Unusually we’ve gone text only for this interview. The animation we are discussing brings to life the Persian classical hero Rostam of The Book of Kings (Shahnameh), in the cartoon Rostam in Wonderland a collaboration between two young men one based in USA (Pouya Afshar) creator, and one in Iran (Souroush Rezaee) writer and animator. The cartoons, successfully funded as a Kick Starter programme, update Rostam who was originally set in the epic poem by Ferdowsi circa 997 AD, setting him instead in the 21st century as he must seek to the save the son he famously kills unknowingly in battle, by travelling to the future for the cure.
In each episode, we learn something new about contemporary Iranian life, facing taboos and dealing with his own example as perhaps an anachronism in today’s world, much as we did with the series He-Man in the 80s/90s,
also a fallible man who transforms himself through belief to defend the good in the universe (except He-Man didn’t ran around in just his pants).
Here we speak with Pouya Ashfar, creator of the animated series Rostam in Wonderland:
What were your childhood comics
What makes Rostam the perfect character ?
I wasn’t much into comics but like every child, I loved cartoons. What we would get in animated cartoons were the ones being shown on Iranian National TV that produced in the West and Japan. But I always loved my grandmother’s stories and remember them word for word. It was a double life being exposed to western entertainment as well as our traditional ‘oral storytelling’.
What makes Rostam the perfect comic book hero?
Rostam is not yet produced as a comic book hero but will be eventually. Right now he is an animated character but we will definitely turn him into a comic book hero. He is the main ‘Pahlevan‘ in the Shahnameh (Book of the Kings) and the ideal hero, but the finer fact in Ferdowsi’s depcition of him for this heroic role is that he is not perfect. He has flaws like us and this makes him at once appealing, believable and a character who we can relate to when it comes to everyday life’s complications and challenges.
How much more alive would you say Rostam was for Iranians say, than Superman for Americans?
I think that although us Iranians have many more stories and characters in the world of mythical tales in our culture throughout history, we haven’t tried to keep them as valuable assets as Americans do. Americans have better showcased and studied their heroes and tales. However our tales and their characters such as Rostam, Garshasp, Zaal, Goudarz, Giv, Jamshid, Fereydoun, etc. despite having traveled for thousands of years in order to get to us, unfortunately haven’t received enough attention. I believe that studying these tales and books shouldn’t be something only scholars do but something that everybody. especially children, can benefit from them throughout their education or as entertainment.
Some people consider comics and cartoons to be only for children, whereas we believe they are a useful form of satire and education as well as entertainment. what would you say to those people as a film-maker/storyteller?
Storytelling is a very powerful tool in education and aside from the entertaining capabilities stories hold, there is also the power to relay messages and pieces of advice for the next generations. Children as well as adults can benefit from storytelling but of-course platforms such as satire can be better suited for criticizing social issues especially in comics, cartoons or animated films.
Has Rostam ever been entered for any prizes in comic competitions? What do you think about those kind of competitions?
Rostam in Wonderland is currently in Farhang Foundation’s short film festival competition and will be entered into more festivals in the future. When we start the comic book, if we do, we will enter it into comic book competitions as well.
Although I have many issues myself with the the personality of Rostam, I believe that Ferdowsi made a sagacious decision by choosing a character as of the main hero of Shahnameh, one who is very loyal to his roots and at the same time very much a self-made hero. He never agrees to do something unless he believes in it. I think this can be a good quality if you don’t abuse your power. Rostam refused when offered the throne because he believed that his job (and source of strength) was to protect the country and not to lead. At the same time, he has many flaws and this is the main reason we also chose Rostam as our main character. Because he is like us, someone who is fallible, someone who is human but gifted. We all have weaknesses and strengths and experience challenges in our lives that can be successfully navigated with thoughtful decision making. Rostam shows us both sides of this. Good and bad.
To see a clip of the early test scenes from Rostam in Wonderland, click HERE