Iraqi Science Fiction Imagery

Posted by on September 26th, 2010 at 3:03 PM

In the 1980s the Children’s Culture House of Iraq published a series of full-color pamphlets on astronomy, space exploration, the frontiers of science and the like. The image above is taken from the cover of an illustrated guide to the solar system. These pamphlets sold tens of thousands of copies and were crammed with oversaturated depictions of lunar surfaces, solar flares and futuristic spacecraft. Each title had to be cleared by censors, but the process usually went smoothly. As long as the text did not invoke political themes, and focused on science and technology, the regime was unconcerned.

Several of these pamphlets were written by Salih Habeeb, who I met in Baghdad last month and who now lives in southern California. Salih put his English language skills to work for the Americans after the 2003 occupation and recently relocated to the United States under a special program set up for Afghanistan and Iraq  nationals who worked with the U.S. Armed Forces as a translator. Naturally enough, he picked up English from reading science fiction novels and DC comic books, and by watching the original Star Trek series and endless American movies.

Salih brings more practical skills to the labor market than I could ever muster. In addition to having seen combat as a member of the Republican Guard during the Iran-Iraq war, and working for various U.S. and international agencies over the past several years, he’s been an editor, publisher, graphic artist and web builder. He paints, knows astronomy and has published several science fiction stories. He would be an ideal hire for a comics, film or publishing company seeking to break into Arab-language markets.

Here’s a trippy cover from the Children’s Culture House:

These spaced-out interior pages showcase the intersection of Salih’s text and the unattributed imagery:

Once he learned Photoshop, Salih applied various filters to photos of old Baghdad:

He also inserted himself into the Contact movie poster:

More recently he generated this Todd Rundgren-esque image:

His drawings are often concerned with space travel and extraterrestrial environments:

Another example:

But science fiction is not his only subject matter:

And here:

Finally, a snapshot taken earlier this month of Salih standing next to patriotic statuary in San Diego:

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