young Mahmoud Kahil and his eldest sister

Mahmoud Kahil was born in Tripoli, North Lebanon in 1936. He discovered a talent for caricature at a very young age and soon after starting his studies at the American University of Beirut, he changed paths and worked as a graphic designer in an advertising agency in Beirut. Kahil then joined the weekly magazine "Al Usbu Al-Arabi" as a layout designer where his first cartoons were published. He produced his early cartoons in the 1960's while working with various publications as an Art Director, but it wasn't until the early 1970's that he dedicated all his time to drawing editorial cartoons, mainly in colour, for the political weekly English-language magazine Monday Morning.

Monday Morning magazine cover 1978

In 1967, Kahil, along with Farid Salman and Roro Breidi, began producing the ambitious and futuristic newsreel series, Actualitées Libanaises exclusively for major cinemas in Hamra, Beirut. The three artists would film the audience entering the cinemas and rush back to the lab, develop the footage and then screen the clips back to the audience before the film began. In producing the series, Kahil became the first cartoonist to draw live events for the audience on the big screen. Actualitées Libanaises is considered one of the best filmed newsreels in the region, archiving the history of Lebanon as it unfolded.

frame grab from Actualités Libanaises

Up until the outbreak of the civil war in Lebanon in 1975, Kahil was able to publish his work in several renowned publications, including the English-language newspaper The Daily Star. The war prevented him from pursuing his career as a cartoonist and in 1979 he left to  London where he began working with Asharq Al-Awsat, Arab News and Al-Majalla magazine. Kahil also became the chief cartoonist for the monthly English-language journal Middle East International.

From the heart of London, Kahil was able to better reach the world with his biting humour. During the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, some of his best drawings were exhibited to great acclaim.

He gradually developed a style where visuals were more important than words. Many of his fans will remember his scathing cartoons of former Israeli Prime Minister Menachim Begin and Israeli Defence Minister Ariel Sharon - all recurring sources of Kahil's satire.

He is also remembered for the small, black crow that used to appear in all of his earlier cartoons. 'The crow was a symbol of the wayward state of Arab politics.' (Ghassan Joha, Star Staff Writer)
In the early 1990's Kahil suddenly stopped drawing his crow. Many believed and agreed that he was particularly upset at the deterioration of Arab political relations, that was aggravated by the 1991 Gulf War. He was once quoted saying that his cartoons are a reflection of what is taking place on ground. 'After the Gulf war, Kahil believed the crow was no longer needed since the Arab state of affairs was locked in a pool of stagnation.' (Ghassan Joha, Star Staff Writer)

"Kahil was at heart a humanist. He cared for the poor, the oppressed and the dispossessed. It did not matter what the ethnic or religious beliefs these people held," wrote Arab News' Editor in Chief, Khaled Al-Maeena in Kahil's obituary.

Mahmoud Kahil drawing in his office in London

His pen and paper were his solitary weapon in fighting oppression and wrongdoing. He also saw it as a way of searching for the truth which lies inevitably behind closed doors.

He was a great supporter of the Palestinian people and their just cause for independence.

His most lasting and important legacy as an effective cartoonist is the way in which his caricatures, with remarkable simplicity, familiarized the world with the Arab reality and highlighted the issues that are vital for the Arab people.

Kahil was a visual journalist, educating as much as entertaining. Whether his readers agreed or disagreed with Kahil's views, his cartoons left a lasting impression. They were intelligent, sometimes painful and sometimes amusing, but above all, always insightful and thought-provoking.

Mahmoud Kahil died unexpectedly at the age of 66 from complications during surgery in London on the 11th of February, 2003.