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Persian History Inspires French Comic Book Masters


Report from Paris by Darius KADIVAR  


Comic Books very much like Movies until quite recently have often been set aside as a minor popular art forms never quite achieving the respectability of other more noble artforms like painting, poetry, music or sculpting to name a few. It was probably thanks to Pop Art and its spearhead artists like Andy Warhol or Roy Lichtenstein and even to some degree former Iranian diplomat  Fereydoune Hoveyda  that academic interest for such masters of the genre like Hergé, author of Tintin Adventures, and his colleagues who invented what became known as the French and Belgian Ligne Claire School Style  truly started.


Other styles have since appeared and showcased at various festivals like the prestigious Festival d'Angouleme, and obviously the American Comic genre has distinguished itself while having its share of influence with Disney heroes or Super Heroes like Superman and Batman.


Interestingly in recent years particularly the past two and a half decades French Comic books have also tried to shed light on middle eastern civilizations and particularly Persia. This has been maybe due to the past colonial history of France or Belgium that were also penetrated by Oriental imagery and Mythology due to contacts with the Muslim world and their own rivalries with other Colonial Powers like Great Britain or Germany.


French Kings, President, diplomats, writers and voyagers were to travel to Persia and vice versa. Napoleon and De Gaulle were widely admired in their time for their spirit of independence by Iranians/Persians and continue to be referred to as great leaders who respected Persian culture.  General De Gaulle was particularly impressed by a State visit he made to Iran in the 1960's during which he was to inaugurate the building of a modern extension to the old Razi school. ( See Author's notes).


Maybe some of this cultural and historical interaction including even the Islamic revolution that took root in France's Neuphle Chateau could explain some of this mutual  fascination or curiosity which has had its effect in the graphic artform of French and Belgian comic books.


Interestingly in recent years Marjane Satrapy has turned into a French cultural icon since the publication of her comic book series Persepolis that explores not only the life of a school girl caught in Pre and Post Revolution Iran but also confronted to a culture clash with Western values and culture in an interesting and intellectually challenging way while remaining true to a very personal and simple style very much influenced by the French Belgian Ligne Claire.


In addition and already prior to Satrapy several French pioneers of the French and Belgian Comic Book arena have tried to explore Persian Culture and History through recurrent adventures. This has been the case of two major icons of the French Belgian school of Artists like Jacques Martin who collaborated with the Great Hergé author of the cult Tintin Adventures and Gilles Chaillet who  in turn worked with Martin on his Alix hero.


Below are some of their recent works that have focused on two different era's in Persian History, that of Alix in Ancient Persia and that of Vasco a Medieval knight whose adventures lead him to Medieval Persia.


Each in their way have been based on meticulous historical and social research that make the adventures if not factual at least authentic for any reader interested in Persian Pre-Islamic and Post Islamic History.


Top: The Legendary Hergé Belgian creator of Tintin and French Jacques
Martin creator of Alix collaborated for the Journal de Tintin a weekly magazine
printed in the 60's and 70's that launched an entire generation of comic book
artists. ©Casterman. Bottom: The latest Alix Album by Jacques Martin
introduces life in Persepolis. ©Casterman



Les Voyages d'Alix: Persepolis 


Plot: Persepolis in all its splendor: The Apadana, the Hall of a Hundred Columns, Naghsheh Rostam and Pasargardae are only some of the splendid locations that are recreated by Jacques Martin. We are invited to discover what if felt like to live at the time of King Darius and Xerxes not only amongst the nobility but amongst the inhabitants of the great city. The splendid drawings are supported by a historical information and documents that are accessible for all readers young or old.


PG Warning: Suitable for Ages 10 and over




Upcoming Alix Album in the Series Les Voyages D'Alix : Alexandre le Grand



Les Voyages d'Alix: Alexandre le Grand aka Alexander the Great


Plot: Upcoming Alix Album in the Series Les Voyages D'Alix : Alexandre le Grand. Alix and faithful buddy Enak explore the conquests of Alexander the Great. Contrary to the Alix Adventures, which respect historical chronology, The Voyages of Alix a sort of Time Machine Exploration

with no particular plot but are purpose but to present Ancient Civilizations and historical Characters regardless of chronological Time and Space.


PG Warning: Suitable for Ages 10 and over




Gilles Chaillet worked with Martin on Alix before creating his own hero Vasco
a medieval  knight of the Middle Ages. Two of his adventures are set in Persia
at the time of Bahram Gur when Përsia and the Byzantine Empire were rivals.
Poussiere D'Ispahan aka Sands of Ispfahan and Les Chiens de Bahram Ghör aka
The Dogs of Bahram Gür . ©Le Lombard


Poussiere d'Ispahan aka Sands of Isfahan 


Plot: 14th Century Europe and Persia: Uncle Tolemei, banker is terribly angry ! To think that they dared to disturb his nephew who was about to participate at the Palio Race !  These Byzantines have no manners ! As far as Vasco is concerned he only thinks of winning the race.


