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Reader reviews & comments

A few of the most interesting or insightful comments made by readers. Note that they offer a number of personal interpretations of Malaak, Angel of Peace that don't necessarily reflect my own intentions, so nothing on this page should be taken as "canon" (if in doubt, ask me!) I post them regardless because the variety of readings is in itself of real interest.

Andrew Godfrey from the UK:

Joumana's presentation was a testament to the fact that you can get used to anything if it is part of your everyday life (something I myself am very much aware of). For Joumana the reality of war was simple: bombs meant no school, and no bombs meant school. Surprisingly life during wartime could be boring and Joumana took to drawing as a means of escaping that boredom. Her superheroine Malaak (Angel of Peace) is by day your average teenage Lebanese girl but by night is an ass-kicking bringer of a justice with a bumbling male side kick who thinks he is stronger and more fearless than he actually is (a nice touch). Also a nice touch is the creation of a league of civilians who help Malaak along her way (which Joumana confessed, was an easy way to meet the demand of friends begging her to put them in the comic). Malaak, Angel Of Peace is a refreshing reinvention of the superhero genre which far outweighs some small press attempts I have seen here in the UK (which tend to follow the superhero soap opera line) by being firmly placed in a reality familiar to Joumana.

Mike Medaglia from Canada/UK, in the review for Laydeez Do Comics 06/11:

Working extremely hard, Joumana writes and illustrates all the Malaak stories, which is quite an accomplishment since the artwork is very intricate and beautiful.

Joumana grew up in Beirut during the unfortunate civil wars that Lebanon has faced over the past decades. Joumana remembers the wars and the bombing that resulted and says that when there were bombs that meant no school and she would be stuck indoors. But at these times Joumana learned to draw to pass the time and ward off boredom and all these years later now uses her ability to create the stories of Malaak. Through this she is able to help build Lebanon’s comics culture and to give her country a symbolic angel, Malaak being the Arabic word for angel.

Laura K. Jennings in "5 comics that manage to do things RIGHT":

Malaak manages to put a pretty fresh and unique spin on the classic superhero story.  While the Hero's Journey is all there, the trappings are very new, and very accessible.  That accessibility is truly Malaak's greatest strength.  The culture and history of Lebanon, as well as the city itself as a backdrop, all play an important part in the story.  The author is multi-lingual, and straddles the line between many different cultures.  She's taken it upon herself to become a bridge between those cultures, and damn if that's not what I love the most about Malaak.  The world has some sweet fantasy rules that have nice connective causation, but are also firmly rooted in real-life Lebanese culture and myth.  To read Malaak is not only to enjoy a good story, but to also become educated.  This is probably the last thing on anyone's mind when they're making a comic, but Malaak has an undeniable affection for its own origins.  And, you know, it doesn't fall prey to a lot of stupid things most comics do.  That helps.  Malaak has a flavor entirely its own, and I really can't think of anything else that comes to close to what it is.  The realization that it's the first of its kind is also pretty cool; you're not just reading a comic, but a representation of a cultural and artistic movement, too.
Special Mention Goes To: The symbolism in the story.  Just about everything in Malaak's pages has some kind of significance, either as a real-life landmark, or a real-life element of mythology in Lebanese culture.  I in particular enjoyed the hippocampus and the gryphons, but enjoyed the role they played in real-life history, too.  Malaak carries a theme that nothing is what it appears at face value: the enemies, the heroes, the landscape.  It's very subtle, and comics need more subtlely.

Daniel Bensen from Bulgaria:

I think the best thing about this story is that it takes place in a REAL city. Not Metropolis, not even look-it's-the-Statue-of-Liberty-New-York. It's your home.

Victor Hugo from Brazil (extract from Just a Few Reviews):

... So, this particular lebanese lady also loves comics, and as the ultimate expression for this love, she´s fiercely producing her own title "Malaak: Angel of peace", which easily earns the title "Graphic Novel" every time.

Each edition is heavy, substantial and printed in a delightful glossy paper and now reaches it´s third edition entitled "DARK DREAMS".

