Amir and Khalil are the pen names a Persian writer and an Arab illustrator adopted in order to guard their anonymity and protect them from political persecution. Thus, not much is known about their lives. As early as 1979, at the age of 12, Amir left Iran with his family. He lives in the USA today. The human rights activist, journalist and documentary filmmaker travelled the United States, Canada, Europe and Afghanistan. »My roots are in Iran, but I was able to spread my wings in the USA«, is how he described his life as a cultural cross-over artist for the German newspaper »Tagesspiegel« in 2010. His political essays and articles have been published worldwide. Like many Iranians in exile he remains in touch with his home country via blogs and websites. Driven by the wish to make the global public aware of the events in Iran, Amir and Khalil produced the political and contemporary comic »Zahra’s Paradise« (2011), which was published in an extraordinary project by the New York-based »First Second Books«, and funded and distributed in a joint venture with publishers in different countries. Until it appears in print, the story can be read as a sequel webcomic in real time in twelve languages. »Zahra’s Paradise« is a fictitious account based on real persons and events. It is the story of the search for Mehdi, a supporter of the protest movement in the election period of 2009, who disappeared in the Gulags of the Islamic Republic of Iran. In the twilight of an unlegislated area, where the life and the rights of the individual do not count, and citizens are at the mercy of the despotic and repressive state power and its lackeys, Mehdi’s family fails to find him. Yet, his mother can’t forget him. She keeps looking for her son, while his brother, the narrator of the comic, asks awkward questions on the internet and in blogs. However, »Zahra’s Paradise« is also about the hope for change, which has encouraged many of the daily protesters against the Iranian regime, and which has helped establish a global community of solidarity. The title of the comic refers to the Behesht-e Zahra cemetery south of Teheran, the last resting place of many victims, including Neda, the student who became an icon of the resistance movement, and to Zahra Kazemi, the photo journalist who was tortured and died in jail in 2003.
Amir and Khalil were deeply touched by Marjane Satrapi’s graphic novel, »Persepolis«, as well the works of other artists. »Zahra’s Paradise« was short-listed in the category »Best Digital Comic« for the renowned Eisner Award in 2011.
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