Belt magazine on Persia Blues

Belt Magazine is an online publication with a focus on life and culture in the “rust belt.” Since 2013, they’ve featured essays, longform journalism, op-eds, and reviews of works by creators from the industrial Midwest. And they just ran a nice article on Persia Blues, entitled Graphically Persian in Ohio: Novel Adventures from Columbus Artists.

Here’s a snippet of what they had to say about Brent Bowman’s art in the book:

This combination noir and penny-dreadful background is apparent in the pages of Persia Blues, which alternates visual styles: ancient Persia is dark and moody, as if the story is coming to us from a great distance full of smudged shadow and deep recesses of sky; modern Iran is primarily depicted in line drawings with brightly lit, page-white backgrounds, as if we are watching reality TV.

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I like the author’s theory as to the central mystery of the book’s dual settings. I won’t say whether he’s on the right track or not, but give it a read and see if you agree. Or do you have your own theories?

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    S.P.A.C.E. Prize winner Persia Blues returns with volume 2

    I, along with co-creator and artist Brent Bowman, were honored to have Persia Blues vol. 1 win the 2014 S.P.A.C.E. Prize for best graphic novel at the Small Press & Alternative Comics Expo. And I’m even happier to announce that the long-awaited second volume of the trilogy is hitting the shelves in a week or so!

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    In case you hadn’t had a chance to check out the solicitations, here’s what you can expect in volume 2:

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    Minoo Shirazi’s mysterious double life continues to unfold across 2,000 years of history in the second installment of the Persia Blues series.

    In the fantastical world of ancient Persia, the shock of discovering a piece of her past is overshadowed by the imminent invasion of Ahriman’s armies. Only by finding the empire’s champion, Rostam, can she hope to turn back the tide of evil.

    While in the modern world, Minoo’s life unfolds in Iran and America – where she has recently begun her graduate studies – as she deals with her stern father, dying mother, lost brother, and new American boyfriend. Across myths and modern realities, we delve deeper into the truth of Minoo’s life.

    Here are a few pages of art:

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    For a longer preview, as well as reviews and interviews, please drop by the official Persia Blues website.

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      On the Road in Iran

      Here’s a lyrical and beautiful essay about a road trip in Iran, by Bijan Roghanchi.

      ‘Hum of soft rubber over asphalt’: on the road in Iran
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      “At Kandovan, a village built directly into the mountains, I made a confession, the type you can make only to someone on the road. It was a confession born in the bond that comes from hours of silence and the hum of soft rubber over asphalt. And then there were no more roads left except the one we had come down and it was time to go back home.”

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        Pilgrims and water parks in Iran’s holy city of Mashhad

        The Guardian newspaper has a fascinating read about Iraqi Shia pilgrims visiting Mashhad, in Iran: Prayer, food, sex and water parks in Iran’s holy city of Mashhad.

        Mashhad

        During my childhood in Iran, and a couple of subsequent visits, I’ve been to several of the key cities, like Isfahan and Shiraz. But I’ve never been to Mashhad, and in fact all I knew of it was its reputation as a “holy city,” due to its many theological schools, as well as housing the tomb of Imam Reza, the eighth Shia Imam. But the juxtaposition of that image with the one painted by this article, of touristy theme parks and sex workers, is quite interesting.

        “Mehdi also comments on Iraqi men who come to Mashhad looking to patronize the city’s sizeable population of sex workers, many of which conduct business through a Shia system of ‘temporary marriage’ known in Iran as sigheh.”

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          Persia Blues wins 2014 SPACE prize for Best Graphic Novel

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          I’m thrilled to announce that Persia Blues, my graphic novel with artist Brent Bowman, has won the 2014 SPACE Prize in the graphic novel category!

          As in previous years, the winners were picked by two rotating judges and the registered SPACE 2014 exhibitors themselves. I’d like to extend my congratulations to the winners in the other categories, as well as all the nominees.

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          This book has been a true labor of love for me, and Brent and I have poured a lot of our time and energy into its creation. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, in creating Persia Blues, I wanted to showcase a little of Iran’s rich culture, from cuisine to architecture to literature, and also give readers a sense of its thousands of years of history and tradition. But more importantly, I wanted to tell a very human story, featuring a smart, capable, complex protagonist.

          We will have an art display at this year’s S.P.A.C.E., showcasing original art from the upcoming vol. 2 of the book. The show takes place in Columbus, Ohio on April 11 & 12, 2015.

          Now coming up on its 16th year, S.P.A.C.E. (Small Press & Alternative Comics Expo) is the Midwest’s longest running exhibition of small press, creator owned, and art comics. It’s also Columbus’ only locally owned and operated comics show. Sponsored by Back Porch Comics.