Oh yes, just because this is a middle eastern comic written by a real war survivor doesn't mean it's poorly drawn in black and white "poor little me I can't be bothered to learn colors" style fishing for the pity of an alternative journalist wearing red glasses, nor it features dumb animal faces all over the place out of laziness. I'd skip those with an "ugh".

I'm demanding, and I have a full room filled with comics from all over the world from many different time periods, many of them autographed, and I know what I like and what i dislike. I hate dumbed down stories, i hate the "reset button", I hate the "auto-pilot" and terms like "accessible to modern audiences" or "reinventing comics"

I love nitpicking, I love the accursed C word: "CONTINUITY" and i love 1990's "bad girls" and it´s equivalent, the 2000's "good girls", I love kung fu. I love bad guys being bad and being stomped real good because of it. So that's why I cherish every edition of "Malaak" I have.

Emily from New Zealand:

Malaak is one of the best graphic novels I have read this year, it satisfies both my liking of the supernatural and my interest in other cultures.

Lemon-hush from Bulgaria:

I have just read your comic "Malaak" and was fascinated! The story is so well told! The struggle for peace and the knowledge that the power of nature is inside us remind me of Hayao Miyazaki's "Mononoke Hime" and "Nausicaä". It has the confidence inside that no matter how much chaos and madness there is, we can still achieve harmony.
I love the way Malaak gradually explores her abilities and learns about her role in the world. Add to that the amazing art and I just don't know how to express how deeply impressed I am!

Charlie from Ireland:

I finally sat down and read the whole comic from the start. I was a bit skeptical at first, after seeing some pictures of Malaak in her costume and thinking it was just another super hero kind of comic, but there's a lot of neat stuff that makes it special. From the use of mixed media (I really love how you overlap photos of places and digitally drawn characters in such a natural way) to the unique setting and story, everything feels fresh and unique. I even like the bits in French and Aramaic[sic], although I found the last ones a bit annoying at first (towards the end I came to look at them as some sort of exotic spice for the dialog :giggle:).

Victor Hugo from Brazil (extract from Just a Few Reviews):

Lebanon´s first ever comic book heroine is back for another action packed and emotional ride. (...) Part "slices of life", part "action movie serial", this second edition chronicles the ascencion of local superheroine Malaak into "stardom" as she easily defeats the evil Jinn, spiritual perpetrators of the ongoing war, until she meets a sudden forced stop as she meets a "Boss" she wasn´t yet prepared to meet.

A regular comic would only present the hero grit their teeth, present a little blood in the corners of the mouth, laugh a little bit, present a maniac smile "Is that all you can do idiot?" and then that hero in question would give a ultramegapowerful blow in a splash page (just after the candy bar add), just to show how badass he is. Not in this case.

Malaak takes a hard beating, experience fear, flees and scapes to the arms of her friend and confidant Adrian. She is tired, overwhelmed, injured, patched up, and take days to recover, lick her wounds and figure things out. I wonder when was the last time a superhero is really shown as a normal human being, even the low powered ones.

We all take beatings out of life, and we all need time to breath and recover our strenght. It is sort of a relief to know that we are allowed to feel confusion, to acknowledge that our mutant healing factor is kinda slow, and that we all need time to find again that drive to guide us out of a messy situation, paraphrasing the Beatles, "with a little help of our friends". And that´s Malaak does, as she gather her mind and spirit together in an admirable comeback trail.

Rick from the USA:

Taking the reader to another culture or another place is one of the hallmarks of a good story, and really bringing them into that culture will always make the experience memorable. Cedarseed's Malaak, Angel of Peace follows the story of a Lebanese superhero and the struggles of her fellow countrymen. From the ancient powers that protect the land to the food, dress and talk in almost every comic, Cedarseed does a fantastic job of bringing the reader into her world and sharing what she sees in it.

