Title: An Iranian Metamorphosis
Author: Mana Neyestani
Release Date: December 2, 2014
Publisher: Uncivilized Books
Genre: Graphic Memoir (Comics), Cultural, Nonfiction
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Mana Neyestani was a cartoonist for a newspaper in Iran, drawing children’s cartoons to amuse his audience. But when one of Neyestani’s cartoons is interpreted as incorrectly insulting a minority population and ends up sparking riots, the Iranian government takes an unhealthy interest in Neyestani and accuses him of trying to incite violence and having a political agenda.
A gripping graphic memoir about one man’s plight when he runs afoul of the Iranian government, An Iranian Metamorphosis has a dark sense of humor that serves it well, keeping this memoir from becoming too dark and heavy.
Imagine being a cartoonist in a country like Iran. Where free speech is a pipe dream, and anything you say or do can be whimsically interpreted by the government as anti-Iran and you will have to suffer the (often dire) consequences. Mana Neyestani knew that he was taking a risk with his job choice, and his biggest goal was to keep his head down and make sure he wasn’t noticed by the authorities. That all changed with one fateful cartoon, as depicted in An Iranian Metamorphosis.
As a cartoonist, Neyestani both writes and illustrates An Iranian Metamorphosis, and it’s a great choice. It’s a serious story, to be sure, with huge ramifications for issues such as free speech and governmental control. In another artist’s hand, the book could have become serious and heavy, a moral lesson for the reader. But because Neyestani is illustrating his own story, he takes a rather humorous approach to his predicament. The black and white art is certainly stark, but his lines have a dose of playfulness. He uses dark humor to describe his situation, and it’s incredibly effective.
Rather than narrating his own story, Neyestani allows another creature to do it for him in An Iranian Metamorphosis: a cockroach. Why a cockroach? Well, there are multiple levels to this. Neyestani uses this insect to illustrate the absurdity of his own story; also, a cockroach is relevant to the cartoon for which he was arrested. But more than that, Neyestani is using the cockroach from Kafka’s Metamorphosis to distance himself from the incredibly painful and difficult situation. It illustrates how low Neyestani got while also leaving him free to poke fun at the situation’s ridiculousness where and when he can.
In some ways, Neyestani’s plight is never ending because once you become a political enemy of Iran, there’s no going back, and that’s illustrated well in the book. If you’re interested at all in modern-day Iran and political issues, this graphic memoir is a must read. This is also a great choice for someone interested in reading more comics but unsure of where to start—graphic memoirs are great entry points into the medium, and this one certainly doesn’t disappoint.