By Dara Naraghi & Brent Bowman (NBM/ComicsLit)
We do it for fame, we do it for fortune (or at least to pay bills), we do it for fun but all of us primarily make comics because we absolutely have to. Every story we hear, each pedestrian observation provokes the reaction â€œhow would I break that down into panels? How many to a page?â€â€¦
All real world input â€“ from shopping lists to bad TV – is taken in, screened through an internal grid and then we worry about how weâ€™ll draw the damn thing. One dayâ€¦
All creative people are a little bit chained to their art-form, and Iranian ex-pat Dara Naraghi far more so than most. As well as his own celebrated BigCityBlues comic he keeps busy adapting licensed properties such as Robert Pattersonâ€™s Witch & Wizard novels, Terminator: Salvation, It! The Terror From Beyond Space and Ghostbusters into comics form, writing for DC, Image and IDW and running his own publishing house Ferret Press.
His breakthrough graphic anthology Lifelike set new standards for expressive exploratory tale-telling and he was a founding member of comics creators collective PANEL. He also scripts (and occasionally draws) utterly wonderful tales covering every aspect of the human experience from wild fantasy to chilling slice-of-life in a splendid series of webcomics.
Artist and illustrator Brent Bowman has created art for the Age of Empires collector card game and worked at Caliber Press and Image Comics. He too is a member of PANEL, devoted to pushing the envelope (probably after covering it with doodles and sketches) of graphic narrative.
Together they have begun a series of graphic novels implausibly blending real-world reportage with high fantasy in a manner both intriguing and captivating.
Persia Blues: Leaving Home introduces spirited young woman Minoo Shirazi who has a history of troublemaking in two worldsâ€¦
Far away and long ago a bold warrior with an inexplicable magical power is battling beside her lover against brigands and worse to retrieve a holy book in the heyday of the Persian Empire.
Four years ago in Shiraz, Iran, forthright and independent architecture student Minoo meets another rebellious, frustrated young woman and cleverly outwits the Ayatollahâ€™s Morality Police when they accuse the girls of immodesty â€“ a pretty serious crime in a state that appears to hate women and fear individualismâ€¦
In Ancient Persia the war woman returns the sacred Avesta to a venerable cleric at Zoroasterâ€™s Fire Temple and learns about the eternal struggle between the light of Ahura Mazda and dark, evil Ahriman, before somehow lapsing into a bitter argument with the parochial paternalistic priest.
Back in Iran, Minoo gets home safely but word of her brush with the authorities has reached her father. Loving but scared, once-eminent history professor Bijan Shiraz provokes a very similar argument with much the same result. This wise man has reason to fear.
Every day he fights a losing battle as religious fundamentalists slowly destroy his overweening passion, rewriting and revising the grand and glorious history of Persia to suit the self-serving demands of a theocratic, clerical dictatorship. With his wife and son gone, Bijan cannot bear the thought that his wilful daughter might also be lost to himâ€¦
In the days of Zoroaster, the sex-fuelled, shamelessly exhausted slumber of barbarian Minoo and her lover Tyler is shattered when she experiences a horrifying vision. Rushing to the FireTemple, they discover the priest on the verge of expiring, claiming with his last breaths that Ahriman himself was his killer.
He makes her promise to voyage to the distant capital Persepolis and discloses that Minooâ€™s long-lost mother is there. Although Minoo refuses to believe the dying manâ€™s delusions, when a giant, wingless talking Hippogriff (an Opinicus?) appears she has no choice but to accept the prediction and the questâ€¦
Iran 18 years ago: seven year old Minoo has a furious tantrum on learning that she must now wear a Hijab whenever she goes outside. The government edict applies to all girls starting school, and the childâ€™s explosive reaction prompts a fight between her father and mother Manijeh. Eventually, however, Mumâ€™s pragmatic wisdom and Dadâ€™s gentle humour calm the tense situationâ€¦
In Persia, swordswoman Minoo is equally reluctant to bow to authority but just as susceptible to reason as the Hippogriff decrees that she will play a key part in the battle between good and evil and must accept her fateâ€¦
Now minus six years: teen rebel Minoo is playing fast and loose with a flashy rich punk from Tehran. When her furious father furiously ejects the lecher another row erupts and his daughter throws in his face her lack of choice and opportunity under the Mullahs – a crushing blow to a man who almost lost his life defending personal freedom and intellectual libertyâ€¦
Four days have passed in Ancient Persia and, as Tyler and Minoo dutifully attend the funeral rites of the murdered holy man, appalling Ahriman himself appears and sets a pride of lions on the questersâ€¦
In oppressed Iran 15 years ago, Bijan and Manijeh are having a terrible fight. She wants the family to leave but the scholar refuses to leave the proud history of Persia in the hands of revisionist maniacs. Minoo eavesdrops from outside, terrified hr parents are divorcing, but older brother Ramin soon calms her and assuages her fearsâ€¦
Near death but reluctant to harm innocent beasts, Minoo is astounded when Ahura Mazda manifests and rewards their forbearance with healing light and sage adviceâ€¦
Three years ago in the Shirazâ€™ Vakil Bazaar, Minoo and her father discuss her recent graduation. Her prospects have long been a brittle bone of contention, and she cannot accept the confirmed intellectualâ€™s argument that she should pursue a Masterâ€™s Degree. Not in a country that openly suppresses choice and opportunity for womenâ€¦
She is utterly astounded when her father reveals he has changed his mind and will use all his resources, contacts and waning influence to secure her a University place outside Iran. If the government will let her leave, that isâ€¦
Just outside Persepolis, Tyler and Minoo encounter the legendary Anusiya battling an horrific army of scorpion men. Dashing to join the hard-pressed Persian Royal Guard, their warrior spirits and battle savvy turn the tide and the grateful soldiers escort them to an audience with the Emperorâ€¦
In Iran the family are gossiping; shocked that Minoo wonâ€™t come out of her room to join the Saal. No matter how upset or modern she might be, a dutiful daughter should be present at the one-year anniversary ceremony to commemorate the death of her motherâ€¦
â€¦Or rather Empress. Purandokht is Queen and Protector of the Persian Empire and would know to whom the realm owes thanksâ€¦
This is a tale of interconnected contrasts with the modern flashback scenes rendered in stark black line and the fantastic magical Persian adventure rendered in lush, painterly pencil-grey tones. Moreover, although the general dialogue and idiom is what youâ€™d expect in an historical drama, Tyler and mystic Minoo only speak like American twenty-somethingsâ€¦
Our suspicions are further tweaked by the brace of Epilogues in which the wandering warriors reveal to Purandokht that they are from â€œColumbusâ€â€“ who has her own shocking personal revelation for the woman warrior â€“ whilst in Shiraz two years ago Minoo joyously learns that she will be attending the University of Ohio in Americaâ€¦
Gleefully melding past and present, fact and fiction, this introductory volume revels in exploiting reader expectation and confusion to craft a beguiling multi-layered tale about family, responsibility, guilt, oppression and the hunger for independence that carries the reader along, promoting wonder and second-guessing whilst weaving a tapestry of mystery.
Weâ€™ll all have guesses about whatâ€™s really happening but Naraghi and Bowman wonâ€™t be telling any secrets too soon.
Engaging, rewarding and just plain refreshingly different, Persia Blues looks set to become a classic in years to come.
To Be Continuedâ€¦
Â© 2013 Dara Naraghi and Brent Bowman.