From revolutionary art to dystopian comics: Ganzeer on Snowden, censorship and global warming

The Egyptian artist reveals how The Solar Grid describe on his fears for the countrys future, his admiration of Edward Snowden and his own experience of fleeing repression

It is 949 years since a global inundate of biblical proportions. The world is reliant upon a vast grid of solar panel to power its factories around the clock. Night-time has been consigned to legend. In the aftermath of environmental catastrophe, the worlds clean water is now confined to a network of towers built by the worlds richest man.

While the dystopian scenario of Ganzeers debut graphic novel, The Solar Grid, is science fiction, the story is rooted in history, political and personal. The Egyptian artist, best known for murals that championed the spirit of the 2011 Cairo revolution, took inspiration from his first sighting of the Niles Aswan dam. As child, he felt awe. Today, Ganzeer ensure the environmental impact of the dam on Egypt as emblematic of humanitys adverse impact throughout the whole planet.

I was 16 when I went to the Aswan high dam, recalls Ganzeer , now 34 and living in Los Angeles. It was so breathtaking, being on top of this huge machine. But as Ive grown older and was increasingly very concerned about the environment, it feels like if humanity ever had a warning sign in regards to the obstruct doom of the earth, that Egypt is likely it. All this lush nature is referenced in the ancient texts, tombs and temples, scenes of hunting gazelles and lions and you look at the country today and its actually devastated.

A A page from Ganzeers The Solar Grid. Photo: Ganzeer

Egypt is currently suffering a serious water crisis, with the United Nations predicting the drop in supply will make crisis point within a decade. The dam has basically eliminated the natural seasonal flooding and drought that the country survived on for thousands of years, Ganzeer says, whose name translates from Egyptian Arabic as bicycle chain, his analogy for the role designers and artists play in driving societal progress. I procured myself daydreaming about two children from Cairo blowing it up. The story would be their journey to achieve that and how it would change the country for ever.

From that idea evolved the main plot of The Solar Grid, which follows two boys, Kameen and Mehret, rubbing a living amid the scrapheaps of Cairo under the glare of the artificial sunlight. I felt I wanted to do something more universal, he says of his decision to make the boys target the fictional solar array. The concept of the Aswan dam is controlling a central national resources. I figured if I was to apply it to the whole planet, that resource is patently the sun. Thats what we see in the future with the two kids. As the sunshine decides, the solar grid automatically turns on and turns off as soon as the sun rises again.

In a subplot set 475 years earlier, a whistleblower attempts to expose the corruption behind the industrialisation of countries around the world national resources. A newspaper is sent a huge data leak about the true intents of Al Gebri, the billionaire owner of the company behind the water towers, Skyquench. Teddy Taplin, the whistleblower, attempts to fled the US to China as the authorities concerned imprison a reporter at the Global Guardian and pressure him to reveal his source not far from the real tale of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and his relationship with the Guardian.

Ganzeer admires Snowden. I think he is a hero. I can relate to someone who feelings morally compelled to do the right thing with complete disregard to the possible dangers that the self, or loved ones would be put in. There are small differences from reality. Snowden was already in Hong Kong when authorities began looking for him, whereas Ganzeer constructs his whistleblower flee quite close to when the leak happens.

A A journalist and whistleblower speak in the first issue of The Solar Grid. Photograph: Ganzeer

The storyline also depicts on Ganzeers own flight from Egypt. In May 2014, he was was condemned by a television broadcaster, Osama Kamal, on the programme Al-Raees Wel Nas( The President and the People ). Displaying a familiar name of Ganzeers used by his friends, and his photo on screen, the presenter denounced him as a recruit of the Muslim Brotherhood, which had been proclaimed a terrorist organisation five months earlier, and demanded that the government take action against him. Ganzeer fled Egypt for the US two days later.

The allegation, which Ganzeer denies, came after he published a cartoon satirising Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, who became chairman of Egypt the following month. This image, since removed from his website, showed what looked like Sisi in his army uniform but with a TV screen displaying a picture of a nervous rabbit instead of a face, with the caption: Whos afraid of art? Underneath, the artist, whose most well known mural featured a cyclist facing down a tank, wrote that Sisi would turn Egypt into a police state.

To some extent the characters fleeing process in the first chapter, of going through the airport and not knowing whether or not hes going to be caught or whether his identity is going to be disclosed or not was something of a personal experience of mine, he says. I didnt know if I was on an official list.

In the last two years, similar accusations have been made against activists and journalists across Egypt, leading to multiple prosecutions and prison sentences. Although his departure to New York was schemed, Ganzeer has not returned home since. Things now are unbelievably messed up with Sisi in power people being stopped in airports and taken away without knowing whether they have done anything wrong or not, walking on the streets and being snatched, he tells. I dont think it would be wise to hazard going back unless Im willing to change my stance and tell I support Sisi and I think hes the best.

Future chapters of The Solar Grid consider the tale move to Mars, where much of Earths population resettle in the wake of the flood. Martian society is a direct democracy where there is no chairman or parliament. The population votes via a network connected to an artificial intelligence that offers advice on policies and laws. But they also have the option to actively consult the AI or even automate their vote to endorse what decision it thinks is best.

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