‘Jensiat’ Is Bringing Sexual and Technical Education to Iran as a Graphic Novel

Iran is a country ruled by religious fundamentalism. As such, their government is generally pretty homophobic and sex-negative. However, one Iranian cartoonist, Kioomars Marzban, better known as Kya, is working to provide sexual education with an online comic.

Jensiat, a collaboration between Kya and artist Vahid Fazel, follows three main characters: Leila, a businesswoman and activist; Jamshid, an Iranian-American digital rights activist (and Leila’s love interest); and Shirin the sexologist.

Lelia’s just returned to Iran after a decade of living in France. She wants to be successful in Iran’s emerging tech industry, and she partners with her two friends.

The three of them set up a website teaching sex ed, and the Iranian government isn’t exactly a fan. When they refuse to make the changes the government demands, Jamshid is put in prison.

In this case, art mirrors reality — the Jensiat site (in Persian) not only features the comic, but lots of educational resources. And like the fictional Jamshid, the real-life Kya has faced persecution over this important work. Unlike Jamshid, though, Kya’s not in prison — he was exiled to Georgia. (Fazel, the illustrator, lives in Toronto.)

The site was co-created with the UK digital activist group Small Media. Small Media added animation to Fazel’s original artwork, and provided the site design.

Though the title, Jensiat, translates to “Sexuality” or “Gender”, the focus of Jensiat isn’t just on sexual health. Jensiat also a lot of helpful information about technical issues. One story involves a woman in an abusive relationship. Her boyfriend is hacking her social media, and the characters solve her problem — while teaching the readers how to solve it in real life.

The idea of using comics as a way to train people isn’t new. In World War II, pioneering cartoonist Will Eisner — most known for superhero strip The Spirit — created Army Motors, teaching GIs how to maintain their vehicles.

After World War II, this morphed into PS Magazine — and Eisner’s idea to teach via comics has been so successful, PS Magazine is still running todayOf course, PS Magazine is designed to only deliver information; Jensiat is ultimately about its narrative.

While Jensiat is only available in Persian, it’s been getting noticed around the world. It was nominated for a Freedom of Expression Award. While Jensiat is filtered by Iran’s government, Iranians will contact the Jensiat team for advice on tech — and discuss what it means to be online in Iran.