From page one the comic is well drawn, colored and finished, and uses an interesting combination of cartoon art and the occasional photo background. The drawings in particular are nicely done, with a lot of thought obviously going into how each character looks, often closely associated with their personality. The photo backgrounds aren't personally my most favorite thing ever, but overall they are implemented well, and don't distract from the story for the most part (The opening page or two uses a lot of photos to start the story off which made the intro a little weak visually, I felt.) By the time the story gets rolling, though, I didn't think twice about them.

Cedarseed's story is unique and engaging, focusing on the struggles of a place that is stuck between two worlds: war and peace, old and new, the physical and the spiritual. Its a common enough theme, but the comic sells it well. I got the impression the author is writing out of her own experiences, making the plot that much stronger and more believable. Much of the storyline uses the history and mythology of the region extensively, another factor adding to the comics overall enjoyability. At three chapters and seventy odd pages, the story is long enough for us to start to get a sense of the characters' personalities and overarching themes – both of which are very well done.

Laura K. Jennings from Texas, USA:

I think I'd be hard pressed to point out what's so impressive about [Joumana's] Malaak comic. In the singular sense, I mean. The fact that it is one of the first comics forging its way through Lebanon, that it promotes feminism and nonviolence, that it manages to both embrace and challenge a rich culture, the enormous amount of detail in the world, in everything from the superhero genre mixed with real myths to every background in every single panel ... So, yeah. Other people do wolf comics. Malaak explores the political and cultural themes of hope.

Jeet Heer (extract from Sans Everything):

... It’s not surprising the ongoing turmoil in the Middle East is producing as a side-effect many local superhero comics. The best of the lot is Joumana Medlej’s Malaak, Angel of Peace, a Lebanese superheroine who protects her ancestral city from demons bent on inciting civil strife. Medlej has a pleasingly cartoony style, half-way between manga and the Belgian clear-line tradition. The introductory storyline nicely juggles young adult soap opera (like Spider-Man, Malaak has to balance her studies, her romantic life and her heroics) with a fantasy storyline rooted in Lebanon’s recent history of civil war. The ambiance and architecture of Lebanon is very well evoked. The spirit of the “Cedar Revolution” infuses the comic, with its suggestion that Lebanon’s turmoil is being fostered by outside forces. Interestingly, Malaak’s religious identity is deliberately obscure (it’s not even clear if she’s a Christian or a Muslim); indeed her origin has a vaguely pagan feel, sprouting as she does from the cedars that guard the city just as if she were a Greek or Roman goddess...

Kristen from the US:

This whole run has been incredible! From the plot (fascinating and gorgeous) to the scenery (ditto), it's all been fabulous! The little details make it, though. Like the subtle blush of sunset on the white of her suit, here, or the weeds in the sidewalk when Adrian first spots super!Malaak. And the backgrounds... !
... you dress everyone with practicality and attention to what the character's actually likely to wear. (And you do it so well, too--I've never gotten over adoring the work you put into detailing the people/backgrounds of Malaak.) We get so inured to comics that ignore such tiny details as weather, style preferences, and wardrobes with more than one set of clothes that when the real thing comes along, oddities like Adrian's just fly by.
S. from New York:
Seriously, this comic has great action, awesome art - but the story and characters are the most excellent aspect.

Lalla Lydia from the US (extract from Lalla Lydia):

Born of the famed Cedars of (Mount) Lebanon, superheroine Malaak embodies a land and "natural forces far older than any organized religion". A classic coming-of-age story as she grows into a young woman begining to discover the extent of her powers this graphic novel has a major twist: Thoroughly Lebanese but infinitely accessible to a global audience... I like the way Medlej really makes her graphic novel authentically Lebanese without coming off as a partisan commentator on its cultural or politcal life. The combination of pretty, trendy and smart girls and boys fluidly combining English, French and Lebanese Arabic in a single sentence along with the subtle inter-religious mixture of the characters reminds me of good times shared with dear Lebanese friends who, like Medlej, try to take the best elements of all the cultures they've been exposed to and synthesize it into a hope for peace and tolerance...
Hopefully we'll see Malaak: Angel of Peace on the big screen someday!

