Huda Fahmy is a comic book artist who writes about being a hijab-wearing Muslim woman in America, including in her previous books Yes, I’m Hot in This and That Can Be Arranged, both geared towards adults. Her latest book, Huda F Are You?, focuses on her experiences as a Muslim teenager who moved from a town with few Muslims to one with a large Muslim population. Huda F Cares?, the sequel to Huda F Are You?, will be published in fall 2023.
Can you talk about how you became interested in graphic novels? Are there any graphic novels that influenced you to create your own?
I’ve loved Sunday comics since I was a kid. It’s how I learned English, basically. My mother and father speak English but they spoke Arabic at home and I loved comics because I got that kind of humor. I started drawing this one comic back in 2017 and it was really in response to Trump. Trump was elected and there were a lot of really horrible things being said about Muslims. It’s been happening my whole life but it seemed like it was so much louder and so much more in your face because of social media. That really spurred me onto drawing and telling my story through a web comic format.
It was a very natural jump from web comic to graphic novel, because I’d already written and published two other books that were more adult humor and I kept being told, ‘Can you please do something for the younger readers because they love your books and we’d love to see something from you geared towards them.’ And so I immediately wanted to do something like that. I had a story to tell. Growing up having gone to both public schools and private schools and having been in both majority white populated schools and then jumping to majority Arab populated and Muslim populated schools, the difference was so stark.
I had to do some research to figure out what kind of graphic novel I wanted to write. I had really not read any graphic novels, minus manga. I bought a bunch of different graphic novels for the right age group and tried to figure out how I wanted to proceed. Like Raina Telgemeier and Svetlana Chmakova, my book looks a little bit different from the other graphic novels out there. It’s not a story type of novel, and it gives you more of an introduction to who Huda is and who she isn’t. This is just the beginning, and hopefully it’ll be the beginning for the next book.
It almost has a memoir tone to it. Would you agree with that?
I didn’t mean for it to be like that, but it very much does. A lot of people do say that it’s a graphic memoir or a fictionalized memoir, which I would be more comfortable with. I pepper in real life with fictionalized characters. I mean, it’s my fault for naming [the main character] after me. The title works so well and it just happens to be my name. It’s hilarious. But it comes with the territory now because people think it’s part of my life. There are a lot of parts that are based in real life and a lot of parts that are not. But as a person of color, can I be given the benefit of not everything I write has to be true? I definitely have to explain that.
In the past, you’ve written about being an adult Muslim woman in America. Why did you choose to focus on your adolescence for this book? What did you want to convey about your experience to young readers?
I chose to focus on adolescence and how I got to be the type of adult that I am—the type of person who has the confidence to stand up and speak out against bias or prejudice—because I think it’s important for young readers who are first generation or children of immigrants to have someone like that they can relate to. A lot of times they can feel out of place in their own community. It’s like they have a foot in both communities, and they just can’t seem to find a place where they fit in.
I always thought that it was unique to me, that nobody else knows what I’m going through, and then you grow up and realize that that was really common and a lot of people know what this is and have an identity crisis, which I continue to struggle with to this day. I’ll go into a mosque and still feel like I don’t fit in, and when I go to a predominantly non-Muslim function, I still feel like I should feel like I fit in and I don’t. It’s most jarring when I go to a place where there’s mostly Arabs and I feel that these are my people. They all know these songs and dances and I don’t know where they learned them from, and Arab TV dramas from overseas that I didn’t have access to because I didn’t have cable. Am I Arab enough? It’s confusing. It’s a struggle. And I think it’s something a lot of kids relate to today. It’s a story that you don’t hear often. It felt like an important story to tell and it was very close to where I am in my life.
I’m so torn about assimilating. When I was growing up, it was so important to assimilate. It was why we were put in public school, because they were afraid we’d fall behind and not be accepted by society. Now as an adult, I feel like why do we have to assimilate? It’s unfortunately used a lot politically. You need to fit in. If you’re going to be in this country, you have to assimilate. But why though? We can live in this country, live peacefully, live among each other and still be very different. And that’s okay. I don’t want to be the Muslim you want me to be, I don’t want to be the Arab you want me to be. I think it’s okay to live your life and live your beliefs. As long as you feel comfortable in your own skin, you’ll fit in no matter where you go.
What are you working on now?
I’m working on a sequel to Huda F Are You? And it will take on more of a linear story path. The first book sets up Huda and her internal dialogue and the second one takes you more into her world, and focuses more on her relationship with her sisters and her family and vacation to this amusement park. If I do say so myself, I think it’s pretty funny.
Huda F Are You? by Huda Fahmy. Dial, $22.99 Nov. 23 ISBN 978-0-593-32430-1