, folks…this weekend marks the moment where I leave my qualms of corporate retail behind me. At last, there shall be the spare time to publish my long overdue drafts, as I hunt for a job more relevant to my career aspirations. I hope to find it soon. As I search for a new job here in the Washington D.C. area, I’ll shake off the recurring fantasies of exploring Belgrade, Moscow, Teheran, or Tunis. How I miss the east!

I will return soon with actual content.

Kind Regards,
Mariam

“Sapari (Tema Temima)”

Sapari_refined

Later Draft: This is sloppier because I was using rusty old calligraphy nibs and dipping them in a variety of coloured inks (I tried, but failed, to do gradient swatches). The nibs caused abrasion on the surface of my sheet, so the inking was not applied evenly in certain areas! I used high-end inks and gold leaf, but the quality of my work isn’t quite better than my earlier draft with cheaper utensils (see below).

See the complete version (+ audio) of Sa’adiah ben Amram’s poem in the Piyyut database.

Long ago, I remember trying to get in touch with Yemenite musical heritage, during which an acquaintance mentioned Sa’adia ben Amram to me. Information was sparse on this 17th century poet from the highlands of northern Yemen (normally, I’d use Jstor for this type of search, but my student access expired…sorry, Google). It didn’t take much longer until I discovered that Orphaned Land, an Israeli progressive metal band that I hadn’t heard from since 2008, made a cover of one of Amram’s renown poems, “Sapari”. Amazing! The hybrid melodies between traditional Yemeni folk vocals intertwining with elements of metal was masterfully achieved (to my ears, at least)—I listened to the track several more times, and still didn’t know how to react!

I was captivated enough to find myself comparing the lyrics and the actual poem side-by-side, with the (limited) Hebrew I understood, whilst picking up new vocabulary in the process. To my excitement, I discovered that “Sapari” is often performed by many other Israeli musicians (whom weren’t all Mizrachi) in a variety of genres. The diversity and depth I find in many other Israeli songs, whether folk, reggae, or pop, Mizrahi, Ashkenazi, or Sefardi, makes it so much more intriguing to me than…than the bland khaliji pop music I was constantly exposed to in Dubai, where every khaliji hit seemed like an uninspired mimicry of the previous khaliji hit (but hey, you are free to enjoy Khaliji music if it’s your cup of shai!).

I am a 100% halal-certified beef frank; don’t let the opinion of one Yemeni girl offend you.

Sapari_sketch

Early Doodle: I did this on a train in a few minutes, using 1 simple calligraphy pen and gold Sharpie. Notice how much more refined the edges are (compared to above) and the even application of ink. In spite of the turbulence, I was more confident (perhaps because subconsciously, I knew it was just a draft). Just goes to show you, confidence and simplicity can sometimes make-up for lack of good-quality materials, even on a commute 😉

סַפְּרִי תַמָּה תְמִימָה
סַפְּרִי נָגִיל בְּתֵימָא
בַּת מְלָכִים הַחֲכָמָה
אָן מְקוֹמֵךְ סַפְּרִי לִי
עָנְתָה יוֹנָה סְעַדְיָה
לִי בְּפַלְטֵרִין עֲלִיָּה
וַאֲנִי תּוֹךְ לֵב אֳנִיָּה
בַּיְּפִי עוֹטָה מְעִילִי

Tell me, O innocent oneTell me, we will rejoice in innocence! Daughter of wise kings, where is your hiding place? Tell me. My dove answered: Sa’adya, I went up to the palaces. And I, though secretly I am poor, still I am robed in beauty.

If you are reading this post and can point me to credible references or exhibits regarding Sa’adia ben Amram or other Yemenite/Yemeni/Yemen-ish artists (contemporary or historic), please share! 😀 Preferably in English (or Arabic) since my Hebrew is weak. hehe.

“Samaya”

samaya
This illustration is directly inspired by a very enchanting performance by Sukhishvili (Georgian National Ballet), called “Samaiya”. You can read details on their English website over here, and definitely check out their other excellent performances! This is my 2nd draft — I plan to create final one on canvas with gouache using this exact colour scheme (and I’ll be meticulous with my gold leaf). Here, I used PrismaColor on Paris Paper, gold leaf, and imitation Swarovski.

Clearly, I’ve messed up on the blue gown. See how the stroke marks appear? I risked using a cheap brand blue ink there and realised that was a bad move. Later, I went over it with the same colour blue with PrismaColor, but it only made matters worse. 😦

Yemen.

