Local Creators Explore the History of Iranian Revolution in a Comic About Talking Fish 

click to enlarge James Moffitt and Bizhan Khodabandeh will be releasing the third issue of “The Little Red Fish” during the second annual Sink/Swim Indie Comic Expo.

James Moffitt and Bizhan Khodabandeh will be releasing the third issue of “The Little Red Fish” during the second annual Sink/Swim Indie Comic Expo.

You know those people who always talk about the great projects they want to work on, but never do? James Moffitt doesn’t like those people.

“I kept encountering people who had a lot to say about creating stuff and these big ideas for stories or art pieces or comic books, but never actually doing anything about it,” he says. “That really frustrated me, because I’d get really excited about a lot of these ideas, but they’d fizzle out.”

This annoyance led Moffitt to co-found Sink/Swim Press in 2009, which will see the release of its 14th and 15th publications Saturday at Gallery5. One is Dashiell Kirk’s “Consumption,” the story of a tiny centipede trapped on top of a hamburger as it’s eaten by a boy. The other is the third installment of “The Little Red Fish,” a political allegory inspired by Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” using fish and cranes to represent the 1979 Iranian Revolution.

click to enlarge art41_book_little_red_fish_pages.jpg

The project began when Moffitt and artist Bizhan Khodabandeh held a joint book release party at Velocity Comics three years ago. Moffitt was peddling his second collection of short stories; Khodabandeh was promoting his comic adaptation of “The Little Black Fish,” an Iranian political allegory that was translated by his uncle.

“We swapped books,” Moffitt says, “and he really liked my writing, and I really liked his illustration, and he approached me about doing ‘The Little Red Fish.’”

The son of an Iranian immigrant, Khodabandeh grew up in the Washington suburbs skateboarding and going to punk-rock shows. As an adolescent, he was largely unaware of his family’s history of political dissidence in Iran.

“My family wasn’t one to talk about those kinds of things,” Khodabandeh says. “I started getting more interested in history — and specifically Middle Eastern history — when we declared war on Afghanistan and later Iraq.”

For the project, Khodabandeh interviewed his father, relatives and former revolutionaries who live overseas.

“When I was actually on my honeymoon with my wife [former Gallery5 director Amanda Robinson],” he says, “much to her dismay, I was recording interviews with these revolutionaries instead of hanging out with her.”

When Moffitt got on board, Khodabandeh handed him a computer drive filled with years of research, and the two began envisioning how to condense the long history of the revolution into six 32-page comic books.

In the books, the Iranian people are represented by fish that are ruled and dined upon by a flock of cranes. Their lone protector is a hawk named Manucheur, who is supposed to represent Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh.

In 1953, Mosaddegh was overthrown in a coup d’etat orchestrated by the United Kingdom and the United States. “The Little Red Fish” begins here, and then incorporates the 1979 overthrow of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

“We aren’t tracing an exact timeline,” Moffitt says. “We’re making historical references and using the general trajectory of events.”

The duo’s first 32-page installment was published last fall, and continued interest has necessitated a half-dozen reprintings. Universities have used “The Little Red Fish” in comic classes about the Middle East, and Washington-based Rosarium Publishing has started publishing the comic digitally. The third issue will be released Saturday at the second annual Sink/Swim Indie Comic Expo.

As if pumping out the next issue, traveling to comic events and holding down full-time jobs isn’t enough — Moffitt is a copywriter at Capital One and Khodabandeh is an instructor at Virginia Commonwealth University — the two are working on a contribution to District Comics, an anthology that illustrates offbeat history stories from Washington.

Past issues have included Bad Brains playing in Anacostia and the trumpet player who screwed up a note at President John F. Kennedy’s funeral. Moffitt and Khodabandeh’s story involves gay rights activist Frank Kameny.

Regarding “The Little Red Fish,” Khodabandeh and Moffitt say the biggest misnomer people have is that one of them has more influence on the project than the other.

“It’s a total 50-50 split across the board with everything. It’s both of our babies,” Moffitt says, before joking: “We’re like parents of this horrible book about talking fish.” S

The second annual Sink/Swim Indie Comic Expo is Saturday, Oct. 17, from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. at Gallery5, 200 W. Marshall St. gallery5arts.org.


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