Monday, March 10, 2014

Persia Blues, Book 1: Leaving Home

Folks might remember me sharing the Kickstarter link for this work some time ago, and I finally got around to reading the physical book that I received after pledging my support and the project was funded. I am glad to report that the finished product is beautiful, unique, and quite compelling.

There are two narratives in play in this book, both starring Minoo Shirazi. The first occurs in the present in modern Iran, a strict, conservative, and oppressive country where being a free-thinking woman brings many frustrations and potential perils.
The other(?) Minoo lives in a fantastic world that melds history and legend into one. She is an adventurer in the vein of Conan, fighting the good fight against oppressors and evil magicians, contending against mythical beasts, and searching for meaning, shelter, and fortune.
The present day Minoo also has to deal with her family, mostly her overbearing father, who tries to encourage her intellectual pursuits, is just as frustrated at the current regime as she is, and wants to make sure his daughter is protected and prepared to deal with the realities of contemporary Iran. 
The conflicts of the past/present and East/West weave through both narratives, and they combine to paint a powerful picture of the many issues facing these individuals and the social systems in which they live. Certainly, this book touches upon many of the themes of  Persepolis and begs some comparison with its focus on coming up in a repressive society and also its explicit references to the ancient classical capital. Persia Blues is much more explicit with its symbolism and gives a sense of a past that is not simply utopian but also fraught with obstacles and oppression. Satrapi's book is slightly less nuanced, I'd argue, with regard to the past being set up clearly as the better alternative to the present, the good old days. The fantasy setting and lush painterly art style of the past in this book might convey that message as well, but that past is also presented as problematic in its own ways. In any case, I get the sense that these creators feel there are no easy solutions to these situations and that a simple return to an idyllic past is impossible.

In the end I cannot say for certain how the rest of this narrative will compare with that "modern classic." This book is part of an incomplete series, and  I seek more resolution. On one hand, this volume does not complete the narrative, and is the first of a proposed trilogy, and I am very intrigued to see how the parallel narratives play out and intersect or diverge in later volumes. On the other, the incomplete story makes me wonder where the creators are going and if all my theories about meaning are warranted. I have a difficult time not trusting them to stick the landing though, given how much nuance and meaning they have created thus far.

This book was created by writer Dara Naraghi and artist Brent Bowman. Naraghi self-publishes some of his work for Ferret Press, and he is also known for works from Dark Horse, Image, and DC Comics. I have met him at a comics convention and enjoyed his PANEL: Ferret Press anthologies. He is a friendly, talented, and thoughtful guy, and I wish him every success. Bowman is a freelance comics artist/illustrator, and you can view more of his non-comics art here. His dual art styles in this book are impressive, and I hope this book brings more attention to his artistic abilities. Both creators speak about their collaboration generally and specifically on this book in this interview. Naraghi speaks about the book and the process of using Kickstarter to fund it in this interview.

A 2014 YALSA Great Graphic Novels for Teens Nominee, Persia Blues has been well reviewed. John Hogan dubbed the book "a huge treat." CBR's Greg Burgas called it "a solid beginning with a lot of cool cultural tropes that we don’t usually see because we’re not reading comics about Iran." Win Wiacek summed up, "Engaging, rewarding and just plain refreshingly different, Persia Blues looks set to become a classic in years to come."

There are previews, author information, and a whole lot more at the book's official page. This first volume was published by NBM.

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