'Bayan Yanı' puts a female face on Turkish humor magazines
ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 3/11/2011 12:00:00 AM | IŞIL EĞRİKAVUK
Male cartoonists have long dominated the humor field in Turkey, but the women behind 'Bayan Yanı' are out to prove their jokes are as funny - and biting - as men's.
Male cartoonists have long dominated the humor field in Turkey, but the 19 women behind the new magazine “Bayan Yanı” are out to prove their jokes can be just as funny – and biting – as men’s.
The debut issue of the comics-heavy magazine, dedicated to International Women’s Day on March 8, takes on serious and timely topics such as violence against women and the recent sexist comments by two well-known Turkish journalists. But the founders say they don’t want to focus only on women’s concerns.
“These issues are so little mentioned in the press, but we still don’t want to only cover them,” well-known cartoonist and “Bayan Yanı” contributor Ramize Erer told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. “We want to show that women can be opponents of the system too. We want to talk about everything using our own voices.”
Though the women behind the magazine seek to set “Bayan Yanı” apart from its male-dominated predecessors – from the first Turkish comics magazine, “Diyojen,” to the world-famous “Gırgır” and modern publications such as “Leman,” “Uykusuz” and “Penguen” – they welcome men’s involvement as well.
“Turkey actually has a lot of powerful women cartoonists, and we want to bring them forward,” said one of those men, founder Tuncay Akgün, a famous cartoonist. “Women’s magazines are known to be sidelines for the fashion and cosmetics industries; ‘Bayan Yanı’ will tear down those borders.”
The name of the magazine, which translates literally as “the seat next to a woman,” refers to a common practice in Turkey: When a woman buys a single ticket for long-distance bus travel, she is assigned a seat next to another woman. Those seats are called “Bayan Yanı.”
“As a person who loves long-distance travel, buying a ticket is the most stressful part,” wrote Melda Onur, one of the writers for the new magazine. “When making a phone reservation, if you ask for a single ticket, the seller asks, ‘Is it for you?’ Then you get a seat next to another woman. Even with Internet reservations, the bus companies split the seats into blue and pink ones.”
“By naming the magazine ‘Bayan Yanı,’ we protest this treatment and also say that the magazine is from women’s perspectives,” Feyhan Güver, one of the comic artists for the publication, told the Daily News.
[HH] Whose language?
That perspective is not always a feminine one, however. “I get criticism for writing in a masculine tone, but I don’t think women should have a different style just because of their sex,” said Duygu Sarı, who writes a column for “Bayan Yanı” and contributes to “Yeni Harman” magazine.
“My language is closer to that of men’s; perhaps this is because I have been reading comics since I was 12 and this is what I am used to,” said Sarı.
Andaç Gürsoy, who has been drawing comics for 22 years, said drawing comics is physically demanding and therefore is not for every woman. “It is physically consuming. You have to have strong arm muscles to draw for so long,” she said. “My hands and feet get swollen from sitting for so long.”
According to Levent Cantek, who has written several books on the subject, Turkish comic books and magazines are completely based on male jargon.
“Until the 1960s the use of photography was very little, so many publications used the female body and eroticism to gain a higher circulation,” he told the Daily News. “Humor naturally feeds from forbidden areas such as sex and slang. But I don’t understand how these magazines can be critical opponents while having such an understanding of humor.”
“I am not against talking about sex, but it is a vicious cycle to make [the work] just about relationships or draw women characters who win men over through their sexuality. Even female comic artists do that. I hope ‘Bayan Yanı’ can change that,” Cantek said.
[HH] Women vs men?
Founder Akgün is not the only man involved in the new magazine, which also has male cartoonists drawing for its back pages. When asked if this goes against the publication’s principles, cartoonist Erer said the founders did not want create an us-versus-them dynamic.
“We were always the decorations in comics made by men and now we have male artists working with us. We don’t want to be seen as if we are against men. They are also great artists and we are lucky to have them,” Erer said.
Writer Cantek, however, said decreasing the number of men involved with “Bayan Yanı” would be more true to the magazine’s nature.
“I think having this magazine is a wonderful opportunity,” he said. “But for now it looks like a magazine of women artists’ works, put together. They would really have a political approach if they decreased the number of men and formed a permanent team of women.”
[HH] A brief history of humor magazines in Turkey
Greek Ottoman Teodor Kasap published the first Turkish comic magazine, “Diyojen,” in 1870. Since then, hundreds of publications have followed, but few of them made their mark on history.
One of the most notorious was “Markopaşa,” a weekly comic magazine published between 1946 and 1950 that was well known for its satirical commentary on politics. The magazine was banned, censored and closed several times by the government and had to re-start seven times under different names.
The highest selling Turkish comic magazine was “Gırgır,” which was published in 1972 by Oğuz Aral, a legendary Turkish cartoonist who influenced the generations that came after him. The magazine had the slogan “Gırgır puts an end to life struggles, heartaches and husband-wife quarrels: Gırgır cures all!” Between 1981 and 1985, it reached a circulation of 1 million, becoming the third-best-selling comic magazine in the world.
According to Tan Oral, a comic artist who also writes critiques on the art of comics, after the 1980 military coup, Turkish comics went on the decline and only recovered in the 1990s. Today there are close to 20 active humor publications.
Turkish comic magazines are known for their close ties to politics and satirical language. According to writer Levent Cantek, this shows how comics are related to journalism.
“If you only talk about politics and current events, you really put a limit on humor. Actually, current Turkish comics only deal with politics on their cover and first two pages, but they still call themselves active political voices,” he said.