280 pages, seventeen big-name cartoonists, from Marjane Satrapi, of course, to Coco and Joann Sfar, an editorial committee of experts and a race against time. On Thursday, the beautiful and poignant work Woman, Life, Liberty* (ed. L’Iconoclaste) was released. A first graphic novel for the publishing house, which pays homage to the movement triggered in Iran on September 16, 2022 by the death of Mahsa Amini, just a year ago.

Placed under the artistic direction of Marjane Satrapi, made famous in France by her autobiographical Persepolis, and coordinated by editor Alba Beccaria, the work is polyphonic and coherent. In these three chapters, comic strip stories, different signatures, styles and rhythms provide keys to understanding the social and political situation in Iran and the struggle waged by youth there against the regime. From the beginnings of anger after the assassination of the young Kurd Mahsa Amini for a poorly worn veil, to the movement’s anthem, “Barâyeh”, through the executions of winter 2022-2023 and the poisoned schoolgirls, the The events that set Iran ablaze are depicted and made accessible by the talent of French, European and Iranian cartoonists.

Alongside senior reporter Jean-Pierre Perrin and Iranian-American professor Abbas Malekzadeh Milani on the editorial board, Iranian political scientist Farid Vahid wrote many of the small and big stories that make up the work. He tells us about the genesis of this project, and returns to the situation in his country, which he left at the age of 25.

Le Point: Why did you want to make this book?

Farid Vahid: The initial idea came from Sophie de Sivry, the founder of the publishing house L’Iconoclaste. We must pay tribute to him. She died before seeing the final result. She really liked Iran and was a long-time friend of Marjane Satrapi, whom she contacted to do something to support the movement in Iran and explain the complexity of what is happening there to Westerners.

Marjane thought of specialists and writers, including me, to write these stories, which were then drawn. I accepted with pleasure. The editorial committee met, we quickly drew up the outline of the book in three chapters and the sequences, before entrusting each one to a designer. It was a challenge, because some of them knew nothing about Iran, and we wanted it to be very realistic. It took me a long time. We all had jobs on the side, no one was on the project full time. For six months I worked until 2 a.m., I didn’t have a weekend. It was difficult, due to the very tight deadlines. With Alba Beccaria, the editor, the writers and Marjane, who oversaw everything to keep it coherent, we couldn’t waste time, at the risk of postponing everything. The calendar was not editable. It was a race against time, because we desperately wanted the book to be ready to pay tribute to Mahsa Amini, a year after her death.

You worked on a large part of the sequences in the book. How did you do it?

The book has two parts, it’s not an essay, but at the same time, it’s not just a story. It’s a mixture, each sequence is different. Some are inspired by my life. I was born in Tehran, I then lived in France, but I returned there between the ages of 10 and 25, and my whole family lives in Iran. Some elements that marked and touched me during my life there are in the book. In the sequence on Nowrouz with the family, for example, it’s a bit of my family that is represented. The sequence with Paco Roca, “Revolting at Twenty” (which recounts the revolt of a student at the University of Tehran, excluded from the canteen for wanting to settle in the wing reserved for men, and followed in the park by dozens of students), is inspired by the years I spent at the University of Tehran. So I was sensitive to the form: I sent lots of photos to Paco. This seems like a detail, but Iranian women, for example, put their veil behind their ear, or pull it down over their neck… All these gestures have a political meaning, and it was important that it was realistic. So I wrote pages of context, ideas for dialogue, and then found Instagram pages to provide as many visual elements as possible, so that Paco could see what he had to draw.

This is a book intended for non-Iranians, but it is also translated into Persian, and distributed free of charge on sites read by Iranians. For what ?

It’s true that this book will teach nothing to the Iranians, who know their history, but it does contain some very beautiful drawings. Paco and Sfar participated, they are very well-known designers, like Mana and Touka Neyestani are in Iran. We wanted to show our support, and that’s something really important for Iranians. Remember, when actresses cut off a lock of their hair last year in France, some people made fun of them. But in Iran, it touched people, because they felt watched, while the regime did everything to give them the opposite impression. Iranians are very connected despite censorship.