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            Persia Blues: “Here and Now” flash fiction

            When I did the Kickstarter campaign for volume 1 of Persia Blues, one of the reward levels was an original piece of flash fiction by me, handwritten inside the published book. When all was said and done, 11 people earned the reward.

            Interesting factoid: in today’s world of technology, where we’re used to typing the vast majority of our correspondences, it’s a bit of a shock when you hand write a 300 word story 11 times and realize there are muscles in your hand you haven’t exercised in that capacity in a long, long time.

            Anyway, I wanted to share the story with the rest of you out there. It’s about our lead protagonist, Minoo Shirazi, a young Iranian woman living in Shiraz.

            Art by Brent Bowman

            Art by Brent Bowman

            “Here and Now”

            by Dara Naraghi

            Minoo placed a sugar cube between her lips and sipped her tea through it, savoring the aroma wafting off the hot beverage. The coffee house was packed, mostly with her fellow university students. The venue advertised its free wifi and homemade fresh pastries, but the younger crowd mainly came to socialize with the opposite sex, in the relatively private atmosphere of the shop, away from the prying eyes of the morality police.

            Her laptop screen was lit up with multiple windows – news sites from outside Iran, her favorite gaming cheat site, an online political forum – but Minoo’s attention was focused elsewhere. A group of four young men sat a few tables away, drinking tea, smoking a hookah, and discussing the latest trends in structural design. She knew the oldest one, Reza. He was an architectural student, like her.

            And she had quite the crush on him.

            Not that she could do anything about it. Not under the strict Islamic laws governing public behavior. And not with an overprotective father at home.

            But today, none of that mattered. True, her life was what it was, with all its unfairness and limitations. But she had decided that morning, rather uncharacteristically, to try and focus on the positive. On the here-and-now.

            And so, Reza, with his jet-black hair and hazel eyes, with his perfect amount of facial stubble, and his crooked, yet handsome smile…Reza was her here-and-now. She would sit in the back of the coffee shop and steal furtive glances at him, and listen to his passionate advocacy for sustainable architecture. And she would let her mind wander, and fantasize about him, and her, and what if…what if…

            For today, at least, no law or tradition or morality police could take that away from her.

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              Happy Nowruz – Persian New Year

              Today is the vernal equinox, the first day of spring. Which means it’s also the start of the Persian New Year, known as Nowrūz in Iran (pronounced no-rooz, literally “new day”). You can read all about this 3000 year old celebration, and its associated festivities and practices, on Wikipedia.

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              My favorite part as a child growing up in Iran was Chaharshanbe Suri, which is celebrated on the last Wednesday of the year, prior to the new year. Bonfires are lit and everyone celebrates by jumping over the fire, singing a verse that translates roughly into “take my sickly yellow, and give me your fiery red.” Fireworks and firecrackers are also involved, so you can just imagine how much fun it would be for a kid, not to mention the adults.

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              The most ubiquitous mark of Nowrūz is the traditional table setting known as Haft-Seen, where seven items starting with the letter “S” in Farsi are arranged in a decorative and festive manner.

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              Nowrūz was officially registered on the UNESCO List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2009. In 2010, the UN’s General Assembly recognized the International Day of Nowruz.

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              So even if you’re not Iranian, take a moment out of your day to celebrate the coming of spring, and Happy Nowrūz!

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                Todd Klein likes “Caspian”

                Legendary comics letterer Todd Klein reviews Dark Horse Presents #18, and has these kind words to say about the story I wrote, with art by Victor Santos:

                “Memories of the Caspian” is an autobiographical tale, something DHP seems to do periodically, and a fascinating one about growing up on the shores of the Caspian Sea, and coming back to it much later as an adult. Fine writing by Dara Naraghi, great art by Victor Santos.

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                Thanks Todd! We have plans for a few more autobio stories, as soon as we both find the time.

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                  Marjane Satrapi gallery show

                  If you happen to live in Paris, then you should definitely check out Iranian-born cartoonist Marjane Satrapi’s first solo art exhibit at Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont.

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                  Satrapi is of course well known for her autobiographical graphic novel Persepolis, which she also co-directed the Oscar-nominated animated film of. These days, she’s spending more of her time working on books and movies, but she started wanting to be a painter before falling into cartooning.

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                    Electronic contact lenses, Terminator style

                    So a few years ago, I wrote a comic book based on the popular Terminator movies. One Iranian playing with a work of science fiction, if you will.

                    But here’s another Iranian tangentially related to Terminator, this time working in the field of actual science: Professor Babak Parviz of the University of Washington has developed a proof-of-concept contact lens that displays visual feedback right in front of the wearer’s eye.