Laura K. Jennings from Texas, USA:

That is incredibly cool. You've been given a great gift to inspire with this. You'll be affecting a whole generation. That is exciting beyond belief and I wish you the best of luck with it!

Victor Hugo from Brazil (extract from Just a Few Reviews):

... a ravishing fresh graphic novel entitled "Malaak, Angel of Peace" which i´m holding on my hands, in its gigantic size and glorious 36 adventurous pages .

As it is a superhero comic, naturally, it follows some traditional superhero conventions, the origin story, the supernatural powers, the secret identity, so...what´s so special about this one?

Unlike some bizarre recent condescendent attempts at middle eastern superheroes published by clueless westerns and drawn by even clueless illustrators (hahaha some of them are brazilians like me) this is the real, intelligent, classy, proud, luxurious and original thing.

The story is set in today´s Beiruth (ok, in a parallel universe Beiruth), with its well known troubled past, suggests that interfering interdimentional demons, named Jinn, where the war perpretators, so, in response to that, the spirits living in a cedar forest provide an answer in the form of a young girl, who have to grow up, come to terms with her special powers and fight them off.

The art comes easy on the eyes, and the feeling is tangible. This is not rushed or for the rushed. If it sometimes remind you of an educative children´s book, it´s because the author experience on children´s book. It also might remind you of european comic albuns, with no need of "in your face" angry faces with billions of face lines and billions of teeth. It also reminds you that not all comics need to be set in New York, and that Lebanon is not that badly photographed place you see on that annoying warmongering channel...

Marina from Italy:

I found myself hooked on Malaak from the moment I read the first page, now I keep coming back for updates.
I want to thank you for allowing us a glimpse into experiences and emotions that are so strong and deeply personal.
Malaak is really unique, in my opinion, just because of all the carefully controlled emotion and passion you are putting into this work, well done!

Emile from Lebanon:

This is fantastic. The photomanips are great and set the atmosphere perfectly.

Uneide from Canada:

It's something different. I mean, I'm a hardcore comic geek, and I haven't really found something as captivating as Malaak. :) I hope you'll continue with even more success..!

Trey Rockwell from Alabama, USA:

One word Joumana: Spectacular! The art, the story, everything, just... Spectacular!!!

Sébastien from France:

J'apprécie surtout le fait que tu joues sur la taille des vignettes pour mettre plus ou moins en avant le dessin. Je trouve que cela manque souvent dans les BD.

Madeleine from the USA:

I cannot WAIT for the upcoming installments. I love comics, and the Lebanese flavor of yours is new and wonderful to me. The flow of it is very logical and easy to follow, and I love the characters - only the first page and I'm starting to get a sense of their personalities! I'll be keeping a sharp eye on this project of yours.
You know, you really really make me want to go [to Lebanon].

Sami Shahin from Syria:

Awesome! I'm lovin the story, and i haven't been disappointed yet! Yeah, at first the page looked pretty cramed; but as i read.. it's perfect you were able to get us involved and know these characters from one page! And you've added a youth/social side to the mix! Wlo! i love these words you throw in! Ana be7ki ktir, nice work.
See, it's a good thing super heroes are not confined to New York, and some could come along in the Middle-East and "help" us.

Allison from Canada:

This is generally excellent, as usual, and I love how you are weaving local mythology together with modern circumstances and making a seamless whole.

Peter from Toronto, Canada:

Nice work, and fascinating to see the way you've been working the natural and the supernatural themes together. It was only after seeing the jinn that I realized the main character's name is "Angel".

Memo from Turkey:

Balancing Lebanon's recent conflicts with today's tensions in a comic strip... I'm really looking up for the next issues!

Evgenia from Israel:

Good work. I am happy to see those manips too, that makes it close to reality and shows true Lebanon during the war.
I think such things should be shown and maybe it will change something inside those people who provokes wars...
I hope the project will grow into something beautifull, as it moves toward this direction, as I see it.

Tara from the Philippines:

i love it because of the use of language as much as because of thei magery. educational i say educational!!!!!

