Why the Graphic Novel is Perfect for Satrapi

Marjane is a bit of rogue, you must admit.  She may have injected some steroids into her fictional self’s subversive attitude, but I get the feeling that she is very much like the outspoken, free-willed individual we get to know through her graphic novel.  That is, why I feel, she chose such a medium.  The graphic novel itself, though not entirely new, is one that avoids classification, canonization, and academia in general.  Judging by the posts, most of us were surprised at how effective Satrapi was in depicting her story through an illustrated narrative constructed in a long series of frames.  It is surprising (and refreshing) isn’t it?  To study a book of pictures in a college course.  I can’t see Persepolis working in any other way though.  Satrapi’s voice is perfect for the graphic novel because of her spunky personality, tendency towards humor, and wild imagination.  Because her life story is quite sad, almost tragic in a way, the graphic novel gives her an authentic way to capture the audience and makes her themes of war and alienation less oppressive on the reader and more emotionally accessible.  She states in an interview with The Believer, “If I were to write a memoir with words, I’d have to figure out a way to express verbally an image I have in my mind. In my case, it’s easier to draw it. And words also are filters. They have to be translated. Even in the original language, there is interpretation and some ambiguity. If there’s a cultural difference between the writer and the reader, that might come out in words. But with pictures, there’s more efficiency.”  Maybe this is why her book (and film) have had such success, but I also think it is Satrapi’s own life that has been caught between the “East” and “West”.  The graphic novel is also in an in between state, which is why it fits her so well.  Here’s another quote from that interview, “Well, of course I do have a little bit of hope. Otherwise, I would just take a shotgun and end it all now. Since I’m alive, I’ll always hope that a miracle could descend on us. My intellect sees no way out, but my instinct for survival is hopeful. It says: let’s try. The day that I don’t have that anymore, I swear to God, I will commit suicide. That’s something I do want to communicate to the readers. Not the suicide, but the hope. What I really believe in is good people. It’s that simple. The bad ones are really crazy, totally out of their minds, and the problem is, you don’t need very many crazies to really screw things up. That’s what gives them their power. But there are more of us, I think.”  Digest that for a little while. Here’s a link to the interview:

Interview with Marjane Satrapi

“Marjane Satrapi.”  The Believer. (August 2006).  Int.  Joshuah Bearman.

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As a graphic novel, Persepolis literally illustrates the history for the reader without leaving much to the imagination. Although that might seem like a disadvantage, I think that’s actually appropriate for the content of the novel.  It helps to keep our “western” ideas and conceptualizations of Satrapi’s world separate and we can see her world exactly the way she sees it, even during her childhood.  That made me appreciate this text even more, and how it is helping me understand the Islamic Revolution more clearly.  As part of an assignment for another class, I am keeping up with the current bigger media stories in the Middle East.  Understanding their history on a deeper level has definitely allowed me more incite to their current interests.  (And in case any one is curious, the Arab League Summit  is meeting in Baghdad this week; 2 big topics of discussion are the situation in Syria as well as Iran’s nuclear plans.)

Reading Farideh Goldin’s article called Iranian Women and Contemporary Memoirs made me think about how dangerous writing a memoir can be for an Iranian. Goldin says, “Writing of self is frightening; it has consequences.  Life narratives cannot possibly explain the author’s life alone without involving other family members and friends.” And Satrapi speaks out so boldly of the oppression her friends and family suffered from and their acts of protest.  Goldin’s article also talks about the reason why so many memoirs have been written in recent years and I thought it was interesting that she attributes that partially to the Bush administration creating a stir of western interest in Iran:  “with the wealth of material on Iranian history and the fallout from the Iranian Revolution, and western curiosity about a country that was recently labeled as an axis of evil by the Bush administration, it is possible to have a personal story that is not totally private; it is possible to write a life narrative that is more political than confessional.”  And, at least to me, Persepolis is not an exception to that idea; it tends to act more as an informative story than as a diary, even despite the fact that Satrapi seems to hold back nothing.