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                    For a brief overview of his work, check out this short article on PopSci. But if you’d like to get a lot more in-depth and technical, read this rather lengthy article written by Mr. Parviz himself, over at the IEEE Spectrum website.

                    In the Terminator movies, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character sees the world with data superimposed on his visual field—virtual captions that enhance the cyborg’s scan of a scene. In stories by the science fiction author Vernor Vinge, characters rely on electronic contact lenses, rather than smartphones or brain implants, for seamless access to information that appears right before their eyes.

                    These visions (if I may) might seem far-fetched, but a contact lens with simple built-in electronics is already within reach; in fact, my students and I are already producing such devices in small numbers in my laboratory at the University of Washington, in Seattle.

                    I love how the best and brightest scientists and engineers all seem to be inspired by works of science fiction.

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                      “Caspian” Story in Dark Horse Presents #18

                      I was quite happy with my first autobiographical short story for Dark Horse Presents, which was published in issue #4 (September, 2011). It received some good reviews, and it’s always fun for me to work with frequent collaborator Victor Santos. So earlier this year, I email Victor to see if he had the time and was interested in doing another similar story. The answer was yes, so I sent him a page of script, and then put together a simple 1-page proposal to send to Dark Horse publisher and DHP editor, Mike Richardson.

                      The pitch went out at the beginning of March, 2012, along with this sample page:

                      51 minutes after emailing the pitch, I received a simple reply from Mike: “I am up for this.” Hands down, my fastest approval, ever.

                      So Victor and I went to work. Besides finishing the script, I also had to find many photo references for him. For this, I used a combination of scans of photos I had taken myself during my trip back to Iran in 2009, plus a few I found online. Victor did his usual magic penciling the pages, and we then worked together to tweak each page through the various stages to completion.

                      I thought it would be fun to share the process from start to finish on one of the pages for you. So here it is, page 5, starting with my script:

                      Page 5

                      Suggested Page Layout: 5 widescreen

                      Panel 1: Wide. Bird’s eye view of a narrow 2-lane mountain road zigzagging across the dry, rocky landscape. (see Ref_photos5.jpg, or lots of good general reference photos for the road to the Caspian here)

                      Caption: I have equally vivid memories of making the 4-5 hour trip from Tehran to the Caspian, on the long, winding road that cut across the Alborz Mountains.

                      Panel 2: View of the scenery as it would be seen from the car: majestic mountain ranges in the background, beautiful rock formations in the foreground. Also, if you can manage it, place the funny “car going over the edge of a cliff” sign on the road (see Ref_photos4.jpg).

                      Caption: The non-Caspian side the mountains is dry and arid, but no less spectacular.

                      Panel 3: Shot of Young Dara and cousins sitting outside by a roadside café (PhotoRef1, PhotoRef2), enjoying a sandwich and Coca Cola from a bottle.

                      Caption: We would usually stop halfway at a nice little roadside café for lunch or a snack.

                      Panel 4: View of the “avalanche protector” structure over a section of the road, as seen in the reference picture in Ref_photos4.jpg.

                      Caption: I loved seeing the protective structures at key spots along the route, designed to protect the cars in case of a rock slide or avalanche.

                      Panel 5: Show a line of cars waiting about 20 feet from the entrance to the one-way Kandovan Tunnel (PhotoRef1, PhotoRef2). Note: these pictures are newer, from when the tunnel was widened to 2 lanes. Use them as general reference for the shape of the opening, but draw it smaller, because during my time it was only one-lane wide and cars would have to wait on each side and take turns going through.

                      Caption: But the biggest attraction of the trip was always the trip through the Kandovan Tunnel.

                      (The places in the script where it mentions phrases like PhotoRef1 were hyperlinks to pictures or websites with the appropriate photo references for the scene.)

                      And here is Victor’s rough pencils for the same page:

                      I didn’t have any changes to suggest, as it all looked good to me. So the next step was to ink the page, and then throw on some colors. Per our last story, I asked that he use a very limited color palette, almost monochromatic. Given the subject matter of this story, we decided to go with blues and greens. Here is the original colored page:

                      At this stage, I suggested toning down the green, and adding in some blue highlights, as I felt the original art was being overwhelmed by the colors. Victor agreed, and turned in this second version:

                      Perfect. It was now in my court to do the lettering, which I did using Adobe Illustrator, and the font “Silver Age” from the Blambot site, designed by Nate Piekos:

                      When lettering my own stories, I tend to do a lot of editing and rewrites at this stage. In the page above, you can notice some changes made to the caption text from the original script, most notably in panel 4.

                      And just for fun, here are a couple of my photos that I had sent Victor to use as reference:

                      And finally, here’s the cover for DHP #18, in which our story was published (November 26, 2012):

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