A young woman living in Amsterdam receives a letter from a
much-loved aunt in Istanbul, in which she reveals that she fears
for her life. So far, so strange, but when a call comes to say her
aunt has died, our narrator sets out to discover the truth...
DIVA: Zakkum is a story about family secrets, loyalty,
love, cultural etiquette and taboos. Can you tell us what inspired
Beldan Sezen: Since my early childhood
years I struggled with the discrepancy between what I directly
experienced and what had become commonly accepted through social
conventions and a language of silence. Taboos implanted by words
and visuals, which I understand as an intellectual and emotional
diminishment. Here lies the motivation for my work. When I draw,
paint and write, I create a reality which breaks silence, which
turns invisibility into visibility.
The idea for Zakkum itself came to me in 2005. As I describe it
in the book, I was sitting on a park bench and thinking about my
aunt who had past away a couple of years earlier, and that the
family described her as "not being herself any more", that she
ranted a lot and was kind of mean. I remembered her the last time I
saw her, being rather witty and smiling to me. Old and weary, yes,
but I won't forget this twinkle in her eyes that I saw back then.
From that memory I spun my story. What if she didn't die of natural
causes? And so on… I love murder-mysteries, so I thought that's a
great one to turn into a comic-murder-mystery where I can use its
concept, taking place between Amsterdam and Istanbul, to discuss
intercultural issues regarding homosexuality, tradition, class,
gender, migration and identity.
The narrator is an artist in her early 30s, whose name
we never learn. Is she a fictional version of you?
In a way, of course she is! I guess it's a comic artist's thing.
Look at Shaun Tan or Chris Ware or Alison Bechdel's narrators...
When I met Chris Ware last year for the first time, I couldn't
believe how much he looked like his main characters. Same
peanut-shaped head! So yes, [there is a resemblance] and certain
parts of my own character merge with the fiction. One of the things
where we are not similar is that I hesitate much more. *laugh* I'm
less daring, I guess.
How have different readers responded to the story? The
public generally, other Turkish queers, your family?
When Zakkum was exhibited at the women's museum in Wiesbaden,
the town where I grew up, my family and childhood neighbors
(Turkish) attended the opening, being very proud of me. Most of
them I hadn't seen in more then 20 years, they all came with
smiling faces and heartfelt kudos, having their daughters translate
every bit so they wouldn't miss the story.
As for the public in general, the book is just out, readers seem
to enjoy it... What I personally liked the most was when a reader
came up to me and congratulated me for the universality of the
story. She could very much relate to the Zakkum in terms of the
themes of loss and love. I thought that was really cool since it
made clear to me that I can tell stories openly, the way I am (with
all my identities, so to say), from my queer perspective, and
people will relate.
You live in Amsterdam. Did you grow up in Turkey and
then move, or did your parents emigrate and bring you up in W
My parents migrated in the 60s to Germany, where I was born and
raised. So me and my sister spent summer vacations in Turkey almost
each year, always having to say goodbye to someone dear, one way or
the other… Cool thing though about being a migrant kid for me is, I
don't relate to the concept of borders. I don't feel obligated nor
bound by them. Home is inside me; the "wherever I lay my hat" and
"the world is my oyster" thing.
Zakkum cleverly shows the migrant experience of being at
home in your place of origin and simultaneously out-of-place.
Without wanting to give anything away, the plot turns on a crucial
misunderstanding that illustrates this very well. What does it mean
to you to be a Turkish person who does not live in
Hm. It means to not take things, concepts, structures and
beliefs for granted. Specially not your own. Not for granted and
not as some kind of a safety-corset that can be misused as an
excuse to stay in a comfy-zone. And it means to not take myself too
In terms of their queer residents, how are Amsterdam and
Istanbul different from each other (and similar)?
As far as I can tell, it is much easier for queer people to live
in Amsterdam. When I look into my backyard, I have quiet a few gay
neighbors, an old lesbian couple, younger dyke, gay men… We all
live out amongst straight neighbors with various cultural
backgrounds. I do not fear being bullied or harassed or gossiped
about - I live openly. I would have to think more than twice to be
out in a similar situation in Istanbul. Money and class matter, of
course (and I dare to say that herein lie the similarities).
Istanbul has a large transsexual community; most of them are sex
workers. Then again, when I first came to Amsterdam, most of the
transsexuals I knew were sex workers too. But Istanbul still,
despite the growing LGBT community, is a more conservative society
It does affect me immensely when I see ordinary parents walking
in the Gay Pride in Istanbul, or when the mayor of Ankara opened
the exhibition "See Through Us", which was portraits and stories of
gay women/men and transsexuals in Turkey by the Amsterdam-based
photographer Diana Blok. Things are happening, in Istanbul as well
as in Amsterdam - where I get sometimes the impression that despite
all the earned rights we silently slip into some classic
heterosexual concepts, wanting to "fit in".
Zakkum is your first graphic novel - will there be more?
What kinds of subjects would you like to address in
Yes, there will be MORE! *laugh & happy dance* If all goes
well, my second book, Snapshots of a Girl, will be published next
autumn. And I have an old short novel I want to transform into a
comic book. Both are autobiographical. Snapshots is about my coming
out years (I had several coming outs, to myself and others,
spanning something like a decade).
My subjects of interest will continue to be women, dykes,
queers, name then as you wish, those marvelous people who have
crossed my way. Those who can't be bent straight, those "misfits"
who dare to stand up for their lives, beliefs and desires, despite
being told otherwise.
Zakkum is published by Treehouse Press,