Tom Hart’s SVA Spotlight: Margo Dabaie

Categories:  Features

Of his numerous works in the comics medium, Tom Hart is, without question, best known for his creation, Hutch Owen, the rambling, shaggy idealist who serves as the titular protagonist of Hart’s daily newspaper strip. However, any discussion of Hart’s work is hardly complete without mention of the artist’s other job, serving as a profession to the next generation of great cartoonists at Manhattan’s celebrated School of Visual Arts, which, over the years has churned out some of the industry’s most influential cartoonists, including Peter Bagge, Spider-man co-creator Steve Ditko, and of course, Hart himself.

On every occasion that we’ve run into Hart, since the launch of The Daily Cross Hatch (which is quite a lot, given the fact that the artist seems to be at every single comics-related event in the great NYC-area), we’ve pestered him about the possibility of doing a column highlighting recent SVA grads. We always sort of assumed it would remain little more than a pipedream, given Hart’s rather full schedule.

The moment Hart handed over this first column, highlighting the work of Margo Dabaie, it was clear that he had gone above and beyond the call of duty. Hart’s first of what we hope will be many columns, after the jump.


The School of Visual Arts is one of the premier arts colleges in the country. It was co-founded as an illustration and cartooning school by Burne Hogarth (of Tarzan and the Dynamic series of instructional books) and remains one of the few colleges around that offers a cartooning degree. I teach there, along with such outstanding artists as Gary Panter, Ben Katchor, David Mazzuchelli, Jessica Abel, Matt Madden, Jason Little, Keith Mayerson, Lauren Weinstein, Seth Tobocman, Joey Cavalieri, Klaus Janson, Nick Bertozzi, and a few stragglers, year after year. With that talent at the helm, you can see why we call it the “Harvard of Cartooning.”

We get a lot of great students who come through to learn cartooning. One of my many recent favorites is class of 2007’s Marguerite “Margo” Dabaie, who has recently published the first issue of her autobiographical series, The Hookah Girl and other True Stories.

The Hookah Girl is Margo’s exploration into growing up Palestinian and Christian in California in the 80s and 90s. She finds absurdity, humor, and pathos in most of the family’s habits—from stealing leaves from nearby vineyards to make stuffed dolmas, to the strange Palestinian Pride Fairs where she would see the “Hookah Girl,” who gives the book its name. Book one broadly investigates her feelings towards her absurd family, but also her current feelings and reactions towards all things Palestinian, as evidenced in the excellent “What Leila Khaled Said,” a six-page exploration of a female terrorist/hijacker from the 1970s.

Margo was my student in her third year, in which her main piece was Unsichtbares/Sichtbares (“Invisible/Visible”), a fabulous exploration (that word again) of bi-sexual and transgendered people in Weimar Berlin. The story, about a sister and her brother who dresses like a sister, was told almost entirely using 1930s catalog layouts. Characters are most often depicted in full-figure costumed poses. Pages of ladies with fashionable hats serve to add cultural context. Form and content merged beautifully here, where we are constantly moving through the world of the brother Ingo’s fashion choices, and where we’re also constantly reminded of the power of appearances as we watch and read through the images and attendant text, as Ingo is horribly humiliated and mutilated by Nazi soldiers.

Margo’s pieces are primarily about identity, appearances and dichotomy. A story from Hookah Girl called “Should/Am” (echoing the title of her catalog piece) is a series of paper dolls in which you can dress Margo in starving artist garb or revolutionary terrorist gear “totally decked out for intifada action.”

I have to say her earlier work in my third year classroom didn’t tip me off that she would do deeply explorative and intelligent work, but I suppose I should have seen it. In one of our earliest smaller assignments, we worked as a group to develop characters and actions for them. We then had to go draw stories from these sequences. Margo annoyed the heck out of me by taking a character “briskly walking” and making him a walking bottle of Lipton Brisk Iced Tea, who instead of “clenching his teeth” and “decking someone in the throat”, holds a pair of false teeth, and with his free hand, throws with the full force of his body a galleon at a character’s throat (thus, “decking” him.) (She also drew this in an aggressive “Manhua” style.)

This absurd, literal translation of the instructions were in the short term, horribly inappropriate, but I should have seen right away that someone who is thinking that much about the meaning and appearances of things, would later go onto probe much more deeply into these issues.

Margo is working busily on the second issue of Hookah Girl.The next stories include a look at a famous (assassinated) Palestinian cartoonist, and revist to the Hookah Girl of the title, and stories that delve more into her separation from her culture.

The Hookah Girl and Unsichtbares/Sichtbares are available from Margo’s website.

–Tom Hart

No Comments to “Tom Hart’s SVA Spotlight: Margo Dabaie”

  1. Matt Madden | August 6th, 2007 at 10:22 am

    FYI, Jessica didn’t go to SVA — not sure where that info came from!!


  2. Recent grad, Margo Dabaie « Tom Hart’s Blog
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