Iranian Love Stories

Iranian Love Stories is a journalistic look at Iranians in their 20s heavily controlled by a conservative regime. Ten vignettes cover individuals and couples, their dreams, fears, and political angst. Jane Deuxard is the pseudonym of two journalists, a man and a woman, who conducted the interviews that make up the script of the graphic novel. They are also a romantic couple, opening the book by talking about the rings they purchased to make them appear married as part of the costume that would allow them to move freely in Iran, along with the woman’s veil and ¾ length coat. Most of the women in the book, including the blonde female journalist, are shown wearing loose headscarves in public in accordance with the local law. Originally published in 2016 in France, the 1979 Iranian Revolution and the Green Movement of 2009 are discussed by interviewees, but the book predates the political unrest and bloody governmental responses that have occurred in the last 5 years. 

The unspoken word in the title is “forbidden.” The writers sought out specific kinds of stories that are outside of the accepted traditional social structure. One of the brief interludes between profiles shows a handful of people the authors try to talk to giving pat answers such as, “I want a good, pious husband. I’d like an interesting job and children… etc., blah blah blah.” While their work mostly likely does reveal concerns felt by a large swath of Iranian youth, the book makes no attempt to give a balanced look at all Iranians. I appreciate that the authors made their goal clear in their approach. The anger in the stories is targeted at the regime; there’s less discussion of Islam in general. It’s not about bashing Islam. Instead, it’s a nuanced look at the different perspectives of a wide variety of men and women with complex ideas about the roles of men, women, and religion in their lives. No LGBTQ subjects are covered. 

Many of the interviews reveal details of sex lives and purity tests, others focus on family conflicts and precise dances between obeying and breaking laws. It’s stressed many times that simply discussing all of these matters is not allowed, let alone performing the specific acts. In one astonishing vignette, a woman discovers from the authors’ conversation with her partner that he disagrees completely on their future, where they will live, and what their roles will be. She admits to the journalists that, even though they’ve been together for more than a year, they’re allowed so little time to speak openly that she didn’t know how he thought about these things at all. Throughout there are references to revolutions of the past and frustration with the political system, especially a feeling that future mass actions are not worth the danger. It’s jarring to see the degree to which the government is tied to their romantic lives. The stories vary in length and give their characters depth and development. Between each focused profile is a page or two that places in context some of what the journalists had to do to find subjects and their time together, including a stint of being held and questioned about their motives and cavorting in their hotel room. While they are present in all of the discussions, the journalists focus on their subjects’ stories more than their own. 

The art by Deloupy is arresting. With thick lines and a muted color palette, the stories come to life with a dynamism unexpected from largely depicted conversations. He captures a great deal of expression in eyes, mouths, and body language. Backgrounds provide sweeping views from the Isfahan cable cars to stark cemeteries, juxtaposed with claustrophobic interiors. You feel like you’re traveling the country with the journalists. The vignettes each start with the names of the subjects, their ages, and location. The interludes are shown surrounded by a notebook corner, similar to a moleskin, giving the impression of a journal and visually separating the sections. In the stories there are realistic depictions of the lives described as well as political cartoon style flights of fantasy, such as Pez dispenser politicians and arachnid mother-in-laws. The stories unfold in panels without lined borders, often delineated by colored backgrounds or leaving heads and shoulders floating on the page. This adds to the travelogue feel and provides opportunities for a contrasting shock in the moments the images bleed to the edges of the page. The pages are frequently dense with illustration.

This is an excellent addition to any adult nonfiction graphic novel collection. Readers of Marjane Sartrapi and Joe Sacco will especially enjoy it. The subject matter and presence of a few sexually graphic parts make it better suited to adults, though older teens may find it interesting. It could be a deep conversation starter for weighty book clubs and college classes. For a broader comparison of approaches to marriage in Muslim culture, try reading this alongside the bubbly and cartoonish memoir That Can Be Arranged by Huda Fahmy. 

Iranian Love Stories 
By Jane Deuxard
Art by Deloupy
Graphic Mundi, 2021
ISBN: 9781637790045

Publisher Age Rating: 16+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Character Representation: Iranian

Sera and the Royal Stars, Vol. 1

Princess Sera, traveling with her troops in a time of famine and civil war, is recruited by the Indo-Iranian deity Mitra to find and restore the Royal Stars. If she is unable to break the stars’ bonds, death will befall her kingdom of Parsa (Persia). The Bull, the Scorpion, the Fish, and other figures of ancient Persian mythology will join her journey to save Parsa from ultimate destruction and her traitorous uncle Shaheen’s machinations. Or, to hear Sera summarize her situation in the first chapter, “I had my heart replaced with a glowing rock. Then I rescued an ancient star being from a gang of lizard men. I can handle complicated.”

Audrey Mok and Raul Angulo have created an eye-catching monster. Sera & The Royal Stars is too beautiful to resist. Everyone has a symmetrical, expressive face. The outfits always have a flowing element to them, from sashes to hair to those large tassels that come out the back of soldiers’ helmets. Paneling constantly uses cause and effect: a shield is struck in one panel and cracks below in the next. Someone charges forward in one diagonal panel and is challenged by someone running up the opposite direction along the same line. The colors are so damn satisfying that, after originally reading this comic digitally, I also purchased physical issues to check if the uncanny warm/cool color balancing works on the printed page (it does). The use of realistic and supernatural settings, as well as day and night light sources, means a variety of colors for each location. Jim Campbell’s lettering is unobtrusive and allows the visuals to breathe as much as possible. This isn’t just eye candy, it’s a mouthful of your favorite full-sized candy on Halloween.

I am no expert on Persian mythology and cannot evaluate the accuracy or educational value of the figures portrayed; all the same, this is an attractive and compelling story that allows Sera ample opportunities to be strong, bold, stubborn, wistful, sad, assertive, amused, and confused. She must navigate family drama, especially her uncle’s power play for the throne. Supernatural norms emerge as she converses with royal stars and learns how they lost and could possibly regain their strength. The royal stars themselves act as mentors, instigators, teachers, and skilled defenders. Fire and ice magic bloom on the page. Punches, kicks, and blades create swooping lines and blur effects, though the violence is never gratuitous or gory. There is a water spirit who appears with an exposed (blue, translucent) breast on one page. Language is mild, with a couple of “dammits” and little else.

Hand this comic to fans of The Dragon Prince, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Yona of the Dawn, Blackbird, and anything else resembling a gorgeous fantasy adventure. Think of it as Monstress without the M rating and a must-have for your collection.

Sera and the Royal Stars, Vol. 1 
By Jon Tsuei
Art by Audrey Mok
ISBN: 9781939424570
Vault, 2020
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Older Teen (16-18)

Browse for more like this title
Character Traits: Persian
Creator Highlights: BIPOC Creator
Related to…: Inspired by myth