Comic magazines are a rarity in Pakistan, despite having some of the best humorists in prose and poetry around. However, weekly Afratafreh, published from Peshawar is an attempt to fill such a huge void, amidst prevailing violence, despondency and gloom in the country. The comic magazine, which initially derives its name from a book of well known Urdu humorist Dr Mohammad Younas Butt, was brain child of some students of Department of Journalism and Mass Communication (JMC), University of Peshawar (UoP).
The idea took shape as a coloured handwritten news sheet, satirizing their class fellows, teachers and university authorities and appeared at the department notice board once a week. However, two of the students Hanifullah Khan and Shehla Gul went ahead with the idea of launching a full fledged comic magazine and started a magazine with the same name with a senior editor of a local daily Syed Zubair Ali Shah and its first edition appeared on July 23, 2008.
The 16 pages magazine is published on tabloid sized paper and consists of news items from newspapers which had been comically treated to add a new twist to the story, editorial, comic columns, education roundup, selection of cartoons, poetry, sports news as regular sections. “The idea of comic magazine come to me during my university days, when as a students of journalism students we discussed news items in the class, it occurred to me that being students of journalism, we should not treat news as common man,” Hanifullah said.
He said that the next day they started a notice board comic sheet, and later launched the magazine with an investment of Rs 300,000, which became an instant hit. At present we have around 3,000 permanent readers, who have subscribed to the magazine for six months and a year and it is growing with each passing day, he said. He said that the magazine is provided to the all Higher Education Commission (HEC) affiliated universities free of costs and major libraries across the country and claims that it is only comic magazine in the country. It is not something like a parallel media, but it is sort of entertainment for the people, in the midst of depressing news, says Zubair, who edits the paper.
Comic magazine came to Indian subcontinent following the Great Uprising of 1857, when the British raj enforced laws to rein the press like the ‘Gagging Act’ of June 18, 1857 and ‘Press and Registration of Books Act’ 1867 and ‘Vernacular Press Act’ of 1878. Munshi Sajjad Husain started the weekly Oudh Punch, a pioneer comic magazine from Lukhnow in 1877 and it remained circulation till 1912.
The country has a long line of famous names like Pitras Bokhari, Mushtaq Ahmed Yusafi, Shafiq-ur-Rehman, Col Mohammed Khan, Ibn-e-Insha, Mohammed Khalid Akhter, Zameer Jafri, Siddiq Salik and Ibrahim Jalees in the humorous writings and comic columns are a part of major Urdu newspapers. Similarly, Pakistan has a long list of humorist poets of stature like Dilawar Figar and Syed Zamir Jefri, however, the only thing of humorist poetry, which made a place of itself on the editorial pages of a newspaper was Qitta (quatrain/Limerick), which was introduced by Raees Amrohvi and soon it became a part of editorial pages of every Urdu newspaper.
The magazine is now available online at http://afratafreeh.com.
The review first appeared in Daily Times, January 23, 2009