As a medium, comic books offer a range and breadth of possibilities. They can tell the stories of viking feuds, interpersonal relationships, or superhero epics. Whatever the creative team can come up with can be put to the page. And although it might sound unlikely, that’s what makes it the perfect medium to explore historical turning points.Operation Ajax, the new motion comic app from Cognito Comics and writer Mike de Seve, uses that canvas to offer a visual narrative on one of the biggest moments in modern Iranian history: the 1953 CIA coup d’etat that overturned the country’s fledgling democracy and reinstalled Muhammad Reza Pahlavi as Shah of Iran. Taking its cue from Stephen Kinzer’s All the Shah’s Men, the mobile comic covers the lead up to, and the events around the coup. It even goes into the politcial context of the coup both in Iran and in Europe and the United States. De Seve takes the story through the early parts of the 20th Century, introducing Mohammad Mosaddegh, the charismatic prime minister of the country who would launch a democratic revolution against the Shah before being ousted by the CIA.
In many ways, Operation Ajax plays out like the history book it is based on. It is more historical narrative than revolutionary thriller, although there are plenty of thrilling moments in the comic. The plot is captivating, and even those unfamiliar with this moment in Iran’s history will follow the story easily. That’s because the comic’s artwork tells the story in a mix of realistic depictions and sharp stylistic images similar to the artist Jock, of The Losers and Detective Comics fame. There’s a heavy emphasis on shadow and atmosphere in the panels that manages to capture both the heat of the desert in the day and more intimate scenes, such as the smoky stuffiness of the room where the British elite plot to deprive Iranian oil workers of pay.
Operation Ajax’s biggest feature is its interactive elements. Motion comics are not particularly new - major comic book companies such as DC and Marvel have played with them over the last few years. But for Operation Ajax, it’s an essential part of the experience, rather than a gimmick added onto a preexisting comic.
The comic was made exclusively for the iPad, so elements of the storytelling are built around that platform. The panels move fluidly into frame, and the accompanying sound is dynamic, whether it’s atmospheric noises such as shouting from a crowd or the roar of a car engine. Many pages have panels with built-in multimedia elements, from real historical images from the era, to background guides and even authentic video, such as when the Shah met with President Truman in the United States. All of these features turn Operation Ajax into an immersive story, unlike any comic book out there.
As both a look into the Iranian history and as a story, Operation Ajax succeeds. It has the right mix of intrigue, action, and deceit. And best of all, almost all of it is true. The way the story is told, with a detailed narrative, expressive art, and brilliant multimedia elements, makes it a must-read book for anyone looking to learn more about Iran or simply on the look for an interesting book.By Nicholas Slayton, Aslan Media News Content Manager and Contributor