Photos by Asia Morris.
Ziba is waiting, leaning against a column near the front entrance of an Orange County public library where she works, as I exit the parking lot and greet her with a hug. We separate and she smooths down her black dress. She says with a sly grin and a nervous laugh, "This is the dress I wore for the last time someone took photos of me—I hope it's not obvious."
Ziba Perez Zehdar is a woman of many admirable traits, one of which includes an admittance of her fluttering nerves, which, the more you get to know her, the more you realize she doesn't really care about her nerves at all. What she cares about is sharing; sharing her life, her interests, her hobbies and, very importantly, her scrapbooking with anyone who wants to turn a page or two. She's an open book, in the most endearing sense of the term, an attitude that stretches across both her personal and professional life.
A graphic novel enthusiast, expert zine-maker and now as a librarian, Ziba shares with us how she got into comics, how her multicultural background influences her zine-making and how she chooses graphic novels for the library’s collection. She is especially excited about the Long Beach Comic Con, but we’ll get to that later.
Ziba became interested in comics as soon as she learned to read. In kindergarten and later on in school when teachers would give her picture-less reading assignments, Ziba preferred to go for the “fun stuff.”
“I liked that it was reading but not with so many words," she explained. "I liked that there were pictures and I used to think, ‘Oh wow I’m learning to read but I’m using it for fun stuff, not just what the teacher tells me you have to read for homework. So this was a way to advance my reading skills without feeling like I’m really…like I was trying to trick myself into having fun while learning to read.”
Ziba watched a lot of cartoons when she was growing up, including those with Bugs Bunny (and anything else Warner Bros.) and Superman—the 70s version of course.
“I felt like I watched too much TV, so when I was in school I wanted to read something I could relate to more," she said. "In elementary school that’s how I related to comics at the time. I watched a lot of cartoons so it seemed like a natural progression.”
Her local library and the comic book store around the corner from her Long Beach home helped encourage her comic book reading habit. Ziba reminisced, “When I was really young I really liked reading MAD Comics, we would check them out from the local library in Long Beach. I was also into Star Trek: The Next Generation. My whole family would watch it on TV together. I was very into sci-fi fantasy and The Twilight Zone…
"Growing up, there was a comic book store by my house, I think it was called Amazing Comics, and they would have trading cards and lunch pails and everything that went along with the comics I was reading. I would look at the different books and think, ‘Oh, those are so cool, I like the way the covers are illustrated,’ and at the time I would collect Pee Wee Herman’s Playhouse cards, too.”
Cartoon watching and avid comic book reading led Ziba to the grassroots version of all self-publications, the zine. As a teenager in high school, Ziba started scrapbooking, cutting up photos, posters and magazines into artful collages that spoke of her interests before shortly discovering enthusiasts were actually putting such work into the public sphere.
“After getting into hobbies as an adult,” Ziba said, “that transitioned into, ‘Oh this is what people are actually doing as a profession, they’re making comics,’ and I thought, ‘Maybe now that I’m an adult and I’m thinking about my career I can get this going,’ so I started making zines in late high school and early college just for fun.”
Ziba expressed herself with a light-hearted humor and used the zine as a blatant catalogue of her current interests. She described one of her first zines, saying, “I liked the band Korn so there was all this corn in it. I didn’t have anywhere to put all the posters I had in my dorm so I cut them up and put them in like a scrapbook.”
For those curious about her zine work, you can check out a few of her zines here. And for anyone wondering what exactly a zine is, Ziba will explain it to you.
“Zines are like DIY magazines, a self publication to express yourself individually," she said. "A personal zine can be like a diary that you publish for everybody, you can scrapbook... I like the scrapbook zine types, you can cut up old magazines and even old graphic novels that you can share in a different light.
