There are so many reasons I wanted to love this book. But I wasn't able to love it as much as I hoped.
I love comics that take me to foreign lands, whether to different countries or to different times and places. Persia Blues takes me both to a different country and to a different time and place. Dara Naraghi and Brent Bowman's new graphic novel has two overlapping storylines. In one narrative we witness a liberal-minded girl, Minoo Shirazi, and her family in conservative modern Iran. In the other we witness the mystic quest of a warrior woman named Minoo who, along with her partner Tyler, fights a range of mystical demons in an undetermined past era as part of their exciting adventures. Together, the two sides seem intended to comment and call back to each other while giving the reader a strong sense of mystery.
I really wanted to get involved in the family's story in Iran. It's always intriguing to read about how people handle life in cultures that are extremely dissimilar to ours, and few cultures are as interesting as modern Iran, in which Sharia law and modern society seem to be in a constant collision. In fact, we're treated to several scenes that directly address those conflicts, as when Minoo makes a new friend who refuses to wear the required headscarf as part of Iranian society.
On top of the societal battles, Minoo is also witness to familial battles. Her father, an art professor at a local University, is continually struggling against the forces of bureaucracy and oppression, always forced to compromise his principles in order to keep some semblance of his family together – though those principles result in a divorce from his longtime wife and to Minoo being sent overseas.
All of this material about the family conflicts could have been good grist for the mill, but unfortunately Naraghi just doesn't quite bring these characters to life. There's too much plothammering in the dialogue of these scenes. The plot doesn't build organically from the characters; instead, it builds because the story needs to flow towards certain scenes. A few well-placed details or personal quirks would really have helped in the believability of the modern sequences.
As well, more detail in the art would have helped in the modern sections of the graphic novel. Too many scenes are placed with awkwardly drawn figures against white backgrounds. There's a sense that Bowman is working out his figure drawing as he works on this book, that he's close to being consistent with his line renderings but keeps missing on them just slightly. It's also frustrating how there are frequent scenes that start out well, with nicely rendered backgrounds and evocative scene settings, but which end up playing out in an odd-looking void of whiteness.
I really wanted to get into the mystical quest element of the story, and here Persia Blues works somewhat better for me. Bowman uses a more illustrative approach to the sections of this book that are set on the quest, providing a wonderful sense of evocative detail. For example, a pride of lions is rendered in a lovely way in one scene while priests and their temples are nicely drawn in others. The art still feels rather awkward, but at its best it reminds me of Gene Colan, full of grace and a beguiling smoothness of line.
I'm less thrilled about the writing in the spiritual quest section, but it's fun and somewhat intriguing, even if the inevitable twist seems obvious (maybe Naraghi has a second twist coming?)
The art in the quest section is intended to contrast with the art in the real-life section; for my tastes, I wish that Bowman had delivered a bit smoother style to the modern half of Persia Blues and gave it a little more vividness at times.
Finally, I really wanted to love this graphic novel because it was funded by Kickstarter and is clearly the realization of the dreams of its creators. I'm a big believer in Kickstarter and in the fascinating breadth of content that you can find on that site. And though that bias might have helped me enjoy this book, Persia Blues wasn't as well-realized as some of the items I've found there.
This is volume one of a three-part graphic novel series, and there are signs that the creators are finding better footing as the book moves towards its end. I'm optimistic that the next two parts of this book will be more interesting than this one. At the very least you have to give credit to Dara Naraghi and Brent Bowman for trying something very different from what we usually find in comics.