Sanaa_Skyline_final1

I illustrated this 3-piece poster in the first week of April 2015, mainly to promote the diversity of Yemen. When the 3 pieces are combined, it creates the full 6″ by 15″ scene.

Sanaa_Skyline_final2
At that point in time, Yemen had faced two weeks of non-stop bombing and airstrikes from saudi arabia. It is now early September, and the bombing continues.

Sanaa_Skyline_final3

Here is my original caption:
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In recent weeks, Yemen has been in a state of anarchy, following decades of political instability and poverty since the 1962 revolution. For over 2 weeks now, Saudi Arabia has been launching deadly airstrikes over Yemen, killing over 100 civilians. The death toll of civilians and “rebels” will continue to rise until the saudi invasion ends…until saudi decides to give a damn about justice and Human rights.

#KefayaWar (“enough” war) is trending on social media by those protesting the violence of foreign intervention. It demonstrates the devastation faced by Yemenites who have lost their homes or family members by drones in the past several years, or in more recent airstrikes, whilst simultaneously sharing the beauty of this fertile mountain city (Sana’a), and the strength and resilience of the Yemeni civilians.

This piece venerates the diversity of Yemen, dating back to the Jewish presence that prevailed back in the Himyarite era. It is a nostalgic scene, but flickers hope for a brighter future in Yemen.
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7 months later, the bombing has intensified and will continue.
:’/
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EDIT (28/09/2015)
In the last scene, you will notice I included some, erm, calligraffiti on the building. From top to bottom, it reads shlama in the Eastern Syriac (Madankhaya) script, shalom in Modern Hebrew script, and salam in Arabic script. Given Sana’a’s geographic location and influences, it would’ve made MUCH more sense to include Sabaean script, or even Amharic or G’eez script, rather than East Syriac. Or maybe I could’ve used West Syriac, or even Nabatean, rather than East Syriac. Although, I am not yet familiar enough with Sabaean or Amharic, I will have to revise this last piece and upload again!

SIZE MATTERS

size_matters6_FINAL2

This is the first of my illustrated cultural narratives (comics) that I will share to the public. I’ve already illustrated a total of 33 characters whom each represent a certain country or region in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa). I will give more details on each character under the COMICS page. How exciting!

The idea of THIS comic popped into my head in February of 2015, when a few news articles lead me to think that the UAE may be competing with Turkey in humanitarian aid efforts toward Syrian refugees. Generally speaking, Turkey is not one to compete in the whole superficial “bigger is better” industry, like the UAE (Dubai) has in the past decade. However, Turkey has opened the absolute largest refugee colony for Syrian refugees late in January. Key word: largest. Around a week later, Dubai’s IHC donated an enormous sum (I cannot even verify the exact amount) toward Syrian aid. From the lens of financial capability, Dubai WIN$ this round. What else is new? From Burj Khalifah, to the ever-growing “shayla bump” trend, Dubai will always outdo you in materialistic size and quantity! The turban, or sak, that my Turkish character wears echoes back to the Ottoman Sultan, Suleiman I.

On a positive note, it is also a commonly held view (a generalisation) among khalijis that Emirati girls have higher academic performance than their male counterparts, and strive to be independent women by paving their own career paths. So, the size of the Emirati caricature’s shayla could be interpreted either as her hair growing (humidity of the UAE climate OR the massive size of the flower clip underneath the veil), or it could be interpreted as her intellect growing in size as she concentrates on how to get “bigger”…oh, and better.

DISCLAIMER: I hope none of my comics offend people too much. I am always interested in feedback on my work, so please do not hesitate to leave me a comment or message if you enjoy what you see, or even if you want me to revise a potentially hurtful message. As I publish more of my comics, you will see that I poke fun at every region and country in the MENA (including my own) equally, based on their own unique generalisations and relations toward one another!  We in the Middle East need to lighten up. 🙂

(from) Akkadian syllabary | (to) Hebrew symbolism

First, a brief history lesson:
The earliest Sumerians sailed from [wherever their origins were], and settled along the marshes of southern Mesopotamia. Their predecessors (much earlier Sumerians) scribed on papyrus and vellum (skin), but in their new settlement, they found an abundance of clay; a much more resourceful medium for the scribes! At that point, the Sumerian inscriptions still remained pictographic. What made such complex renderings of early Sumerian pictographs possible, was due to their standard usage of dry, flat, thin, and hard papyrus and vellum. (See chapter “Writing and Learning” in Babylonian Life and History by Sir Ernest Alfred Budge. I am hunting for additional supporting resources.)

