Seeking to disprove stereotypes that comics are merely simplistic or juvenile entertainment for the uncultured; to enlighten the open-minded and encourage the broadening of one's horizons; to examine comics as a text; to deepen appreciation for comics, comic books, and graphic novels as a formidable form of art in all cultures.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Review: Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return

At the time of this post, I haven't yet read the predecessor to this graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi, but the story stands on its own well enough that there were very few occasions where I wondered if I was missing something that was perhaps in the other book.

Satrapi describes her experiences growing in 1980s Vienna, having been sent there during her adolescence to be distanced from war-torn Iran and its fundamentalist, oppressive government. She deals with the emotional pain of realizing that her family remains in danger while she is on her own, becoming a new person as she is exposed to much more liberal schools of thought than what she has hitherto been used to. Eventually she returns to Iran for a few years, to find herself defying her government, gaining greater insight to the motivation of her country's leaders, and fitting in less and less in the setting.

The story succeeds in delivering a great coming-of-age story while giving a Western audience greater access to a foreign culture. I'm not entirely sure how the telling of this story in comics form strengthens it as a whole, but I do have a few simple thoughts:
  • The simple drawing style of Satrapi, utilized in a very Western medium (yes, there are Eastern comics, but the style and form differ), really helped me get drawn into the story more. I often find it a little more difficult to relate with foreign cultures when simply reading text about them or sometimes even seeing a movie. The author's cartoons succeed in helping me relate with the Middle Eastern protagonist and neutralize any undesired alienations I may feel long enough to help me understand her own cultural discoveries in faraway places.
  • There are several times where I think it was easier for Satrapi to show rather than tell. One example is a page in the story where she describes how one begins to spot the different female body shapes under the many robes and veils they are required to wear, and illustrates how certain hairstyles result in a corresponding veil mold for others to see. It was much more effective to see this than have to read and trust that my imagination was doing the description justice.
  • Obviously there is something to be said for pacing and juxtaposition in the graphic storytelling. I personally loved one page where Satrapi is showing a figure drawing class she was taking, with a female model who had to remain completely covered due to a mandate by the powers-that-be(were). She slightly exaggerates the size and pose of the model to really accentuate the lack of shape the student artists had to work with and thus proclaim how ridiculous a scenario she'd found herself in. Pair this with her words, "We learned to draw drapes really well," and we're given a fantastic commentary on liberal arts vs. fundamentalist conservatism.
All in all a great read, and, of course, an excellent example of comics wielding greater potential than perhaps what pop culture America readily sees. If you enjoy autobiographies, Middle Eastern/European cultures, and discussions of clashing ideals (and the birth of new ones), then this book is for you.

1 comment:

Erin Ann Thomas said...

I'm going to offer a less sophisticated viewpoint in favor of Persepolis as a graphic novel. The material that Satrapi discusses could come off as really heavy handed, and I felt like the medium humanized it because it provided some "comic" relief (that really is a bad pun). Though I learned more than I knew about Middle Eastern politics before and gained compassion for those often pitted as our enemies, Persepolis also made for an excellent beach read (it had me giggling at parts). "Political for sure, yet delightful--" (those are the nonsensical adjectives I want printed on the back of the next reprint. Shark, can you arrange that?).