The Lulu As-Saghira Success Story
After Superman and Al-Watwat (Batman), first published in early 1964 and late 1965 respectively, Lulu As-Saghira (Little Lulu in Arabic) was Al-Matbouat Al- Mousawwara's third periodical comic book and was a complete change from the world of super heroes and sinister aliens whose translated stories enthralled boys everywhere in the Arab world but were completely removed from their every-day reality. Lulu was different. Created by American artist Marge and intended for the US market, Lulu Moppet and her friends could feel at home in every peaceful neighborhood with children, in any part of the world.
The first issue of Lulu As-Saghira appeared on 1 July 1966, in 32 black and white inside pages, and a color cover. Price was 30 Lebanese Piastres, at the time nearly equivalent to ten US cents. Frequency was monthly.
The popularity of the Arabic edition of Little Lulu was smashing. Arab readers instantly fell in love with Lulu As-Saghira and her friends. This success proved that Leila Shaheen da Cruz was right, and validated her opinion that some comics characters appeal to children everywhere. The Arab world had rarely witnessed such overnight success in children's publications. The series quickly gave birth to a spin-off: the Lulu As-Saghira Plays. These were published by Al-Matbouat Al- Mousawwara as a pocket size non-comics miniseries and were later reprinted. Lulu plays, staged by school children, were aired on Lebanon's official TV station, Channel 11. The Lulu phenomenon spread literally to all young students in Lebanon.
The success of the Lulu As-Saghira comics series continued, unabated. The printing of its inside pages became two-color, black and yellow, or alternately, black and blue, with Issue 14. Price became 50 piastres. Frequency remained monthly. With Issue 95 (4 October 1973), price increased to 75 piastres. By then, sadly, the clouds of war were gathering over Lebanon. The long Lebanese war broke out on Sunday 13 April 1975 and by the end of that year, violence had claimed downtown Beirut and the sea-front luxury hotels. Power shortages were frequent and life in general was at a standstill.
Al-Matbouat Al-Mousawwara were situated at the time in Centre Sabbagh on Hamra street, a few minutes away from downtown Beirut. The security situation and the closure of Beirut's international airport forced the termination of their various comics publications.
The final Lulu As-Saghira issues of 1975 had included informative pages on various topics such as the UNICEF, as well as game pages and a Matchbox competition. Lulu As-Saghira Issue No. 121 was undated. It was published in late 1975 while the war was tearing up Lebanon. It carried the announcement that the results of the fifth episode of the Matchbox competition would be published in Issue 122. But Issue 122 was never published because of the war. It is not known if its cover or any inside pages were printed then possibly discarded. It is believed that Issue No. 121 was the last issue of the series. Interestingly however, Issue No. 121 (as numbered on its cover) was numbered Issue 122 on the top left corner of its first inside page. This was probably a mistake, but it cannot be ruled out that the inside pages of Issue No. 122 were printed and were used with the cover of Issue No. 121, because the Issue No. 122 cover and Issue No. 121 inside pages were lost in the fighting.
In the late 1970s, a long lull in the fighting and the de facto division of Beirut between the warring factions allowed a semblance of normal life to return, and slowly, publishers who were away from the frontline cautiously resumed their work, helped by the resumption of activity at Beirut airport. Leila Shaheen da Cruz and her team, led by the indomitable production manager Najat Juraydini, decided to go back to work.
One of Al-Matbouat Al-Mousawwara’s periodicals which were stopped by the war was Al-Umlaq (the giant). A single issue had been published in late 1964, and the series had restarted as a quarterly in July 1972, featuring Superman, Al-Watwat, Tarzan and other heroes.
In the late 1970s, Al-Umlaq alone among Al-Matbouat Al-Mousawwara’s series resumed publication, as a 48 pages weekly, hosting the various heroes and superheroes in alternating issues. Superman re-appeared in Al-Umlaq, alternating with Al-Watwat, Buck Rogers, Turok, and Space Family Robinson, of TV's Lost in Space fame. Then Lulu came to Al-Umlaq.
Lulu's first appearances in Al-Umlaq were irregular, starting with Al-Umlaq Issue 15. Lulu appeared next in Issue No. 24, then Issue No. 29, then Issue No. 36.
With Issue No. 36, Lulu became a regular guest of Al-Umlaq, appearing monthly, once every four issues. The next Al-Umlaq Lulu issues were numbers 40, 44, 48, 52, and so on. Lulu's success continued despite occasional savage flare-ups of the war in Lebanon. Al-Umlaq Lulu Issue No. 100 appeared in summer 1978 and Issue No. 200 appeared on 15 June 1980.
The first Al-Umlaq Lulu issues had featured many newly published American Little Lulu comics, but after Issue 200, Al-Umlaq Lulu began reprinting more and more of the stories first published in the Lulu As- Saghira series of 1966-1975. However the covers of the independent series were infrequently repeated and some covers were greatly hilarious and simply moving. On one cover, Lulu tried to take the temperature of a sick tree and put a thermometer in its mouth. On another, she diverted the flow of water from a public fountain to irrigate a lone flower on the pavement.
Al-Umlaq Lulu Issue No. 300 appeared on 3 June 1982 and Issue No. 400 appeared on 31 October 1984.
Al-Umlaq maintained its 48-page format until Issue No. 419, when it adopted the 32- page format. Issue No. 476 was the last two-color issue. From Issue No. 477 until the end, Al-Umlaq was a 32, black-only pages magazine with a color cover.
Issue No. 500 appeared on 1 October 1986. Issue No. 600 appeared on 8 March 1989. Issue No. 700 appeared on 20 May 1992. Issue No. 800 appeared on 24 December 1994 and Issue No. 900 appeared in October 1997.
By then the widespread use of the internet and the availability of countless cartoon DVDs and electronic games had cost Al- Matbouat Al-Mousawwara and most other Arabic comics publishers the bulk of their readership. Issue 894 of Al-Umlaq may have been its last Superman-dedicated issue, but nothing is known about Al-Umlaq issue No. 895. It is not known if it was published. Al-Umlaq Lulu and Al-Umlaq Superman covers were printed separately. It is possible that Al-Umlaq Superman was terminated with Issue No. 894, and the covers of Issues No. 895, No. 897, No. 898 and No. 899, all Al-Umlaq Superman, were not printed or printed and discarded. The covers of Al-Umlaq Lulu No. 896 and No. 900 were printed and used. By the time Umlaq Lulu Issue No. 900 appeared, in October 1997, Superman had already gone. Issues No. 900-908 of Al-Umlaq were all dedicated to Lulu and were published sporadically. Issue No. 908 was the last Al-Umlaq issue. It was published in December 1999. Its gift was a Lulu calendar for the year 2000. Sadly, Lulu As-Saghira did not make it into the new millennium. The final Issue brought to close a string of hilarious and heart-warming stories spanning more than three decades, hundreds of pages and thousands of readers all over the Arab world.