Fascinated by Neyestani’s style – his sobering yet witty presentation of relevant political themes – The News Minute interviewed the award-winning cartoonist.

Features Sunday, September 07, 2014 - 05:30
Sumitha Narayanan Kutty| The News Minute| September 4, 2014| 3.56 pm The man sporting his signature fedora is renowned Iranian-in-exile cartoonist ManaNeyestani. Neyestani who is originally from Tehran today lives in Paris, France. Though trained as an architect, he has been a cartoonist and illustrator since 1990. By 1999, he was the editorial cartoonist for an Iranian ‘reformist’ newspaper. However, Neyestani was sentenced to prison in 2006 for one of his works, after which he bid goodbye to his homeland.Neyestani is also the author of a graphic novel, UneMétamorphoseIranienne (An Iranian Metamorphosis). Fascinated by Neyestani’s style – his sobering yet witty presentation of relevant political themes – The News Minute interviewed the award-winning cartoonist. 1. Could you please talk about your daily cartoons? They are often political but are there any other themes you like to explore? I am working for two Iranian opposition websites (of course based in other countries not Iran) so I have to draw about 20 cartoons per month, which takes time.If I find some free time I'd prefer to spend it on my graphic novels or comic books. Cartoon courtesy- IranWire.com Some cartoons of mine are drawn for specific subjects and the others are more general. As an Iranian in exile I have always been thinking about the socio-political situation of Iran, therefore it shows itself in my works. 2. How did your interest in drawing cartoons begin? Were you encouraged at home given its non-traditional nature? We see that your brother Toukah is also a cartoonist even though your styles differ a lot. I began to draw since I was a small boy, maybe 3-4 years old, and I was really good at it. My family always encouraged me, specially my brother Touka who was - and is- a great cartoonist. He never taught me how to draw but encouraged me to do it and gathered my childhood works. I loved (still love) his works and watch them carefully. Also we had a lot of pictured books, comics, albums, and paintings. I loved to copy Marvel and DC comics specially The incredible Hulk, Spiderman, Superman and Batman. I had the whole series of Tin Tin too. All these materials made my taste and inspired me in my childhood. 3. Are there any Iranian cartoonists or other prominent personalities that have inspired your style and work? Touka Neyestani was the first and most important person. The second one is a famous movie, theatre director and writer Mr. BahramBayzayi. I always admire his personality and works. He is a real intellectual who never gives up on his ideas and resists against the censorship. 4. In an interview in 2012, you spoke about your internal conflict "between feeling responsibility" and "avoiding self-censorship”. Two years on, do you think managing this balance has become any easier? It is still difficult. I try to do my best, but you know it is like walking on a blade’s edge. It is so hard to recognize the vague border between "to care about the consequences" and "being trapped by self-censorship". 5. Today you have about 12,000 followers on Twitter and over 200,00 in Facebook (and this is just your official page!). Facebook (sort of) remains banned in Iran but do you receive any kind of feedback from Iranians in Iran? Most of my Facebook page members are Iranian who live in Iran. They use different anti-filters to pass through the filters put by the regime. It is a kind of war between pro and anti governmental hackers. They try to make new filters and anti-filters. War of information! Most of the time the audiences encourage me, sometimes they criticize my works, sometimes some of them misinterpret a work and blame me. I have gotten use to it. 6. What do you think about the recent detention of reporters Jason Rezaian and YeganehSaleh and continuing crackdown on journalists? At any point did you hope the Rouhani administration would manage to soften such policies? You know that the president has limited power and most of these detentions are done by the judiciary system, which is controlled by the fundamentalists and extremists. They showed that they are afraid of free flow of information so they suppress dissident journalists and intellectuals. Also as we have seen before, sometimes they arrest some Iranians with dual nationalities or Western nationals to take advantage in the international situations,especially in the negotiations with the western countries. Politic is a dirty game! 7. Despite all the restrictions, in many ways Iranians are adept at skating just inside the limits on many issues (something we Indians call “jugaad” — an innovative fix or work-around). Do you think this is true for cartoonists and political satirists who are still working in Iran today? Day by day it is getting worse in Iran. Few editorial cartoonists still do their job in the remained reformist press, with too much caution. They use metaphors and indirect way of criticizing the issues to pass through the limitations but sometimes it is impossible. Also sometimes the metaphors lead the audience to different interpretations, which could be even more dangerous than a direct specific critique! 8. After your graphic novel, UneMétamorphoseIranienne (An Iranian Metamorphosis), are there other long-form projects in the works? I am working on a comic manual titled "How to get a refugee status in France" (for dummies!) trying to show the situation and the bureaucracy of the process. Also I am working on a script for my next graphic novel, which will be about an Iranian serial killer who murdered 16-17 prostitutes 10-15 years ago. 9. To wrap up, what cartoon of yours in recent times would you consider particularly special? Actually, I never think about it like that. I draw a cartoon, finish it and go to a new one. I need time to take a distance from them and then I might be able to choose some as my personal favorites. Read- Aekta Kapoor's review of the The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
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