Since their childhood together in Tehran, friends Bruce Bahmani and Jamie and Cameron Douraghy have been minds of common purpose. Sometime in the year 2000 they created a comic book targeting Asian-American teenaged smokers as part of an anti-smoking campaign. More than a million issues were printed, and the friends chalked this up to a major success. This collective experience inspired the trio to pursue a new vision: a culturally savvy adaptation of the Shahnameh action-adventures they had grown up with into the American comic book form. The Shahnameh’s main hero warrior, Rostam (also Rustam) appeared perfectly suited to a comics tradition focused almost exclusively on heroic romance. Seeing themselves as adding to an existing tradition of blending vibrant folklore from a vast melting pot of world cultures into the American tradition, the three creators set out to launch the world’s first comic book adaptation of The Shahnameh.
Bruce Bahmani spent over three years researching various original Parsi texts, translations,and consulted with Shahnameh experts from around the world, looking for a way to properly adapt this story for the comic book form. The original text was written around the end of the 10th c. by the Persian poet known as Ferdowsi, or Firdausi (Hakīm Abul-Qāsim Ferdowsī Tūsī). The task of adaptation proved a challenge for Bahmani and co. because of Ferdowsi’s tendency to use double entendres in which the main story overlays a more subtle message of wisdom or advice. Bahmani's understanding of the text and the comics medium, having grown up reading American comics in Iran during the seventies while studying classic Persian literature in school, gave him a distinct advantage when it came to re-writing the multi-layered story with the sequential graphic narrative in mind.
While the focus of Ferdowsi's text was the fairy-tale epic of a warrior battling evil, the poet often made astute social observations on political and social issues of his time. Adapting the epic tale to a contemporary readership in a modern context, Bahmani's comic employs the age-old layered message of good versus evil. The creative trio identified their target audience as threefold: the English-speaking comics readers of the world; readers and scholars of fantasy and mythology; and the youth of Afghanis, Iranians, Persians, Azeris, Kurds, Tajiks, Georgians, etc. growing up in diaspora and wanting to connect to the culture of their people. The series must be looked at multi-generationally, a text for both those older ones who have forgotten the wisdom and validity of Ferdowsi's verse and the younger ones who have not yet heard it, a call for an older generation to heed the call of the young, and a call for all people to resist tyranny in a modern world full of oppression.
The comic was published on January 5, 2005, the birthday of Ferdowsi, as Rostam: Tales from the Shahnama - Issue #1 (Rostam and Sohrab). The series would be illustrated by American comics artist Karl Altstaetter, coloured by Joey Campos, with lettering by Jason Levine. It was produced by Hyperwerks Entertainment, a company founded in 1997 by Karl Altstaetter and Jamie Douraghy.