"For OC Zine Fest my boyfriend and I did Zebra Pizza Volume I and now we’re coming out with Zebra Pizza Volume II. It’s great to see people browse the exhibit table and say like, ‘Oh I like this, too,’ or they laugh at something they think is funny. It’s a way to connect with people that share the same interests. The zine fest was mostly about trading zines, not necessarily purchasing or selling them. I like to stay creative, to have an outlet for something that you don’t have to profit from, but just to have out there, to share. That’s why I love libraries that circulate things and I know the Salt Lake City Public Library in Utah has my zine, Zebra Pizza Volume I, they have it catalogued and circulating in Utah. Someone can check it out and take it home for seven days with their library card.”
Ziba is happy to be working at a public library in Orange County, but is always trying to push the envelope on expanding the graphic novel collection and even having a collection of zines that patrons can bring home, much like the Salt Lake City Public Library.
"I would love to be part of an innovative library system that is forward-thinking, easy to change, fast moving," she said. "I think libraries need to adapt to the current times to keep staying relevant to new generations and try new things and not be afraid of change.”
While Ziba tries to purchase all kinds of graphic novels for the library, she finds that most adult graphic novels are centered around male superheroes and are more about masculine strength than anything else. While she doesn’t refrain from such purchases in an effort to simply grow the library’s collection, she wants to expand the number of titles to include more female lead characters as well as novels in foreign languages.
"I like the graphic novels that are more independent and they show a female," she said, "like there’s one comic called The Night Bookmobile and their cover is a girl at the library. It would be great to get more female characters, like strong, independent women of all colors so that our readers can find more diversity throughout the collection.There are some that actually educate, like Sharaz-de: Tales from the Arabian Nights. It’s like actual history in graphic novel form. So it’s not just entertainment but it’s facts and history you can learn in a comic format—even foreign language graphic novels. We have a tiny collection of Spanish graphic novels so, of course I’d like to grow that collection. I’ve seen a lot of minority authors now writing bilingual graphic novels and foreign graphic novel titles and I really like showing that side of the whole genre.”
Ziba’s appreciation for foreign language graphic novels comes from her multicultural family heritage, her father’s side of the family being from Iran, and her mother’s side from Mexico. Her parents met in Long Beach, having both moved to California to go to college.
"I’m the first born of the family, first born in California, born and raised in Long Beach, so I’m new to the California area as a Zehdar, my dad’s last name," she said. "I’m the first Zehdar born in California—ever I think. I go to Iran and Mexico every few years and it’s great to see libraries in those countries and their collections to spread the word about what different libraries are doing.”
When asked if she felt like a minority as a woman interested in comics, she explained that being the minority wasn’t a problem, she actually liked being one of few girls she knew that were into the scene.
“I was born in ‘82 so growing up in the late 80s, early 90s," she said. "I didn’t see a lot of girls; it was all boys, boys, boys like this, so to me it was cool that I was into comics. But I think now it’s equal. Back then I thought, ‘Oh, I’m going to be cool.’”
As a librarian, Ziba is looking forward to the Long Beach Comic Con because it beats having to purchase graphic novels from a lackluster list of faceless titles.
“I’m looking forward to meeting vendors at the LBCC, to be able to meet in-person with the authors or distributors or publishers so I can connect with them and choose to have their work in my library," she said. "I’m going as a librarian to be more knowledgeable about what I purchase monthly for the library, to connect one on one, face to face.”
Ziba led us over to the children's graphic novel section, a part of the library I recognized all too well from my own childhood, when I would walk to the Long Beach Public Library just to stick my nose in a Calvin & Hobbes comic book for hours on end. I thought about how a little boy and his tiger may have helped me learn to question, to wonder and to visualize the in-depth, imaginative life I wanted to grow up to live.
Ziba's role as a librarian and lover of graphic novels, comic books and zines and her natural want to share her interests with others is an inspiration to everyone. To children just learning how to read, those trying to find their way through the obstacle course that is adolescence and adults looking for a creative outlet or a method to use their imaginations.
In the least, one has to hope that Ziba will find a handful of amazing artists at the Long Beach Comic Con that she can add to her collection while we say, thank you, Ziba, for sharing your interests with us at the Post.