The Graphic Novel

The cover for the first graphic memoir, Persepolis I.

Marjane Satrapi has repeatedly highlighted, through talks about Persepolis as both graphic memoir and film, how significant it is for her audience to perceive her tale as relatable. She seeks sympathy, not for herself, but for the Iranian people and those who suffer. The ambiguous and simplistic style of her comic panels reflects this desire, much contrary to the more traditional style of twentieth century comics.

A cover from Batman, a popular DC Comic.

One of the most famous comic book series of the 20th century, Batman, focuses highly on the Bruce Wayne as an individual with traits unique to his situation, and as the sole protagonist in illustration – he is front and center in the majority of the comic covers. While Satrapi also features her childhood caricature of herself, the contrast is stark. Batman stands menacingly behind a villain, action anticipatory, full color offering clear mood and setting; Child Marjane sits staring passively forward in black and white, a blue background indicative of nothing. The name of the protagonist is front and center in both covers; for Satrapi, it is clear that Iranian history is her subject – the heading where one would expect to see “Satrapi” or some alias for “Female Iranian Superhero” is instead labeled “Persepolis” – Batman is, alternatively, both protagonist and the title of the narrative.

While the more traditional art form of comic illustration focuses on vivid color, distinct character definition and fine details, Satrapi chose instead to omit differentiation in her style in any way other than was necessary to distinguish characters from one another. In clothing characters in all-black or all-white, she avoids placing time, place or individuality on any one person in her narrative illustration. Any reader could be any of these characters, could sympathize with their personal history, could easily find any one or all of Satrapi’s experiences relatable on some level. The very artistic rendering of Satrapi’s graphic memoir permits a creative license on the readers’ behalf to visualize as extravagantly as they’d choose. In this way, she sets herself apart from the “Hero narrative” of comics dating as far back as the medieval tapestries telling of glorious kings and conquest. Satrapi’s portrayal of herself is clearly not as a glory-seeking heroine, but instead simply as a person who experienced life and wishes to retell her story for the sake of those who have no voice.

One of the panels as it appeared in the French version of Persepolis in 2000.

The English translation of Persepolis first appeared in 2003: the art was unaltered.

Interestingly, though the graphic memoir (sometimes referred to as the graphic autobiography) wasn’t a new genre created by Satrapi, the publication of Persepolis in 2003 created one of the largest explosions of graphic memoir publications since DC Comic’s Wasteland Series spurred the firestorm of 1990s autobiographical comics.

The cover of one of Wasteland's more notorious issues, in which the artists parodied American Splendor.

The cover for The Complete Persepolis, a compilation of both Persepolis and Persepolis II.


Resources To Gain A Further Understanding:

“Nuance and Depth Needed”
This is a critique review of the graphic style of Persepolis by Clare Hurley. She questions if this type of narrative form can further explain the ideas within the plot of Persepolis, asking herself and the readers if the graphic novel can “successfully handle material that is complex and contradictory” (Hurley, n.p.). Throughout the article she takes us through the historical contexts of Persepolis and analyzes what ideologies and perspectives, and the lack of further explanation following such assertions, that are perceived from Persepolis.

Analysis Of Graphic Novel In Persepolis: The Story Of A Childhood”
This article discusses the strengths of the use of a graphic novel and compares it to other literary forms.

Graphic Novel Review
This is a review of the style of the graphic novel that is used to tell the story of Persepolis. It is an article written by the average Joe/Jane from Yahoo.

A Purpose Through The Graphic Novel

Embracing Diversity Through Graphic Novels

A video of Marjane Satrapi talking about the comic style.


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