 But Destiny will decide otherwise !


Far Away in the land of Persia, in Isfahan, a ruthless Vizir rules through Terror and tyranny. He has also taken hostage a very important personality. Nothing seems to link these two events and yet ...

Who is this mysterious hostage who will drive Vasco and Van Loo to undertake a dangerous trip to the Hostile land where Christians are less than welcome ? What are the true motivations of this cruel Vizir ? ...


All these intrigues and much more  will await you in this album. Vasco will undertake a perilous journey marked by battles, fears and alliances that will challenge the heroes from Sienna to Persia  and Jerusalem. Once Again Gilles Chaillet offers us magnificent and precise reconstructions of the splendid medieval towns of Shiraz and Isfahan. The life and customs, religious and political intrigues and mindset of that distant era come to life. Sienna of the 14th century A.D. in all its opulence of architecture and costumes contrast with the arid climate and landscape of Palestine leading us to the court of Persia and its treasures. The drawings prove once again of the author's desire to combine an in depth historical research with a good story supported by the splendid coloring work of Assistant Chantal Defachelle.


PG Warning: Suitable for All Ages



Les Chiens de Bahram Ghur aka The Dogs of Bahram Ghur


Plot: Second part of Vasco's adventures in Persia, the Dogs of Bahram Gur. Days pass by as the  enemy approaches the city of Isfahan ... Vasco knows that every second counts in order for him to find Sophie . Bahram Gur ( who strangely looks like Leonard Nimoy ) the cruel Vizir confirms that the Byzantine Princess has left the town before its fall. Vasco however is convinced that it is Bahram himself who is holding her hostage somewhere in this mysterious town that is under siege and scrutiny by the personal militia of Bahram Gur who are known as the Dogs of Bahram Gur  by the inhabitants of Isfahan. Will Vasco be able to save his beloved ? And if so in what circumstances ? ...


PG Warning: Sex and Violence reading suitable for age 12 and over


Vasco discovers Lust and Court Intrigues in Gilles Chaillet's Persia of
Bahram Gür ©Le Lombard



Persepolis by Marjane Satrapy


First printed by a little known French edition l'Association, Marjane Satrapi's French Comic book Persepolis has achieved cult status ever since its publication. Widely translated in several languages it remains censored in Persian because of its subversive and outspoken plot. The Album series have been followed by other adventures of Satrapy and Family with such stories as Embroideries and Poulets aux Prunes  exploring issues as taboo in Iran as female sexual pleasures and Freudian obsessions of the author.  Most recently Satrapy has published Sagesses et malices de la Perse and Adjar.


Persepolis will also be a much expected animated movie in 2007 starring Catherine Deneuve, and daughter Chiara Mastroiani in the respective  title roles of Mother and Daughter Satrapy.


PG Warning: Sexual Content and Language makes it only suitable for ages 13 and over



 Marjane Satrapy's French Comic book Persepolis is a much expected
animated movie in 2007 starring Catherine Deneuve who will be dubbing
the voice of Satrapi's mother ©l'Association




If unlike Greek, Roman or Egyptian civilizations, Persia remained to some degree mysterious or unreachable for the Western Mindset, these recent examples prove the ability that a so-called minor artform like comic books has to visually educate us on other cultures and ours in particular.


It is not surprising that cinema in turn has been exploiting this artform thanks to Storyboards that have been widely used by the Spielberg and Luc Besson ( both great admirers of Hergé) generation of filmmakers.



Historical State visits ( see below)  have marked French, Belgian and
Iranian/Persian ties: Above Mozafferedin Shah Qajar coronation and visit to
Contrexeville France in the Petit Journal. Bottom: French Point De Vue covers Shah
and Queen Farah's visits to Belgium and France. ©Pictory



It should be noted that unfortunately  non of the Works of Jacques Martin, Gilles Chaillet or Marjane Satrapy have been translated into Persian. Maybe it is high time to consider this possibility be it by Persian language publishers outside Iran in a near future until the same can one day be done back home in our country Iran.




VIVE LE B.D. (*)






Author's notes :


All Comic books are available on . However Vasco and Alix unlike Satrapi's Persepolis or Hergé's Tintin are not available in English.


(*) B.D. Abbreviation for Bande Dessiné aka Comic Book


(**) Long Live French Persian Friendship !


Recommended Reading: Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis Film Blog by Darius KADIVAR


Recommended Reading: Rostam Super Hero: Popularizing A Persian Myth... by Darius KADIVAR


Recommended Reading: Hergé's Fantasy Kingdom: The Land of the Black Pelican by Darius KADIVAR


Recommended Viewing: President De Gaulle Friendly visit to Iran and greeted at French-Iranian school Razi  in 1963 by Iranian Student who speaks perfect French. Part 2 of President De Gaulle's Visit (YouTube)


About the Author: Darius KADIVAR is a Freelance Journalist, Film Historian, and Media Consultant

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