Comic Book Classics — 11
Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis is a narrative in the fine tradition of Comic book reportage. It tells the tale of her own childhood and the huge political changes that shook her world. It begins in 1979 in Teheran during the time of the Iranian Revolution. It tells the story from the point of view of a little girl who comes to realize how the new Islamic regime would affect her and her family and that of many others.
Marjane’s family are middle-class intellectuals whose sympathies were initially fully behind the Revolution and rejected the Shah’s dictatorship. To begin with, the Revolution is supported by a wide section of society: Communists, progressives, democrats and religious leaders joined together to overthrow the government. Very quickly, however, they found that Revolutions can be very easily betrayed. Soon, life begins to change; women are forced to wear the veil, jobs are closed to them, universities close their doors, political options disappear. Like Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Satrapi shows the slow and relentless triumph of the forces of reaction, inhumanity and intolerance. The Shah’s secret police are replaced by religious police, equally barbaric.
The story is also full of hope and humour. Life, despite everything, goes on. Eventually Marjane is persuaded to go abroad and leave Iran. Via Austria, she makes her way to France. It is a journey that affects her profoundly. On the one hand, she gets to experience the freedom she has been denied at home. On the other, she finds that life can be confusing and cruel even away from the mullahs. The difficulties of living away from family, homesickness, the trials of life of an immigrant in a land that is not your own are all detailed here. It is a story that shows great emotional honesty.
Originally in four installments, published between 2000-2003, it soon began to create a stir, winning awards at the Angouleme festival and being made into an animated film in 2007. In English translation, the comic version been published in two volumes. The artwork of Persepolis is simplistic (naïve) and black and white. Satrapi was influenced by French comic book artist David B and this particular style suits the bleak, often harrowing story down to the ground. As critical of some aspects of Western culture as of the Iranian Revolution, it gives a truly individual vision of a history whose ripples are still making waves today.
Note: Marjane Satrapi is the first woman to make it on my list of classics. I’m sorry it took so long. It is an oversight I will be looking to correct in future posts. There are excellent women working in the field (Donna Barr’s ‘Desert Peach’ and The Girly Comic being particular favourites). And there was a time when Girls read as many – or more – comics than boys. When ‘Jackie’ outsold ‘The Beano’ and Archie Comics had a large female audience that even challenged Marvel and DC (Trina Robbins’ From Girls to Grrrrrlz is a first-rate exploration of that herstory).