A New Yorker Cartoonist Explores Her Iraqi/Jewish Roots In Comics – The Wolf Of Baghdad

The Wolf Of Baghdad is a new upcoming graphic novel by cartoonist The Surreal McCoy. Better known for her cartoonist in The Spectator and The New Yorker, this will be her first longform story, and its publication has received funding from the British Arts Council funded project.

The Wolf of Baghdad is a graphic memoir about her Iraqi family with its own musical soundtrack. She will be talking about her music and comics and showing a bit of the memoir at Graphic Brighton's Caption 2017 this Friday, and there will be a longer extract of the work in progress at the London meeting for Laydeez Do Comics on 11th December at the Tea House Theatre in Vauxhall. 

She writes,

The Finns have a word – kaukokaipuu, which means a feeling of homesickness for a place you've never been to. I've been living in two places all my life; the England I was born in, and the lost world of my Iraqi-Jewish family's roots.

My family came from Baghdad and after they were driven out of their home my parents settled in London where I was born. I grew up in two worlds – the one inside the house and the one outside. Though Arabic was spoken indoors, my parents wanted more than anything to be British. Western classical music was all we heard in our house. I never heard anything Middle Eastern. Only recently have I begun to learn about Maqqam (the system of composition and melodic modes used in traditional Arabic music) and realise that the greatest composers of popular music in the Arab world (considered so even today) were two Iraqi-Jewish brothers Daud and Saleh Al Kuwaiti, who played violin and oud, respectively, in the Iraqi Radio Orchestra.

The graphic memoir that I will draw will be wordless, based on the myth of the wolf in Iraqi-Jewish folklore I found in the book by David Sassoon, 'A History Of The Jews In Baghdad', published in 1917.

In the chapter on superstitions he writes –

"Dheeb. Wolf. In a house where children die in infancy, a wolf is kept in order to keep away demons. The belief is current among Baghdadi Jews that the wolf keeps away spirits and demons. In the dark they exclaim their fear of demons: "Dheeb Hader" i.e. the wolf is present. If the wolf scratches the ground they believe he is pulling out and consuming the fingers of the approaching demons." (pp 193)

As a cartoonist and illustrator I will tell their story in a graphic memoir, The Wolf Of Baghdad, journeying through their memories and my imagination. And as a musician I will source and learn the music they would have listened to. I will then present an audio-visual event where a slideshow of the memoir will accompany a group of musicians (including me) performing the repertoire.

You can read more about the project right here or listen to an interview below.

About Rich Johnston

Head writer and founder of Bleeding Cool. The longest-serving digital news reporter in the world. Living in London, father of two. Political cartoonist.

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