February 9, 2023

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The Story of Captivity – Lo Spazio Bianco

On February 7, 2020. Patrick Zaki, an Egyptian boy studying at the University of Bologna, was arrested upon his return to his country on charges of threatening national security., inciting illegal protests, sabotage, spreading false news, propaganda for terrorism. And so begins the slow torture, a seemingly eternal detention, which renews every 45 days and represents nearly two years of imprisonment, until the unexpected release, on December 8, 2021, from protective custody until the trial that should have taken place in September 2022 and has unfortunately been postponed.
This story led to great movements for the release of Zaki and against Egyptian policies, not only in the effervescent environment of the University of Bolognese, but throughout Italy and also in Europe (since Patrick is part of a European study program), and inevitably linking with another case that had Egypt as its scenario, Namely, the murder of the Italian researcher Giulio Regeni.

To summarize this case Laura Caponan expert journalist in the Middle East and Egypt in particular, who covered (and still covers) Zaki’s story in various national newspapers as well as for Al-Rai, decided to use the language of comics, and to do so, he addressed one of the most important cartoonists in the field of graphic journalism and social commitment cartoons, Gianluca Costantini.

Patrick Zaki – an Egyptian story Collects, in just under 130 pages, not only the story of the student’s imprisonment, but reconstructs the story of his childhood in great detail. Until entering the university, his political commitment to freedom and human rights, the struggle of students, life abroad until his arrest.
Thus, the author manages to return effectively and intensively not only to the most dramatic phases of Zaki’s recent history, but also to the lighter and more human aspects of the boy’s life, from the passion for football to the relationship with friends and family, as well as everyone. the efforts of Zaki’s comrades to bring him back to freedom (these, along with the prison sequences, are perhaps the most interesting and engaging). The story also allows Capon to recapture, with journalistic curation, a cross-section of contemporary Egyptian reality, the difficulties faced by those working in the field of human rights and social rights (notably EIPR volunteers.1) in a de facto dictatorial regime: in this sense, The appendix is ​​titled short contract It’s a useful bignami–it would be interesting to expand on it–about the ten upheavals that changed Egypt and North Africathe period of the Arab Spring and the revolution that was born out of the protests in Tahrir Square.

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Zaki 1The intensity of the events and the limits of the pages impose a tight narrative on Capone and Costantini, often scanned into a six-panel structure that allows the journalist to structure the story in a simple but effective way. Despite his unfamiliarity with the medium, Cappon is good at avoiding overloading cartoons with overly didactic dialogue, a typical mistake of much graphic journalism, without losing clarity and time accuracy. Unfortunately, these contingencies create an excessive cadence of fragmentation in some work segmentseffectively dampening the emotional impact of some scenes, which thus proceed as a sequence of individual images rather than following a smooth narrative flow.

To balance this aspect, we believe the style and ability of Gianluca Costanini: the experience gained during his long career, and in particular in making portraits of victims of political persecution for Amnesty International It allows the artist to summarize all the main characteristics of a face or situation in a single cartoon, thus enriching the written text with details that do not burden the flow of the story. Although Costantini also seems to have suffered from tight processing times, with some of the cartoons appearing less refined than usual, The ability as a seasoned storyteller allows him to connect many of the key moments that punctuate Zack’s storyI, thus building a story that is sometimes very intense, albeit fast and dense.

Despite some drawbacks, perhaps due to very tight production times and paper documentation too brief to cover such a complex and intense story, The illustrated story by Patrick Zaki is an important work that manages through the story of one person to speak of the worst, but also the best, of our contemporary. It is with the hope that once this story is over, the volume will be released in a new edition, with a final happy ending.

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We talked about:
Patrick Zaki – an Egyptian story
Laura Capon Gianluca Costantini
Feltrinelli Comics, 2022
128 pages, paperback, black and white – €17.00
ISBN: 9788807550980


  1. Egyptian Initiative for Personal RightsA non-governmental human rights organization established in Cairo in 2002