I hadn’t started reading graphic novels until my freshman year in college. A few friends of mine were the type of people who had their regular comics sent to them from their hometown comic-book store, or they would travel the distance to Jamestown (the nearest comicbook store around). I had never really given much thought to them, I didn’t like or dislike them, but seeing their interest and dedication I decided to see what they were all about. I started reading Green Lantern (still do) and Batman has since become my absolute favorite (at first I thought he was just a rich guy with no powers; little did I know). Coincidentally I was assigned to read Watchman for Novels and Tales (McRae’s class). I previously thought that graphic novels and the like were cliche nerd paraphernalia, but after reading some on my own and then Watchmen for class my opinion was completely reversed. Graphic novels have the ability to stand on the same level as any other novel or literature. A classic example of this is Watchmen, I know I’m referring to it a lot but that’s because everyone is familiar with it. Watchmen on the surface is a graphic novel, “superheros” fighting against a certain evil. But it tackles a big issue within society, which is who is there to keep those sworn to protect society from taking advantage of their power and using it for their own goals. Moreover, Watchmen isn’t done in a silly way, the images are gritty and the characters are just as real of a portrayal as novelists come up with as well. Maybe this is just personal preference, but the gritty and violent (and not unnecessarily violent) images give the reader a greater impression. The author/artist can use images in addition to text, which enhances the point that is trying to be made.

On the same topic of images, and this may be a little more far-fetched, but graphic novels can use their images to soften or toughen a topic. A perfect example of this is Maus, which all about WW2 and concentration camps. I have seen elementary aged kids reading this and I think the fact that it’s not real people or describing cats, dogs, and pigs as people during WW2 (which seems susceptible to coming across as convoluted), makes it readable to kids of most any age. Conversely, I have seen teachers and parents reading Maus and enjoying it. I believe the power of a graphic novel is in it’s images (astounding), but what I mean is that the images can make subject more real or an issue more age universal. Graphic novels deserve to be on the same level as all other types of literature.

Graphics of Childhood and Depression

I think the most interesting thing about this story as a graphic novel is that it gives somewhat of a history lesson disguised within the Sunday comics. It’s not until the second half of the novel that we get to see Marji as an adult, so the first half documents the experiences of a child growing up among warfare. Being a kid, her view of the world is far more fantastic and magical, as though everything were make believe, and the context being in comic form captures that perfectly. For example, her relationship with God is shown by depicting him as a large bearded man that looks like a cross between Santa and Karl Marx who comes down and speaks to her in an extremely casual and comfortable way. Imagining God as a cartoon in this way, and also putting him at the same level as her, as someone that she can yell at, get mad at, and tell to “Go away” is a great way of representing her child’s mind. In fact, all of the stories of history that she learns from her books and from her parents are depicted in the same way, as though she were using GI Joe’s or Barbie dolls to act out historical events. I think the form of graphic novel for this text does a great job of interpreting the mind of a child understanding “adult” conflicts.

One of my favorite sections in the novel was the chapter titled “The Veil,” in which Marji suffers a dark period of depression, having lost her boyfriend, her money, and a place to live. When she returns home, she feels guilty for being so wrapped up in her own small dramas when the rest of the world, when her home country, when her family were suffering war. She walks through town and feels as though she were “walking through a cemetery…surrounded by the victims of a war I had fled” (251). I couldn’t help comparing this section in the novel to the blog called “Hyperbole and a Half,” whose last post was documenting the writer, Allie Bosh’s, bouts of depression. The blog uses written descriptions and (often hilarious) drawings, much like a graphic novel, to tell stories. In this blog post, titled “Adventures in Depression,” she explains how depression feels, and even illustrates the part of her that scolds herself for being sad for no reason. In fact, it’s a very accurate depiction of feelings of depression. Regardless, the use of graphics helps the narration of her experiences with depression similarly to how it helps Marji’s narration. She depicts her depression with dark images, small self-illustrations, and few words, characterizing a loneliness in the drawings. Not only can the graphics of the novel characterize child-like imaginings, but the visual depiction of feeling depressed.

 

Bosh, Allie. “Hyperbole and a Half.” Hyperbole and a Half. N.p., n.d. Web. <http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.com/&gt;

A Child’s Perspective

There are a few things that stand out to me about this book.  One is that this is a graphic novel which has not been assigned, if at all, here in the SUNY Fredonia English department.  I really enjoy the graphic novel because you still must use your imagination to piece together the story but you have the help of the pictures to stay completely on track with the Marjane Satrapi’s vision.  It is as if this is a novel and a play combined into one.  Every so often there is a picture of only the narrator which seems like a mini conversation between the narrator and the audience with the rest of the cast frozen in time on stage.