When I lived in Iran, I felt like I was in prison. To be alone, cut off from the world, blocked, because the Iranian passport is worthless. It can be depressing. So, when the Iranians see that lots of cartoonists have made a book for them… It’s cultural support, and the Iranian regime doesn’t like that.

These books annoy them, and we wanted to show them that we were not afraid. There is a large Iranian diaspora, scattered between the United States, Canada and Europe, and the regime is trying to play on the division between Iranians “inside” and those “outside”, as if those who lived elsewhere were indifferent and disconnected from the situation in the country. This is one of the regime’s strategies, but over the past year, and the start of the movement, we have seen that the distrust of Iranians inside is less strong. This is also an objective of the book, we wanted to show them that it is not because we have left Iran that we no longer think about it.

Everyone has to do what they can, and we, as artists and writers, we know how to write and draw, so that’s what we did. Marjane Satrapi is known and appreciated in Iran, so I think the release of the book will make noise there.

Where is the situation in Iran, one year after the death of Mahsa Amini, and when at least 537 people have been killed by the regime? Is the mobilization continuing, despite the cessation of demonstrations?

Much has been reduced to the movement by demonstrations. This bothers me: of course the demonstrations are important, but just because there are no more does not mean that nothing is happening, that the regime is solid and will not fall. A whole fundamental movement is underway.

More and more women are refusing to veil themselves and risking their lives. It is a strong political gesture, which we tend to look at with our French glasses, while he rejects the regime as a whole. This is far from trivial, especially since there is less self-control, men make fewer comments to them. This is a central trend: Iranian society is very secularized. After 40 years of political manipulation of religion, some people have started to hate it. In Iran, the veil was an instrument used to establish a real apartheid, as a weapon against women. Iranian women are fighting today to no longer wear the veil. Not to have the right or not to wear it, as we heard in France: this type of nuance belongs to the French context, not to that of Iran.

Writers have never been so active, things are happening in universities too. The regime is so afraid that professors have been fired: this is no small thing, because the university has always been a sanctuary in Iran, where there is significant respect for science. If the regime does this, it shows that it no longer has many cards in its hands. There is also a huge economic crisis, which poses a problem in daily life, because the regime is corrupt and mafia-like, like in Russia.

Focusing on the demonstrations is therefore very simplistic: one of the sequences in the book also returns to the unfolding of a demonstration in Iran. This has nothing to do with France! It’s a dictatorship. This movement in Iranian society must be analyzed in depth. The development has been extraordinary since the 2000s. Young people have an ecological sensitivity – the environment is a real problem in Iran – and gender equality…

Mahsa Amini died a year ago. What do you expect?

It’s difficult to answer, but the first anniversary of a death is an important date in Iran. There is a religious ceremony that families cannot be prohibited from celebrating. Military vehicles are currently heading towards Mahsa Amini’s hometown, surveillance cameras have been installed in cemeteries… Everything can happen quickly.

Especially since young people have been murdered all over the country, and it will soon be their one year too. What makes the analysis difficult, but which also represents in my opinion a crazy opportunity for Iran, is that the movement does not have a leader, it is a fundamental movement, which comes from below . If something happens, it will be spontaneous. This is a good sign, and it makes the movement difficult to predict, as well as to stop.

Does participating in this book expose you? Can you still go to Iran?

I can go to Iran, but I will go straight to Evin prison… When I lost my mother, I couldn’t attend her funeral. That’s also what a dictatorial regime is: choosing between joining the struggle or being able to return home. Many brilliant Iranians are silenced in this way. I myself am a little stressed, a little paranoid, even when I walk in Paris. I count on the French state, and I trust it, but I do not dare leave the European Union, for example. I also worry about my family in Iran, the regime is capable of anything…

*Femme, Vie, Liberté, published by L’Iconoclaste, €32.