LOCAL NEWS

A cartoonist’s take on this country

Mar 17, 2024, 10:39 PM | Updated: Mar 18, 2024, 11:30 am

SALT LAKE CITY — Take a guy from an Iranian-American family, someone who’s lived in the city his whole life and never hunted, fished, hiked or gardened and put him and his wife in a tiny house in the woods of southern Idaho and what do you get?

Navied Mahdavian got a graphic novel that cuts through genres to address race, politics, and John Wayne Westerns, among other things.

In 2016 Mahdavian was living in the Bay Area with his filmmaker wife, Emelie. He was a school teacher but dreamed of becoming a cartoonist for the prestigious New Yorker Magazine. So, to find affordable housing and find the time to further both their careers, they bought a 280-square-foot home and a plot of land in rural southern Idaho.

“When you think New Yorker cartoonist, rural Idaho, it’s not the first thing that comes to mind,” he said.

Nahvied Mahdavian in front of this Idaho home.

Navied Mahdavian in front of this Idaho home. (Courtesy: Mahdavian family)

They moved from one of the most liberal parts of the country to one of the most conservative.

“It’s like we sort of knew, but we didn’t really understand what we were walking into,” Emelie Mahdavian said.

Navied Mahdavian documented their time there in the book “This Country.” He wrote about his mountain man naivete.

“The first winter there, it got down to negative 36 degrees, and neither car would work,” he said. “There’s the line between romantic and naïve and we were definitely on that line.”

A cartoon depiction of Nahvied, Emelie, and their dog.

A cartoon depiction of Nahvied, Emelie, and their dog.

Navied Mahdavian illustrated the two of them to give back to the community by renovating a mothballed movie theater as an art house cinema. He said residents didn’t want art films, they wanted John Wayne westerns.

“Shocker, people didn’t want to watch, you know, subtitled Norwegian films about whale hunting in the Faroe Islands,” he said.

He got a new understanding of the economics of hunting.

“You are able to, you know, get an elk, that’s going to feed your family for months. And for many of my friends in the area, they said growing up, it was a matter of survival,” Mahdavian said.

“And there is a certain environmental logic to it,” he wrote. “The county, which is roughly the size of Connecticut, has around 4,500 people. The nearest city is an hour and a half away. You could use your local resources which include deer, elk, fish and fowl or you could truck in food from hours away.

Nahvied Mahadavian, the creator of the book “This Country.”

Navied Mahdavian, the creator of the book “This Country.” (Peter Rosen, KSL TV

Nahvied Mahdavian, who grew up in multicultural Miami, also wrote about his first experience as a “minority.”

“There definitely are certain physical features that just make me stand out that I hadn’t fully appreciated before,” he said.

In one exchange, while sharing some wine with a local couple, they ask where his name is from.

“I thought it was Lebanese. Jim thought it was Iraqi,” the woman says.

“No, my family’s from Iran,” Mahdavian replies.

“Oh, that’s okay,” she says.

– A passage from This Country

The graphic novel Navied Mahdavian takes a comedic beat as he takes a sip of his wine and contemplates that response.

“There definitely was that question and sometimes it was more pointed,” he said.

“Most of the time, people were really, really nice. But then there were moments,” Emelie added.

Emelie Mahdavian, Navied's wife, who produces documentaries and teaches at the University of Utah.

Emelie Mahdavian, Navied’s wife, who produces documentaries and teaches at the University of Utah. (Peter Rosen, KSL TV)

In the book, another woman asks Navied Mahdavian, “You’re not a Muslim? Are you?”

In the end, the couple had their first child and decided to move to Salt Lake City, where they now reside.

“It’s just not the place that I wanted to raise my daughter in the same way that I think people there don’t want to raise their kids in urban areas,” Navied Mahdavian said.

Navied Mahdavian walking down a Salt Lake City street with his daughter.

Navied Mahdavian walking down a Salt Lake City street with his daughter. (Peter Rosen, KSL TV)

Navied Mahdavian now draws cartoons for the New Yorker Magazine, and his wife produces documentaries and has been teaching at the University of Utah.

They recently decided to move again, this time to England.

Now, he said, when he reads about the deep lines dividing the country, he thinks back on his time in Idaho.

“I became friends with people who had very different backgrounds than me, very different political beliefs, views about what America, and we still found a way to get along,” he said.

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A cartoonist’s take on this country