The Artwork of Michael Divine

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Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

January 8th, 2009

So I guess I’m sort of beginning a Book Review section…. because today I’d like to talk about Persepolis. This is a little genius of a book – two books actually, since, tho books 1 and 2 are sold separately they essentially complete each other. Lately, I’ve been interested in non-superhero well-rendered graphic novels. I’m not so into the airbrushed look or the still-a-comic-book feel but the gem of a story that tells it’s tale through words and pictures in a completely unique way is a vision I can appreciate. There are people making stories that require the visual component as much as, or in some cases more than, the verbal component. And it is not for the sake of "ease" either. It is not necessarily easier to use a few lines to set the scene than it is a hundred or five hundred words. The picture, after all, is sometimes worth a thousand of those bulky words.

With Persepolis, the simple yet nuanced black and white illustrations, done with thick painted lines and sharply contrasting spaces of black and white is so lovingly rendered, so achingly familiar at times that it sucks one in immediately. Marjane Satrapi, the author, tells a tale of her sometimes strenuous childhood in Iran through the late seventies 70’s and into the early 80’s, a time when I was watching Sesame Street, eating my Honey Nut Cheerio’s and playing with Legos while she was enduring…. an uglier and uglier government based on suspicion, Islamic fundamentalism and hate. Sadly, our own government was as much responsible for that establishment as the Iranians. The contrast in worlds, told from a fairly objective viewpoint – although she, like me, has no taste for religious fundamentalism, regardless of the path – sets the tone for a seemingly easy telling of some heart-wrenching and bittersweet moments. This is a book that, if it were all text, would be hailed is good, maybe great, but would be just another book. Through the medium of a graphic novel, Marjane created something that stands above and on it’s own as a complete and realized vision.

While I could digress into the content of the story, I won’t. Like I said, neither of us, Marjane nor I, have a taste for religious fundamentalism and all of the nastiness it forces upon society. The story does make me grateful for the foresight of this country’s forefathers – the drafters of the Constitution and Declaration of Independence – in their separation of Church and State and their dogmatic approach to eliminating religious dogma from those documents. The dogma-lovers still creep in and try to spread their hatred for others (like the Yes on 8 campaign in California funded by the Utah Mormons) but at least they are still on somewhat of a leash and there is still plenty of ground for other viewpoints.

What Marjane has done in this however, is take all that war and hatred, the stories that we heard on the news and turned it into a very human tale. It is both familiar and foreign – easy to swallow yet complex in tone and flavor. What she goes through, as she gets older, a disillusionment, drugs, alcohol, partying, misplaced love, etc, is what so many of us have experienced in an effort to effort to squelch the inner demons. We just want to fit in. We don’t fit in. No one fits in. Everyone fits in but us. We want to die. Then there is hope – some glimmer – and we learn to make peace with it – the roots and the demons. Out of that, hopefully, we find our own voice, our own personal integrity and vision based on the ancient truths – loving one another, acting from a place of compassion and wisdom – and can share what we have learned from that experience with others. In Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi has done exactly that.

The Artwork of Michael Divine

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