Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Mainstream and Personal: Persia Blues

Persia Blues is an unusual comic that has the veneer of mainstream comics with a deeply personal story. Writer Dara Naraghi is a native Iranian living in the US as an ex-pat; though he has a day job in the IT industry, he's written comics for mainstream publishers like Image, DC and Dark Horse. Artist Brent Bowman has similarly worked for Image as well as Caliber, in addition to doing illustration work. This comic combines magical high adventure about a young woman named Minoo in Persia with a competing narrative about a modern young woman named Minoo struggling living under a religiously oppressive state in Iran. There's some nifty, unexplained high-concept stuff at work here, as the modern world bleeds into Persian Minoo's world; her boyfriend is named Tyler and at one point she claims to be from Columbus before she shakes off that idea. Uneasy relationships with parents and absent parents form the spine of both stories' emotional core, especially an absent mother figure. The fantastical qualities of Persian Minoo gets wrapped up in very specific aspects of Zoroastrian myth, as the benevolent god Ahura Mazda and his evil adversary Ahriman prove to be real and present. Naraghi is clearly really into the details of ancient Persian myths and is bursting at the seams to find a way to incorporate them into this story, while still making an explicitly feminist and secularist statement against the modern fundamentalist state of Iran.

Neither writer nor artist quite have the chops to do this smoothly. Bowman is a fine illustrator, but his figures are stiff and posed in a mainstream comics way. There's little fluidity in terms of panel-to-panel transitions. This is less of an issue in the Persian part of the story, where a heavily grey-scaled world, monsters and other interesting things to look at obscure some of these problems. In the shadeless Iranian story, the way his characters interact with each other in space is awkward, and once again the body language of his characters is too posed. It feels like characters on stage rather than the way people naturally walk, talk and interact. Naraghi's script is very talky and repetitive, as he repeatedly hammers home concepts like the morality police, Minoo chafing under her father's overprotectiveness, the absence of her mother, etc. Again, the script feels just like that: a script for characters in a play rather than a more natural set of interactions. He also engages in dreaded "tell, not show" by doubling up images and text, which is a common problem for writer/artist duos.

All of that said, I found this comic to be compulsively readable because of the creators' sheer enthusiasm. It's clearly a labor of love for both of them (Kickstarter had a hand in getting this comic made, though it's published by NBM) and that shows on every page. There's a richness in detail that Naraghi brings to the story, from the ways in which Iranian families interact to childhood treats to how the Western embargo of Iran didn't affect those who were willing to skirt the law. The same goes with the Persian segment, which quickly grounds its high adventure stakes with religious lore in a way I've never seen done in comics. The parallels between the two narratives are interesting and actually represent the most restraint shown by Naraghi; here, there's more showing than telling in terms of letting the reader make connections. Fundamentally, this first volume of what promises to be a series of books is about a smart, headstrong and slightly emotionally walled-off woman who leaves home to learn something important about herself. There's a lot to like about Persia Blues, and I admire the willingness of the creators to just go for it, even if they don't quite stick the landing.

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