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Comic artists defy Tehran with 'Persepolis 2.0'

By AFP

Two Shanghai-based young Iranians are defying the Tehran regime with a reworked version of the award-winning graphic novel "Persepolis," telling the story of Iran's bloody post-election uprising.

Written by Iranian-French emigre Marjane Satrapi, the original "Persepolis" is a black comedy based on her early life in Iran, set against the backdrop of the Islamic revolution, that in 2007 was turned into an Oscar-nominated film.

In "Persepolis 2.0," Satrapi's black-and-white drawings are reshuffled -- with her blessing -- to tell of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's disputed victory, the mass protests that shook the country and the crackdown by Tehran.

Posted online at www.spreadpersepolis.com, the 10-page comic rewrites the captions to chart the hope and excitement among Iranians ahead of the June 12 poll, which turned to anger amid accusations of fraud at the ballot box.

Strips that originally depicted the ouster of the shah of Iran, but also the crackdown that followed the Islamic revolution in 1979, are used to show the gatherings against Ahmadinejad and their bloody repression.

"Persepolis 2.0" ends with the death of Neda Agha-Soltan, a 26-year-old protestor who became a symbol of the struggle against Iran's hardline rulers.

Sign of the changing times, the little girl of the 21st-century version urges her parents to throw out their newspapers -- "all lies" -- and to use the Internet and the Twitter social network to get the "real info".

But in 2009, like in 1979, she still lies in bed at night dreaming of a better future.

The authors of "Persepolis 2.0" are both Iranians in their twenties, raised in the West and who now live in Shanghai. They prefer not to reveal their full names -- using the pseudonyms Sina and Payman.

Both say they "experienced the election and its aftermath from afar."

"From hope to anger and sadness, we are touched by the bravery of our people and enraged by the government's behavior and mock trials," they told AFP by e-mail.

Some 100,000 people have viewed the site since its launch a few weeks ago, from the United States to Italy, France and Canada.

With people inside Iran, "communication has been tight because of the Internet censorship," they said, referring to Tehran's stepped up control of the web since the election protests, with sites such as Facebook, Twitter or YouTube blocked.

"But still we have received countless e-mails from Iranians thanking us for helping to get the word out about the situation in Iran."

Wildly successful in the West -- where the film version picked up an award at Cannes and was nominated for an Oscar -- Satrapi's groundbreaking comic has been denounced as anti-Iranian by Ahmadinejad's government.

"Persepolis 2.0" has also been "vigorously" attacked in the ultraconservative press in Iran, its authors say.

"We consider this to be a good sign," they said, adding that the site itself was secure and had not been hacked into.

But Satrapi -- who gave the authors her go-ahead for the project but was not otherwise involved -- told AFP she was sceptical about its power to change the situation on the ground in Iran.

"They said they wanted to do something with my work -- I gave them my blessing."

"It's already a lot to inform people a little bit. Our work can only have a tiny impact. It would take billions for it to change things," said the writer, who has denounced Ahmadinejad's re-election as a coup d'etat.

Asked why they chose Satrapi's novel, the authors said Iranians worldwide were "extremely proud" of her work, and that Persepolis was the best-known novel and movie about Iran in the West.

"Marjane's images describe events from 30 years yet they mirror the post-election events so well; both 1979 and 2009 saw mass protests against repression. We hope this time it ends differently."

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