Willis from Tunis

Nadia Khiari is a Tunisian cartoonist, best known for her signature character 'Willis from Tunis' (2011). She created the character during the Arab Spring, when people rose against President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali. Khiari featured Willis the cat in comics but also in street graffiti. Soon the feline became an unexpected voice of rebellion. In 2011 Ben Ali was forced to resign, a political earthquake she played no less than a small part in. Since then she remains one of her country's most vocal satirists and political commentators.

Nadia Khiari was born in 1973 in Tunis, Tunesia. She studied plastic arts at the Academy of Aix-en-Provence and became an art teacher at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Tunis. Among her graphic influences are Aubrey Beardsley, Jossot and Siné. Her favorite writers are Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Hermann Hesse, Yukio Mishima, Philip K. Dick and Charles Bukowski. She had her own gallery, Arthyshow, and the short-lived online magazine YakaYaka.org, which helped her and other artists to publish work that otherwise wouldn't be published elsewhere.

Willis from Tunis

In 2011 various Middle Eastern countries started to rise against the dictatorships that held them in a stronghold for so long. In Egypt, Libya and Yemen entire governments soon toppled. In Tunisia President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali felt the tide was turning and tried to suss the angry population by paraphrasing President De Gaulle during the Algerian crisis: "Je vous ai compris" ("I've understood you"). He promised more freedom of speech, even though curfew was still in effect. This inspired Khiari to draw a cartoon featuring a group of mice threatening a cat who tries to shoo them away by uttering the same lame excuse. She named the feline Willis from Tunis. On the same day of his first cartoon, 13 January 2011, Khiari also launched a Facebook page for him. To her amazement she gained thousands of followers within a matter of days. Even more amazing was the fact that Ben Ali fled the country one day later.

Willis from Tunis

It's no exaggeration to say that Khiari owes her artistic breakthrough to Willis the Cat. Before 2011 she drew in a very detailed style but hadn't quite found her own voice yet. When she made her first Willis cartoon she took on a simpler, more spontaneous style. Within the political turmoil of Ben Ali's departure the demand for more Willis cartoons grew. To keep up with all latest developments Khiari held on to this simpler drawing style. She shared her cartoons online and spray paints them on walls of local buildings in Tunis. This gave her a certain underground appeal and helped Willis to be become a symbol of Tunisian rebellion. Her notoriety spread to the point that one of her favorite cartoonists, Siné, gave her the opportunity to publish in his own independent magazine Siné Mensuel. It also happened to be the first time that her work appeared in print. Khiari travelled to France for the occasion. Since then her cartoons have also appeared in Courrier International, Zelium, Noir et Blanc and the Tunisian journal 360.tn.

Willis from Tunis

Khiari updates 'Willis the Cat' every day. She not only addresses political issues in her country, but also rights of women and homosexual people. Most of her cartoons are in black-and-white but she often uses red and black in her work which have an anarchist undertone. Apart from Willis, all other characters in her comics are cats. This allows her to voice her opinions without directly caricaturing politicians. So far three titles of 'Willis the Cat' compilation books are available: 'Chroniques de la Révolution' (2011), 'Willis from Tunis 2' (2012) and 'Manuel du Parfait Dictateur' (2015). The latter book is a thinly disguised critique of former president Ben Ali. Khiari drew the book to coincide with the presidential elections, as she noticed quite some fellow Tunisians started to become nostalgic for the dictator they ousted from power only a few years earlier.

In 2012 Nadia Khiari received the Prix Honoré Daumier as part of the Cartooning for Peace project. The university of Liége, Belgium, honored her with the title doctor honoris causa for her work encouraging the freedom of expression. In 2014 she was one of several cartoonists to be interviewed in the documentary 'Caricaturists, fantassins de la démocratie' (2014) by Stéphanie Valloatto, alongside Plantu, Slim, Angel Boligan, Baha Boukhari, Jeff Danziger, Michel Kichka, Pi San, Rayma Suprani, Damien Glez, Mikhaïl Zlatkovski and Zoho. The same year she won the award for best political satire in Forte dei Marmi, Italy. In 2016 she received the prix "Couilles au Cul" from the editorial team behind the magazine Fluide Glacial.

Willis from Tunis

Series and books by Nadia Khiari in stock in the Lambiek Webshop:

X

If you want to help us continue and improve our ever- expanding database, we would appreciate your donation through Paypal.