Review by Frank Plowright
Turkey’s historical position as the crossroads between Europe and the Middle East has increased strategic importance in the 21st century, with politics in turmoil in both regions. A greater understanding of the country and what it’s like to be Turkish is therefore useful, and Özge Samanci provides clarity via a novel method. The focal points of her country’s history are presented as taught in the Turkish schools of the 1980s, filtered through the young Samanci’s limited understanding. She’s an intelligent, but wildly imaginative child, prone to flights of fancy whose interpretations and experiences are creatively illustrated by her adult counterpart.
Shortly after she began school Turkey experienced a military coup with all the crackdowns usually associated with generals seizing power, and what had been a succession of childish fantasies about the past take a sinister turn. However, while not glossing over, Samanci keeps the tone light ensuring her book hits a young adult rating, if not all-ages. Her parents are cautious, her father especially disciplined, well aware of the consequences of speaking out in a country where the police are able to enter any home and search it. Her school similarly follows the official line, but her unconventional Uncle Nihat is able to supply the occasional alternative view.
Surprises are frequent. In the 1980s product branding was almost unheard of in a country that greatly restricted imported goods, perhaps possible in a society where adult women could be ordered to report to sewing workshops in the capital. Later in the book the practical differences of Muslims and atheists living side by side are explored, the clash of beliefs affecting Samanci’s senior education.
Samanci illustrates without panel borders, and is far from averse to some playing with form. Over the opening chapters her toying with page design is actually distracting, but that’s curtailed, with the artistic experiments more thoughtfully applied later, as seen by the collage page of sample art. Her website reveals fine art sensibilities, with comics a sideline to multimedia installations, and her diagrammatic touches and sweet, distanced cartooning don’t betray obvious comic influences other than her own inclinations. The results are always accessible, and often novel, such as lettering above a panel following the corner angle of a room, a diagram within a heart illustrating her sister’s complicated love life and the frequent use of actual documents.
The younger Samanci’s biggest influences are Kemal Atatürk and Jacques Cousteau. Portraits of both hung in her house, and she converses with them, pre-empting the similar style of childhood conversations in Jojo Rabbit. Here the stilted dialogue might seem natural, but more sympathetic editing should have adjusted it elsewhere for a creator not using their first language. It’s frequently very formal, avoiding contractions, so what’s intended as conversational captions are often stiff.
By the final pages most problems in Turkey’s more recent history have been mentioned, if not always satisfactorily followed up, which is partly to do with the focus being almost exclusively on Samanci’s experiences. Dare to Disappoint consistently presents her as the square peg in the round hole, and it’s difficult not to be judgemental about Turkey’s primitive attitudes as far as women and personal liberty are concerned. When detailing her own conflicts, Dare to Disappoint sometimes flounders as much space is occupied by problems experienced by so many others. The art carries it past these roadbumps into the next eye-opening section from which there’s much to be learned, and Samanci proves a largely cheerful and informative tour guide.