Aaron Brown from the USA:

I've thoroughly enjoyed watching Malaak grow, and distinctly find myself anticipating more to come.
This is a wonderful accomplishment; all the more so for all of the real world reasons behind its creation. You've done amazing work, and I hope she accomplishes everything that you hope for her (and for your country).
Design-element-wise, my favorite part is your inclusion of photography for added depth and realism to scenes; it works, and very effectively.

Fadi from Lebanon:

Making the militiamen non-human made all the difference between "interesting comic" and "this is starting to be great"
I don't know how to explain this exactly, but I guess that if they were only human, it would've been too close to reality to actually relax and enjoy. I know that she has superpowers, but a super hero is as powerful as her enemies are.

Peter Lewerin from Sweden:

This comic sometimes reminds me of La Vita è bella. It's tempting to write Ramboesque stories about punishing violent people with violence, but that way the only real winner in the end is ...violence.
A story where humor, compassion, beauty, and daring are used to kick evil butt amounts to a repudiation of violence. Denied even the acknowledgement that reciprocal violence provides, evil loses its power.

Maria Picassó from Catalunya:

Wow, she's hot! it really has personality, a pretty girl and looking intelligent and brave at the same time, it's not that usual! I also dig her facial features and the lines on her profile, both mask and braid!

Evan from the USA:

Hah. I really enjoy the art. And it's so true; for some reason, Bruce Wayne can fight crime all night and still put in a full day's work of playboy millionaire-ing without notable signs of fatigue. Does he never sleep? I suspect amphetamines. At any rate, It's a wonderful comic. Integration of traditional myths and modern settings has always seemed really cool to me, and you pull it off well.
I read a quote in a book called Maskerade: A mask hides only the face on the outside.
Meaning, basically, that masks allow people to be their true selves, that they actually reveal more than they conceal about a person. I often think about that with costumed superheroes--it appears Malaak isn't as timid as she thought.

JL from London, UK:

In all honestly? It's a good all-round comic. The artistic side of it (drawings, details etc.) are nice and simply, the characters interesting, storyline pretty cool and most importantly, it gives a good insight into Middle Eastern - particularly Lebanese - culture.

Jürgen Hubert from Germany:

Great work! I'm looking forward to how the story will develop.
Most comics exist within their own cultural context, which is part of what makes them interesting. But before Malaak, I haven't read a comic from the Middle East, let alone the Lebanon...

Philippe Lhoste from France:

Superb and original story. I like seeing heroes not following the costume routine, but Adrian is quite right. Well, I understand Malaak's reaction... This is quite tight... "Where'd he get my measurements, anyway?!"
Simple drawings, but very nice and rock solid!
I like your use of different fonts to show different voices/languages.

Aquarius from Israel:

I am not surprised that you are drawing a superhero girl, it is very natural to me coming from you Women to the rule of the world !!!
I totally agree with you that the cedar symbol should not used directly, mostly because it's too obvious.

Pamela from Lebanon:

Could you possibly be a dear and drop everything else that you're doing so that I can find out what is going to happen next!

MKS from Canada:

This DEFINTLY puts a new twist on the old-superhero concept. Love it!!
... for one, the superhero is a woman THAT ISN'T UBER-SEXY. I find that the comic book industry treats women as eye-candy, not as human beings. I mean, come on! Not all women have boobs the size of basketballs and microwaists (thats a bit exxagerated, but you get my point). You protray Malaak as very pretty without being overly sexual.
Two, she's guarding people against real threats. Yeah, sure, bank robbers can be dangerous, but militians are on a whole new level then what Superman and Wonder Woman usually deal with (not including supervillians). They live in prilivged America. Today's American people have no idea what true chaos is. There are no outside military forces or rebels in America. They haven't seen the true horrors of war. I think Malaak is a much more couragous hero then Superman (personaly, even if I had super powers I'ld still be terriefied to fight armed militian).
Three, her origin story is very unique, with a definite Lebanese flair to it. She's not rich, not an alien, not an Amazonizn princess, wasn't bitten by a radioactive spider, etc. The trees wanted to help the humans by creating her. I think that's a very interesting.
Four, she's not white. Nearly every superhero is white with the occaisonal token character, most being very stereotypical (Martial arts fighting Asians, Animalistic Native American, etc. It's almost like the makers had to make clear that THIS is an Asian, THIS is an African-American, etc) She's Lebanese with her looking like "Look at me, I'm Lebanese!".
Five, last but not least on this very long rant, she's just awesome ^_^

