David Portelli: Hi I'm David from the State Library of Victoria, and I'm joined by Cameron Douraghy, one of the creators of the Rostam: Tales from the Shahnameh comic series. And Cameron, why did you choose the Shahnama and stories about the character Rostam, to adapt into a comic series?
Cameron Douraghy: Basically as a child growing up in Iran, I was … I am half American, half Iranian, as well as my brother and another childhood friend who comes from the same background, we had grown up in the '70s in Iran and while we were growing up, just like any other child going to school, we went and as we were studying Persian we would go to the Persian literature classes, and one of our requirements was studying the Shahnama as well as Firdausi. And this is how we were first exposed to it. At the same time as kids growing up in Iran, we also loved comic books, and had been reading comic books and not only that, learning about mythology from other countries through comic books, and that sort of stuck with us. And serendipitously 30 years later after we had left Iran and emigrated to the United States, we ended up in the graphic design industry in California, and we got together and just decided hey, wouldn’t it be great for us to create something for our mythological tradition in the same way as things that we had seen when we were growing up.
David: So how do you go about adapting old stories into new – how do you balance fact with fiction?
Cameron: So the way we go about it, the most important thing to keep in mind is the fundamentals of story telling have not changed over time. So usually the most exciting stories deal with a conflict between good and evil, and sometimes they both reside in the same person, but what's most interesting and most challenging at times is you get an original story and it might be a little bit longer than what you want, or it might be a little repetitive in places. And so an example of what we did, in one of the battles that Rostam had, he had to go through a series of different demons and warriors that he had to fight against. And in this instance, he was fighting against seven different warriors, and he had seven different battles. And within the Shahnama, we found that parts of that story was a little bit repetitive and a little bit too long in terms of the medium that we were using to communicate with our audience. And so we adapted it, but most importantly we adapted it without changing its true meaning. And so in that instance we created another warrior and named him Turaj, and within that we gave him seven weapons so that each one represented the seven battles that were in the original, and then reduced it down to one big epic battle, between Rostam and this fictional warrior called Turaj. But most important to us was to stay with the true meaning of the story, not to deviate from that, but that was our way of condensing seven battles into one.
David: Have you considered the educational value of your comics, and do you see ways in which schools can adapt them to the curriculum?
Cameron: Originally we started off with a goal of introducing the intriguing stories of this cultural masterpiece to a much broader audience. We had grown up with the stories, and we wanted to be able to leave a legacy for our kids. Our kids were growing up in a western culture and we wanted them to be exposed to this mythological tradition, where there was no exposure. Over time what happened was just by chance, a number of universities and educational institutions, they started to purchase our books, and they started to introduce it to their students. One of the things that actually did kick-start it a little bit is, Khaled Hosseini had written the book The kite runner, and within The kite runner there were constant references and even some of the characters in his book, there’s a character called Sohrab, it’s one of the main characters, and he kept referring to the story of Rostam and Sohrab. And so these universities that were doing English lit classes would order our comic book as a companion read, so that the students could understand the context of the Shahnama stories. And so this sort of gave us a little jump start to start thinking more in the educational side of this, the market started demanding it from us. And when we started this of course, there wasn’t the iPad, and there weren't the apps, and one of the things that we saw when the iPad started coming out, that this is just an amazing tool, and you know we started to rethink our whole thing about the Rostam project, and we thought that this is a great way to reach out and teach history and the cultural significance of the Shahnama, and also works like it. It shouldn't be limited to the Shahnama, but certainly the Shahnama was a book which was inaccessible to many people, and this now is a new engaging and entertaining way in which readers of all ages can understand and learn from it. And we think that using technology to present ancient masterpieces will be essential in the future. I mean, people are very visual and this is the best way to reach them.
David: What were the challenges of using Rostam comics with technology, and what opportunities do you think this offers Rostam?
Cameron: I think the challenge was taking the comic, which we had already developed, and using technology to add a cinematic dimension to it. The development of the iPad and apps, this made it possible to take what is essentially a static comic and turn this into a sort of a moving motion picture-like experience with sound effects and music, and also more importantly you have access to information which will not necessarily be within the context of the narrative. So as a reader is reading through something and all of a sudden there's a part of that story which, what's the story behind the story. So if they start talking about something, all of a sudden you can click onto something and find out the story behind that story, and it gives you a better context, and it’s really a much richer experience.
David: If students are creating comics, what are some key things they need to consider?
Cameron: I think the key thing for students to consider when you're creating comics, and sort of comic book apps that employ this new technology, is to let your voice and vision come through in the story and art. They have to remember that there's no wrong way to make your comic book, it's your story, so you tell it the way you want to tell it, and the best thing for you to do is to develop a love for the art form and enjoy the process of telling a story through pictures or visual art medium.
David: Thank you very much for your time, Cameron, and your wonderful insights into the development of the Rostam comic series. Thank you.
Cameron: My pleasure. Thank you.