Artist's comic book revisits 1980s' Turkey

HANDAN KAZANCI
ISTANBUL
Published 27.11.2015 00:18
Updated 27.11.2015 00:23

A homemade birthday present is an unlikely starting point for a groundbreaking graphic novel about one woman's Turkish childhood. But a notebook full of stories given to a friend by the Turkish artist, Özge Samancı, 15 years ago was the inspiration behind what has become a gripping and innovative account of life in the '80s and '90s in Turkey.



Samancı's book, "Dare to Disappoint: Growing Up in Turkey," is the first book written by the İzmir native, who was born in 1975. The 200-page memoir is an account of her childhood in Turkey. Samancı has lived in the U.S. since 2003.

Speaking to the Anadolu Agency (AA), Samancı said that people "who do not know about the issues in Turkey" were her target audience.

"Readers who are not familiar with the culture and history of Turkey will be introduced to the trickiness of life in Turkey, the difficulty of survival, the absurdity of politics, the challenges of being a woman in a developing country, the meaning of friendship, love of the sea and the impact of politics on the middle class in the 80s and 90s," she says.

"They will also learn about our dysfunctional education system, which traps people into careers for which they have no passion," she adds.

Her book - newly released on Nov. 17 -- exposes readers to a time when Turkey experienced a military coup that became known as one of the most violent interventions in the country's history, claiming hundreds of lives.

It also includes a period of market liberalization and profound social, cultural and economic change.

American TV dramas such as "Dallas" and "The Young and the Restless" had an important impact on Turkish society during the period as well.

"When people were fascinated with the lifestyle in 'Dallas' they elected a new prime minister, Turgut Özal, whose dream was to transform Turkey into a little U.S.," an accompanying caption reads. On another page, Samancı draws a caricature of the old Turkish lira, which Turks used to spend by the millions; even to purchase a small pack of chewing gum.

Her book features caricatures of Özal as well as the late president, General Kenan Evren.

On another page, Özge and her sister Pelin envy their friend Engin, whose father becomes rich by exporting textiles during the Özal era, a time which liberalized the Turkish economy.

While Engin was wearing fancy clothes, carrying a Walkman and reading foreign magazines -- difficult to find in Turkey at the time -- Özge and her sister wore items sewn by their mother and sported second-hand shoes.

Samancı's careeer as a writer was unforeseeable. She studied mathematics but later became a teaching assistant in the Visual Communication Design Department of Istanbul Bilgi University.

"It is irrelevant to mathematics but I believe they hired me because I was making comics for Leman," she said, referring to a Turkish satirical magazine.

After earning a Master's degree in film at Bilgi University, she became a lecturer in the college's design department.

Although the idea of writing a book stayed on her mind for the last 15 years, she simply did not know where to start, recalling that a birthday present she made for one of her friends was a huge turning point:

"I filled an entire notebook with anecdotes from my childhood," she says, adding: "That notebook became popular among our friends. Ever since then I have wanted to write an autobiographical graphic novel."

It was 2006 when Samancı launched her own "online comic journal" titled, Ordinary Things, just to entertain her friends. According to Samancı, the website is visited by around 9,000 people every day.

While Samancı was a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley in 2010, she completed two full chapters of "Dare to Disappoint"and found an agent who sold the book to a publishing company in less than a month.

The actual production of the work took three years, says Samancı, who is currently working as an assistant professor at Northwestern University in Illinois.

"The negotiations with the editor took time," she says, adding: "She had her own concerns about making the story understandable for readers who are not familiar with the history of Turkey."

Since "Dare to Disappoint" attracted the attention of the Turkish media, Samancı says that four publishing houses are now interested in translating her work into Turkish.

The book has already been number one in the online bookseller Amazon's young-adult category.

U.S. magazine Publishers' Weekly has praised the book, writing: "Samancı 's caricatures of herself and the people around her, often drawn wide-eyed with surprise, make the sporadic episodes of political strife and urban violence oddly incongruous." "But they're a crucial component of the story, one that resounds with honesty and humor."

Aside from writing, Samancı also said that she recently completed an ambitious interactive art installation, a 6x6-meter project which develops her drawings.

"This project is very important to me since it allowed me to realize my drawings in sculptural form," she says, adding: "Fiber Optic Ocean portrays and performs what happens when technology invades the world's oceans."

Although today's Turkey is much different from that described in Samancı 's book, her memoir - told from a child's point of view - is a good start for people who want to learn about Turkey's transition from a closed country to an open market.

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