WB from Canada (in response to above):

Superheroes are symbolic by nature, so they tend to lean heavily on stereotype or other means of dramatic shorthand. Male superheroes are muscled beyond reason, female superheroes are hyper-feminine and beautiful... ethnicity or cultural background are part of the picture.

I mean, Canada's first national superhero was Nelvana of the Northern Lights, who rode polar bears and fought Nazis and people who stole fish from local Inuit. Hilariously corny now, stereotypical in spades, and if another nation came up with that idea as the Canadian Superhero, kind of offensive! Except for the Nazi-fighting. Nazis suck.

Therefore, I think Malaak very much runs in the vein from which most superheroes spring: the desire to overcome events or circumstances beyond normal, mortal control. Everything else is just window dressing. Malaak's origin lies in ancient mythic and folkloric tradition, rather than the modern ones of mutation and science.

The tree as origin is an ancient tradition going back thousands of years and is present in many cultures. Trees are historically the bridges to the underworld, and were worshipped as the homes of gods. They signify the presence of water, create shade and homes for animals insects, and hold the earth from eroding away. Their bodies become our shelters, our tools, our warmth, the cradles of infants and the coffins of the dead. In Norse tradition, the ash tree Yggdrasil cradles the realms of earth, the heavens, and the netherworld.

Trees fruit, thus feeding us and our animals. They provide medicine, or poison: the yew, which grows in graveyards and resists decay, is lethal if eaten. However, its bark yields the chemical Taxol, which defeats cancer.

They signify time, as they change and grow over seasons.

Of course, negatives exist, too. A tree can be driven down by the elements and become an obstruction or a crushing hammer. Arrows are made from trees, as are spears, shields, and most implements of war before large-scale metalwork became feasible. The Roman Ram-Tortoise, the trebuchet, ballista, and other siege-engines were wooden. Deadwood becomes a house of wasps and molds, and feed for a firestorm.

I think choosing the tree as an identity and a symbol was a powerful idea. She's something like a nymph, a bridging of divine and mortal. A Dryad, really.

Taking the protective imagery of the tree, Malaak's adversaries would be harmers by nature. The hateful types, the "intraspecies predators," characterized by pathology, chaos, dissolution, wrathfulness. Taking the tree imagery further, the Cedrus libani is threatened by wood wasps, and probably wood boring beetles, both of which feed off the body of the tree and make disease more likely.

Her "Lebanese-ness," like "American-ness," or "Canadian-ness," falls to her execution as a character in language, customs, and choices. They define her in the way light and shadow define objects in the twilight.

So it seems Malaak's nature as a protector is a shielding force, passively but also actively. Structure versus destruction. Shield versus arrow.

Z. M. from the USA:

I love the fact that you mix photography with drawing.

Aceinit from the USA:

So glad to see this being continued. I have fallen in love with Malaak and her comrades. I can't wait for the first volume to be available and look forward to more new adventures.

OP from Germany:

This story is so beautiful! The concept is intriguing and the characters are beautiful designed/drawn.

Kaimu-Nanashi from the USA:

I love the parallels this story has with mythology (the "chosen one", the child born from the seed, the unnatural growth, the foundling, the voices of nature on the second page, etc), especially when they are placed with modern themes (the violence in the world, man's distancing from nature, etc.) I can't wait to see what turn this story takes next!

Colinda from the Netherlands:

Really good comic! I love how you draw Malaak; pretty, but still normal enough to not be a fake Can't wait for the next comic/chapter!

Maria from the USA:

Great series! I enjoyed them a lot! I really like you incorporation of photography in some of the scenes!