Imagine Rostam, the legendary hero of Ferdowsi’s Shahnameh of more than 1,000 years ago, almost forgotten and unknown, coming back to life to fight enemies and pride Iran. When childhood friends Bruce Bahmani, Jamie Douraghy, and Cameron Douraghy came up with the idea of recreating Rostam’s tales into comic strips, that’s exactly what they aimed to do: to reawaken Rostam’s legacy. Five years in the making, the comics, vivaciously animated by Karl Altstaetter, have become a milestone in the re-presentation of the Shahnameh. Aimed at non-Iranians and Iranian youth who have not been exposed to the literature, the comics introduce a part of the richness of the Iranian culture that has been buried under negative representations.“One of the original goals when we launched this project, was to reach a broader audience and show them that there is so much more depth and richness to our culture, than what they are bombarded with in the news,” the creators told Oziran. And their attempt has been successful and a “real mind opener for some.”
While the creators have introduced this great Iranian literature to the West, they have done so by breaking many stereotypes that the West associates with Iran. For instance, at first sight, the characters do not appear ‘Iranian,’ in the traditional sense, in their appearance or attire. This was a deliberate attempt on the part of the creators to break traditional expected boundaries by altering the characters’ appearance to a universal non-specific locale. However, the dialogue makes up for that, as the characters refer to Iran, and even use specific Persian words such as Pahlavan, Daleer, and Sheytoon to express themselves. More importantly, the comics re-introduce Iranians, considerably different to the negative image associated with them over the last several decades. “In this era of negative stereotypes, it is refreshing to have an Iranian hero that embodies characteristics such as valour, honour, loyalty, strength, kindness, and humility.”The hard work in creating the comics, has not only taken the Iranian and non-Iranian comic fans by storm, but has been deeply supported by the Iranian community. In fact, as the creators told Oziran, the springboard for the project was grants received from two Iranian foundations.
In 2006, Bruce, one of the creative forces of the team, was recognised and received the Persian Golden Lioness Award from the World Academy of Arts Literature and Media for “Best Literary Achievement in a Comic Book.” Ironically, these English comics of a great Persian literature have had a great reception from within Iran. After an interview on satellite television, which was also broadcast in Iran, the creators were bombarded with emails from Iran, some of the best coming from provincial cities like Ardabil, demanding to know how they could get copies. Even though the creators told Oziran that they would like to translate the comics into Persian, “not only for the home market, but for Persian speaking people all over the world,” they have no definite plans of translation as of yet. There are two printed editions in circulation: Tales from the Shahnameh and Return of the King, with a third and a fourth in the making.
The creators also hope to bring to life other important characters and stories from the Shahnameh, however, the development of further issues depends on the support of the fans. “At the end of the day, it will be our readers and fans who will ensure the continuation of this project by actively supporting the books.” Though, we should be expecting great things from this creative group as they feel that they have only just scratched the surface. Rostam: Tales From the Shahnameh can be purchased from www.TheShahnameh.com