The other aspect of Persepolis that stood out to me was that the narrator is a child.  Children have a completely different perspective on reality from adults.  They do

not see sides or differences in ethnicity.  The only thing that children want to know is why they can no longer see their friends in school every day.  All of the changes and issues going on around her are difficult to understand.  Throughout the first section of this book it becomes apparent just how easily it is to mold the mind of a child.  Children believe who they trust.  Marji trusts her parents just how Ramin trusts his father.  He does not find killing human beings wrong because his father has made communists the “bad guys” in his mind.  When Marji confronts Ramin about his father and the murders he states, “He is not a murderer!  He killed communists and communists are evil.(p46)”

The Graphic Choice

I’ve always loved graphic novels ever since I was a nerdy little high schooler who couldn’t wait for the newest adaptation of a Frank Miller tale. V for Vendetta, Sin city, 300 and many others became quite popular among the media. My favorite of those is V for Vendetta which tackles a lot of political issues within England and makes some very, very bold statements about where the country is heading. I use V for Vendetta as an explanation as to why Satrapi decided to tell this story in graphic novel form. These stories are easy to compare because honestly as a writer I can see the act of writing these stories out in strict novel form being an incredibly challenging and long winded task. Being able to show characters’ emotions through an image simple saves space and can be more effective in certain situation-both novels containing such situations.
While illustrating the novel definitely helped tell the story in a unique way, the perspective definitely served as the most important part of the story. Satrapi’s choice to tell this story through the eyes of a little girl makes her ignorance and lack of knowledge understandable, and offers the reader a chance to learn about her country and the conflict within it with her. This is probably my favorite text in the class syllabus and I think it’s because it offers a much more in depth learning curve which is both education but most importantly entertaining at the same time.

what I didn’t know about the Revolution

I’ve enjoyed this book the most so far in class for several reasons. First of all, the format of the book is enjoyable and makes for an easy read. I think this is important that this book is a graphic novel because the Iranian Revolution was such a serious matter. Reading the book as one would a comic strip takes a lot of seriousness and previous political ideology out of the equation. There is no way we as Americans are used to reading about matters dealing with Iran in a similar way to which we read “Calvin and Hobbs”, and thus it brings many new ideas and perspectives to light regarding the situation as a whole. When combined with the narrative from a little girl growing up amidst the revolution, I find myself actually re-learning what happened. Some things I had misconceptions about includes everything from the attitude of the country (I had no idea there were so many sides to the revolution, or that so many events took place before the taking over of the U.S embassy; it seems Americans only perceive the revolution as taking place once our embassy was taken over). I also like the little girls depiction of God as a personable force in her life, as well as her religious comments in the beginning of the novel. We clearly see how religious attitudes of the country are much like our own in America, and possibly even more mild when considering the Evangelical Resurgence in the political climate of the U.S. Also, as clearly depicted in the last bubble on page 79, I learned that Arabs are NOT Iranians. This concept never occurred to me.

I was stunned to learn how repressive the regime was over a population which didn’t necessarily support a religious government. As seen with the family, people have very mixed views about religion – an idea embodied in the little girl. It amazes me how people use torture and violence to subjugate a population in fear and obedience. This concept is so foreign to me I can’t relate to it at all.

However, my favorite part about this novel is the humanity found within each character. I think it’s safe to say I’ve never been spoken to a group of Iranians in my life and therefore have never gotten a preview as to who they are as people. From what the graphic novel has pointed out, they are just like us; emotional, intelligent, and even funny. My favorite example of humor in the novel is on page 81. The little girl is complaining about the Iraqi’s telling her father how “they want to invade us”. Her fathers response really cracked me up; “And worse they drive like maniacs.” Its the same sort of everyday humor I could hear an American person using about some other group of people which we don’t understand or connect with.

Lastly, I’m fascinated by the clothing restrictions put on the population by the new Iranian government. Neckties, short sleeves and skirts were banned among other things. Recently I’ve also heard that Shorts and necklaces have been banned for men in that country. What does banning a style of clothing do to people? This is a question I will bring up in class. To show the hypocrisy of such an idea, here is a picture of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Please tell me that the lack of his necktie doesn’t still contradict his Armane suit. There is a stark contradiction to the traditional dress of the religious leaders of Iran, like Ayatollah Khomeini. Why is this? This is what puzzles me about the modern Iranian regime – the mixed signals we get in trying to understand them. Just like the little girl in Persepolis.