Zahhak: The Legend of the Serpent King, created by Iranian award-winning artist and filmmaker Hamid Rahmanian and Meggendorfer Prize-winning Paper Engineer Simon Arizpe, is an impressive pop-up book like you’ve never seen before. It retells the Persian tale of Prince Zahhak who was easily convinced by the devil (Angra Mainyu) to murder his father King Merdas and take over the throne. Zahhak, meaning ‘he who has 10000 horses’, would rule the kingdom with his army for a violent and bloodthirsty 1000 years.
The Emergence of Snakes
The evil spirit, disguised as a cook, fed Zahhak with blood and the flesh of animals and one day Ahriman merely asked to kiss Zahhak on his two shoulders, which he agreed. Then Ahriman touched Zahhak’s shoulders with his lips and vanished. At once, two black snakes grew out of Zahhak’s shoulders. They could not be removed, for as soon as one snake-head had been cut off another took its place.
Zahhak: The Legend of the Serpent King is Hamid Rahmanian’s illustrated adaptation and one of the many tellings from Hamid’s masterpiece Shahnameh: The Epic of the Persian Kings, a book that counts an impressive 592 illustrated pages of digitally composed artwork collages. Shahnameh, also known as “The Book of Kings”, is a 1000 years old epic poem written by Abolqasem Ferdowsi, one of Persia’s greatest poets. Shahnameh, part historical and part mythical, is the world’s longest epic poem written by a single poet. Hamid Rahmanian took the effort to create an illustrated version of Shahnameh, which took him 10.000 hours of research to collect over 8000 pieces from miniatures of Persian manuscripts and lithographs from different eras. He and his team digitally cut-out all the pieces to combine spectacular collages that are composed into impressive scenes that tell the stories of Shahnameh. Some of the collages contain artwork combined from 33 manuscripts and Hamid managed to preserve the authentic look and feel by carefully selecting art that suits the stories very well.
“For the first time ever, a tale from the Persian Book of Kings springs to life in this stunningly produced and ingeniously crafted pop-up book.”
One day, Hamid Rahmanian visited a conference about Shahnameh in Toronto. To his disappointment, it was long and mostly boring. So he got inspired to create his own telling, using the rich culture of Persian art. He wanted to create something interesting for a more broader and younger audience. Something that would connect with an audience that already loves stories like Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings. Hamid saw that potential in Shahnameh and started collecting over a hundred books with historical Persian artwork. Hamid decided to not create his own artwork and took the effort to assemble collages of cut-outs, only using original Persian school artwork from the books he gathered.
The collages, that are digitally created by stacking cut-out elements as layers, formed a perfect base to create a pop-up book. By using pop-ups with multiple layers, the collages aren’t flat anymore and reveal what’s hidden behind the overlapping elements. This makes it even more interesting to see how the scenes are built and what elements are used to tell the story. It’s the perfect medium for this kind of artwork that has many secrets hidden behind each layer.
The paper engineering by Simon Arizpe is really impressive and full of surprises. It’s amazing to see how everything fits inside this packed book. Some of the giant pop-up scenes also reveal mini booklets with the most beautiful details. There’s also a lot of animation and rotation going on. One of our favorites is Feraydun on his horse in Zahhak’s dream. It stands up and rotates with a two-way mechanism that also points towards Zahhak who peeks back with an eye that opens right on time. The engineering of Zahhak is subtle and impressive. It respects the artwork and adds extra depth and animation to the endless layers and pieces.
We had the opportunity to ask Simon Arizpe some questions about Zahhak and his work as a Paper Engineer. Click here to read the interview!
Order at Amazon: Zahhak: The Legend Of The Serpent King
Concept, art & design by Hamid Rahmanian
Paper engineering by Simon Arizpe
Text by Ahmad Sadri & Melissa Hibbard
Published by Fantagraphics Books