Moving on to Clay:
In these marshlands, clay eventually replaced the use of papyrus and vellum; thus, the Sumerian scribes adopted the use of clay slabs as their medium of choice. As the Sumerian scribes picked up the use of clay in the region, in exchange, the non-Sumerian inhabitants of the region gradually adopted the Sumerian pictographic script, and incorporated it into their own (unrelated) language. I don’t call them “natives”, as these inhabitants—Semites—dwelled north of the marshlands in northern Mesopotamia. These inhabitants are known as Akkadians.

As these earliest Akkadians began using a non-Semitic pictographic script to express their Semitic language, they gradually reformed some existing pictographs with established references to refer to different subjects, objects, or ideas. Which is another topic for another time.BET-Evolution-01Both with their distinctive languages, the Sumerians and early Akkadians came into contact with one another…and it was Akkadian, in its spoken and written form, that began to replace Sumerian, to become lingua franca of the greater region, whilst Sumerian remained as the lishanu qudeshu (sacred tongue?). In time, Sumerian became defunct in both spoken and written forms that even Ashurbanipal’s scribes struggled to decipher some of the Sumerian tablets . Once again, another topic for another time.

Elimination of Curves:
We have maintained that both ethnic and linguistic groups adopted the use of clay for their inscriptions. The pictographs that were innovated for use on dry papyrus or vellum had to be modified for simpler application on the new medium: wet slabs of clay. Imagine yourself trying to carve complex imagery on wet clay; so very gloopy!

These modifications were slight: curves and circles on existing pictographs were straightened out into solid lines. Imagine carving solid lines onto wet clay; much more manageable!

BET-Evolution-02Wedges:
With clay, came a new stylus choice: the tapered reed. The wider edge of the reed lead to one end of these solid lines to be thicker and more wedge shaped. This is where these solid lines developed into the wedged lines known as Cuneiform. Grrrrrrrradually, these wedges assumed one of two directions: a wedge either pointed upwards or faced the left (I want to know why and how that process occurred). Even more gradually, these upward and leftward wedged symbols were simplified down to 89 syllables (Old Babylonian) and any association with pictographic references were no longer obvious.

|| Can we say they vanished? — confirmed: p. 153-155, the pictorial association of the pictographs became semi-pictorial, then with the advent of wedges, the “semi-pictorial” wedges developed independently of the pictograph…the wedges (dare I say) developed some character of their own (hehe). Here I go a third time: another topic for another time.

BET-Evolution-03
IN CONCLUSION:
Now, let us take a gander at the evolution of early Akkadian pictographs into later Akkadian cuneiform, and see if we can recognize it using our modern Semitic language skills. The Hebrew ‘B’, ב, carries the symbolic reference of “house”, or “dwelling”. I provided Syriac in the illustration below; one cannot deny the resemblance between the three! BET-Evolution-04Just as the Phoenician alphabet rotated in various degrees will evoke to mind the Greek and Old Italic alphabet (toda raba, Agent-101), and even the Runic all the way in Scandinavia — similarly, we begin to see some resemblance between proto-Semitic cuneiform all the way to our many modern-day Semitic scripts.

But I have given just one comparison that may be far-fetched from a potential theory. I must experiment a little more to justify whether the syllabic development of the earliest forms of Sumero-Akkadian may have influenced upon the symbolic development of early Phoenician and Aramaic (pssst: key words are italicised)!BET-Evolution-05Just to ensure this is not an isolated instance and I am not just hallucinating a trivial theory, I will take my pick on another character from the Phoenician or Aramaic alphabet and work my way backwards to see if I can pinpoint the Akkadian variant of the same symbol in its reference AND its appearance.

Albeit, a character’s appearance will have evolved through the centuries and millennia, we can track the way the character evolved by lining up each character by chronology and script (same script like Old Babylonian and Neo-Babylonian, Neo-Assyrian, and Achaemenian Persian, OR different scripts, like Phoenician, Akkadian, Biblical Hebrew, Nabatean, or Syriac). Then, we can examine the traits, new and/or discarded, side by side. Even the meaning can change over time, like gimel (Hebrew) / jamal (Arabic) means both ”camel” as well as “beautiful“ Arabic.

After tracing backwards with several characters, I will have enough instances to develop a theory and to analyse each of these instances even deeper, which yields to stronger evidence. I am not an expert linguist, Semanticist, or Semiticist, so my information in this post is not to be relied on.

I will return next week with my follow-up experiment.

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