Often times, one individual stands out in the professionalization of a country’s comic art. In Iran, undoubtedly, that person is Massoud Shojaei Tabatabaei. What he has done to belie the ridiculous notion that humor and comic art do not exist in Islamic nations is truly Herculean.
I recall, while in Tehran in 1999, being impressed by the existence of regularly-published cartoon magazines, numerous well-executed exhibitions, a highly successful cartoon biennial competition, training facilities, informal cartoon groups – in other words, a strong cartooning infrastructure. At the time, about 150 cartoonists fed their work to newspapers and magazines, and another 1000 amateurs were drawing cartoons. Until now, Iranian cartoons flood, and very often win, competitions all over the world.
Most of this activity is post-Islamic Revolution, when the arts were popularized so that all people could understand them. That is also when (in 1980) Massoud Shojaei Tabatabaei started doing comic art, first with a cartoon frieze he drew at the Tehran airport, and then in Etela-at-Haftegi, where he contributed a weekly full page of cartoons on political themes. The next phases of his career involved earning an MS degree in painting and serving as a frontline photographer and publicist during Iran’s war with Iraq.
Since 1988, when he helped start the cartoon group Kasni, Massoud has been relentless in his efforts to promote Iranian cartooning. He helped Kasni initiate group and individual exhibitions, encourage cartooning in smaller towns, promote international connections through competitions, festivals, and exhibitions, and, in 1991, launch the first Iranian magazine about cartooning, Kayhan Caricature, of which Massoud is editor-in-chief. Subsequently, Massoud and a few others inaugurated the Tehran International Cartoon Biennial (1993) and House of Cartoons (1995), the latter a two-storey building used for exhibiting, distance and on-the-spot teaching, and publishing purposes. He has kept both organizations active, tirelessly serving as secretary general of the last three cartoon biennials and as long-time director of the House of Cartoons.
Massoud’s vast knowledge of comic art has led to invitations to judge international cartoon competitions in Iran, Turkey, Cuba, China, Greece, and Syria, and his own art has captured awards in Iran, Turkey, Lithuania, Italy, China, and Syria.
Cartoons drawn by Massoud are marked by their simply stated, but poignantly sharp and artistically refined, messages, all in keeping with his philosophy that comic art is an international language that should combine simplicity and humor. As shown in this collection, the artist varies his format (single and multi-panel), style (elaborate, detailed, and shaded at times; strictly linear at other times), and content (whimsical gags, contrasted with serious polemics). Love, compassion, and peace are also hallmarks of his cartoons.
Massoud Shojaei Tabatabaei shares with us in these 200 pages his immense creativity, deeply-held views and philosophies, and his infectious passion for life, and for the field of comic art. The global cartooning community is greatly enhanced by, and eternally grateful for, his many achievements and by his art.
John A. Lent, Ph. D.
International Journal of Comic Art
Professor, Temple University