Comics You Should Have Read By Now: Persepolis
Hello again, and welcome to another addition of Comics You Should Have Read By Now. For those of you who haven’t joined us before, this is where we go to talk about some of the all-time greatest comic books ever written and do what we can to discuss what makes them so good. This time around, we’ll be taking a look at one of the most the impressive graphic novels I’ve read in a while: Persepolis, the autobiography of Iranian writer Marjane Satrapi.
Though it came out relatively recently (2000), Persepolis has already met with a great amount of success. After being published in the original French between 2000 and 2003, the book has been adapted to numerous languages and even a feature film in 2007. What is it that makes Persepolis strike such a strong chord with so many people? I think it is because at its core, Satrapi’s life story offers a fascinating look at something that is both alien and inherently familiar for our audience to latch on to.
The account begins in the years immediately preceding the Revolution on 1979, when Satrapi was still a very young child. From there, we move forward through her very personal account of the fall of the Shah, the rise of the Fundamentalists, and the Iran-Iraq War, before she is eventually sent away to live in Europe during her teenage years. Through her eyes, we are given a ground level account of some of the most pivotal scenes of the 20th Century. In this way, we are given a story that sets itself apart with its fascinating contrast.
All at once, Satrapi’s life story is one that combines the familiar and the extraordinary, mixing together small moments that are relatable with those we can hardly imagine. At times, she will be going through things we’ve all been through like arguing with her mother or going through a messy breakup, while at others times she’ll be enduring troubles that no one should have to bear like running through her demolished neighborhood or visiting her uncle who was being held as a political prisoner. In this way, we are given a glimpse into a world that often seems alien and inscrutable to those of us in the Western world, and can gain some small appreciation for the troubles we don’t often endure, while still acknowledging many similarities we don’t usually see.
The artwork, while simple, does an effective job conveying the story, and the choice to do the work in stark black and white does a long way to create a stylized effect, bringing the stories contrast to the forefront. The thing that sticks out the most to me, though, is how brutally personal Satrapi is in her writing; she pulls no punches and speaks very directly on a wide number of topics, which I’m sure made several friends and family members rather displeased. She never shies away from an uncomfortable subject, and therefore gives us a rather intimate examination of some of the private and painful moments of her life.
In many ways, the way that Satrapi pours herself into her work reminds me of Art Spiegelman’s Maus, which is some of the highest praise I can give. By putting so much of her life on display, we can see how the events around her shape her life in ways both great and small, changing the way she must dress and how she learns in school as well as the way she must pursue romantic relationships. Like Maus, there is a wholeness to the work here that answers questions we usually don’t think to ask.
On the whole, Persepolis is a profoundly eye-opening account. It gives a unique perspective to a tumultuous time that is often depicted in an infantilized way. It gives us a better appreciation for the many similarities and differences that exist between our different cultures, all handled with an honesty that’s rare to see in most stories.
Go out and give it read when you get a chance.