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A set of tales inspired by the Arabian Nights by European comics master Sergio Toppi exploring a barbaric society where the supernatural is the only remedy to injustice as Sharaz De captive to a cruel and despotic king must each night spin tales to entertain her master and save her head from the executioner Tales filled with evil spirits treasures risk and danger but always at their center the passions of gods and menIncludes an interview of the author by Mariangela RadoGraphic novel inspired by Arabian nights medieval legends and other ancient talesOriginally published Milano Edizioni Milano Libri 1984First appeared serialized in AlterAlter in 1979


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    I'm an artist and the son of an artist I don't have a lot of work to show for the title—being mostly employed in web design I only have a little bit of illustration work for online magazines still extant But my father he was a career artist in the real sense—in the sense that he produced physical objects of art Ceramics and Chinese brush painting The point is we're both all about the aesthetic value of human creations no matter the medium He likes my work and I like his and whenever one of us runs into something sublime we Facebook each other and say Hey Look at this It is worth your timeSo minutes after cracking open and flipping through my edition of Sergio Toppi's Sharazde Tales from the Arabian Nights I had placed an order for a second copy—this one to ship to Europe where my father lives I didn't want him to see scans of Toppi's work online I didn't want to message him photographs of these drawings though I couldn't resist an Instagram in his honour No he needed to behold this gorgeous collection of art in person and I would not wait for him and my mother to fly out to visit in the summer I needed to share this now Or as close to now as shipping to Europe could approximateAnd I wasn't disappointed His reaction very much mirrored my own He was just as blown away and gob smacked as I was Being a genuine surfer hippie from the genuine surfer hippie days the word stoked might have held some play as well There was joy there was adulation and there was awe In short Toppi's work received from my father and from myself exactly the reaction his work deservesBecause oh man1The only other comics reviewer I actively read remarked on the fittingness of having Walter Simonson introduce the book Simonson's best work is clearly influenced by Toppi—much of his Mighty Thor seems a marriage between Toppi's visual topography and Kirby's brute dynamism But while Simonson is all about the excitement of the actions in which his characters revel Toppi is quiet and reserved His work at least here represented is reflective and considerate His drawings are mysteries and evoke the sacred even deeply than Craig Thompson's attempts in Blankets I've been describing Sharaz De in terms of its art and even think of it primarily as an art book—something to display for guests—rather than as a comic book or graphic novel It has a story and it has writing but those things really seem mostly in place to provoke Toppi to draw something interesting and amazing and earth shatteringly beautiful Honestly I may never read the book's story ever again And that's fine and I don't mind I certainly don't feel slighted This is an amazing book and worth every penny I spent on itPart of my ambivalence toward the book's narrative aspect may be that it's an adaptation of a kind of literature I generally avoid the fable Toppi is adapting some of the stories of Scheherazade the ken of which have long filtered into our societal consciousness Even if one is unfamiliar with the tales of the Arabian nights the structure and morals are ubiquitous Characters who are dishonest ungrateful and oath breakers meet untimely and often terrible ends If you make a promise to a strange being who gives you wonderful fortune with a single stipulation whatever you do don't blow it where that stipulation is concerned These fables are common across cultures—so if you've read European or Asian fables you know the drill as well Just desserts figure prominentlyToppi doesn't do any astounding narrative acrobatics with these fables They are told in rather straightforward tone They are there and they are faithful and not much But as I said who cares when they were the genesis for such wild visual imaginations I've included some scans with this review as is my wont but please don't imagine these do anything near to approximating what you'll see in Sharaz De It'd be like a guy carrying a faxed photo of his girlfriend in his wallet These scans are merely sad facsimiles of the crisp printing that inhabits the paperscape of Archaia's lush large bookI've read that Archaia is using Sharaz De as a test case to prove whether or not there's an American market for of Toppi's work I hope almost desperately they'll sell well enough to merit future editions I can guarantee that if I still have a discretionary income then I will own each and every one of theseBecause oh manA Note on the PoliticalAs with any transmission of an ancient Arab work by a European's pen there will be questions with regard to the looming spectres of Orientalism and appropriation The concerns are valid so far as they go and Toppi does lean somewhat on Orientalist trappings but not nearly so much as we might expect from a work that came out of the 1970s More the mystery and foreign grandeur of his work in Sharaz De seems to mirror his own penchant for making every story mysterious and foreign Even a cursory survey of his work shows that Sharaz De is not unique in its wild landscapes wandering attires and exotic figures—these are common traits across his oeuvre While not perfect in its portrayal of these people and their culture— because of wild reinvention than misrepresentation—I felt that Toppi acquits himself pretty well on Sharaz DeThis reinvention does bring up the question of appropriation and the right of appropriation And here's where I say that I'm torn on the whole appropriation issue And here's where I begin a big ol' excursis Good thing the review's over and this is just an end note huh?While I'm never happy for people to feel they've been wronged and I like to sympathize and do what I can to show them my compassion I believe reappropriation is not only intimate to the human experience but actually Good Reappropriation is one of the ways that members of humanity and human communities naturally interact I visit your house and I see something I really like in the way you decorate the walls in your living room and I go home and incorporate some of those ideas into my own visual landscape This is how cultural expression naturally works regardless of power balance I'll incorporate your good ideas into my creative expression whether you're my boss or I'm yoursI don't have any problem with this on the face of it Sharing culture is good and builds community I think though that with the rise of concepts of intellectual property people and cultures have and grasped onto the idea that they own their practices and visual markers Because I don't actually believe in intellectual property2 it's a hard sell for me I also think it's hubris and naivete to believe that what you or your culture has produced is all yours—as if it wasn't created through the appropriation of other cultures' intellectualvisual productsRather I see three responsible ways for Good People to deal with reappropriation 1 Be compassionately invested in world community The big problem as I see it with exocultural appropriation is when it's done by nationalists people wholly invested in their own community with no interest in the community of others This is even worse when the appropriating community is oppressing the appropriated culture The problem then isn't primarily the appropriation but oppression Evidence I've yet to find an Asian who was angry at Avatar the Last Airbender's use of distinctly Asian cultural cues 3 even though the show was forged by a couple of white American males Why? Because the show and the creators were as respectful as anything 2 Recognize cheesiness when you see it—and then avoid Hot Topic is or was do they still exist? the modern American youth's highly commercialized reappropriation of punk cultural cues They've branded and marketed particular aesthetics that punk culture once used and may still use I don't know to distinguish itself Hot Topic is so very not punk And it's obvious to anyone who'd care to notice 3 When you encounter an individual who is upset by your appropriation of some of their cultural cues dialogue with them Discover what you can do to mollify their concerns Explain that you realize that what you've appropriated doesn't mean the same thing to you as it does to them and explain not excuse why you've done the thing you've done Listen to their complaints and reasons why they're uncomfortable Learn from each other Foster communityThat's my off the top of my head response And goes some way toward describing why I don't think we should be bothered by Sergio Toppi's version of the Scheherazade Footnotes1 I'm trying hard here not to open the book for reference because I'll lose way too much time falling again into Toppi's illustrations It's really an amazing world he's created2 It's complicated and I'm still working out for myself what that even means3 Which doesn't mean there aren't any but I think the general thought is that ATLA gets appropriation rightReview courtesy of Good Ok Bad