Ink on the Side

Sareen Akharjalian-Ink on the Side

Sareen Akharjalian is a computer programmer who spun her love of drawing into the popular web comic Ink on the Side. Though it remains her dedicated hobby (hence the name), she feels a responsibility to speak her mind, and targets society’s heaviest subjects in her unwavering quest to make people laugh. Life seen through Sareen’s eyes is never boring, but readers beware. Sareen leaves no one outside the joke.

1) When did you first start drawing?

 If we’re talking about the website and my online blog, it was in 2010. I honestly didn’t have much direction when I started out, but I’ve always just drawn what I know, or what annoys me the most [laughs]. Like in high school, I would draw comics about a bunch of high school kids, and I used to draw for my university newspaper. I’m actually a software developer, so I started the blog with a lot of computer jokes, geek jokes. But the thing is, it takes 4-5 hours to draw a comic, so I really wanted them to say something. I started drawing more about relationships, then political issues, and currently, I’m thinking a lot about social media. It’s really where I am in my life at that particular moment.

2) Why do you choose humor as your outlet of expression?

Well, because everyone complains. Being Lebanese, it’s our past time. But the thing is, after complaining, you need to get rid that stress, and for me, after a long tiring day, there’s nothing better than a sitcom or a comedy show. I love to laugh. And I love making jokes about the problems that we’re facing, because when you make a joke, it makes it feel okay to have that problem in the first place. And in the end, we all have the same problems, we’re all experiencing the same things, and making fun of it is actually a way to connect to other people.

3) What is the impact of one voice, or your voice?

Well, I try to choose subjects that push people to think about very tough topics, so for example, I’ve drawn comics about racism, and it drew a big debate on Facebook. People agreed with the comic, and others didn’t see the problem with treating different people differently.  So it’s not just one comic, one voice, but actually the collective voices of everyone who shares the comic and gives their opinion.

4) What has been the public’s reacting to the comics?

There’s a very very supportive community that follow the comics, and there are a lot of people who comment on a regular basis. And they’re not all saying, oh, way to go. People are really insightful, and they do voice their own opinions. On the other hand, its not just people in the Arab world who are reading the site. People say things like, we didn’t know Lebanon doesn’t have electricity 24 hours a day, or wow, women dress like that? So its been very interesting to see how stereotypes weaken because of the comic itself. It’s really opened up the world for me.

5) But are you ever afraid of offending anyone? Is there a point when humor goes too far?

I am very careful with what I draw. Whenever have something controversial in mind, I also ask different people’s opinion before publishing it, because I don’t want to draw something that offends a certain group of people, certain religious groups, certain political groups. I want a balanced opinion in my comics, and I think its more fun to make fun of everyone. We all have skeletons in our closets.   

6) What is the biggest obstacle facing the young generation?

I think the biggest obstacle is apathy. With all the connectivity that we have, with social media and everything, we’re becoming more disconnected emotionally. We’re seeing a lot of problems in the Arab world, and no one is moving, no one is doing anything about it. It’s like, click like if you want to help this poor person, click like and they will feel better. I sound like an 80 year old woman, and I’m worried that I’ve become a bit cynical myself. If anything, these past couple of years have shown our potential, what our generation can do, but we have to take things into our own hands, doing charity work, giving back to our own cities and communities. Not everything is just a click away.

7) What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?

I would say, don’t be scared. When I first started out, I was worried about people’s opinions, so I drew what would please everyone, what people wanted to hear. And I do want to continue to make people laugh. That’s what keeps me going.  But now I say what’s really on mind, and I’m not afraid of making a point. Otherwise what is the point?


To read more of Sareen’s comics, visit her website, or find her on Facebook and Twitter.