1. How is the work illustrated? Be specific: would you characterize it as sketchy, realistic, cartoony, artistic, ornate, spare, expressionistic, tight, loose, etc.? What is the overall feel of the artwork, and what kind of tone does it create for the reader? Do you feel it is the uniquely suited to the story being told? Consider the differences between Crumb and Cavey’s illustrations for Pekar’s American Splendor.
Persepolis is illustrated in a more cartoony way, but it definitely has some expressionistic qualities. The illustrations have artistic qualities on some pages, but many of the pages seem to almost have a child-like look to them. This way of illustrating works well for this graphic novel due to its ability to tone down the seriousness of the main focus of the book. It also works because the story is following a child, Marjane (Marji) Satrapi, through some of her childhood, more specifically from the ages of ten to fourteen. If this had been drawn in a more realistic way, the intensity of the events that are read as well as having pictures to go along with them would have been overpowering, such as in the torturing of Ahmadi on page 51. If the lashings and iron burning had been more realistic, this scene would’ve been almost intolerable. Illustrating this story in the more childish way also works as a reminder that this story is told through the eyes of someone who was only a “tween” at the time of these horrible events.
2. Why was this story written as a graphic novel? What might this story lose if translated to a novel, short story, or even a film? What elements of the story almost require the juxtaposition of words and images? In other words, what does the comic format allow us to see and experience that a traditional novel wouldn’t? Again, be as specific as possible.
This story had so much to tell in such little time, so writing it in the way of a graphic novel was an excellent choice. With the illustrations, the reader can see what happens to personal identity when fundamentalism comes into Iran. A person could get an idea through film or fiction, but to see all of the women looking identical, like on page 95, it adds something that film and novels couldn’t. One could imagine it through the novel, and one can see similarity through film, but the illustration of it just intensifies the idea. Making this story into a graphic novel also draws in the reader without overdoing it. Like mentioned in the previous question, there are intense scenes, and if these scenes were made into live-action film, they could almost be unbearable to watch. This way of telling the story also works better than putting it in novel form because the reader gets to know all of the characters better as opposed to just mainly knowing one character.
3. Who narrates the story? How do they do this? Traditionally, narration is told from either a third-person or first-person perspective; how does a graphic novel challenge this approach? Consider how the form of comics ‘tells’ a story and allows us to see multiple points of view within a single narrative frame.
The story has the typical third-person “camera” perspective, but is also told in first-person through Marji. The third-person perspective is seen in each frame through illustrations and through text bubbles. Marji’s first-person perspective is boxed off in the frames both above and below the action taking place in the frame. This way of telling the story (in both third and first-person) gives the reader two different ways to view the story: through the eyes of Marji and through the eyes of a bystander. Many times in the story, both perspectives could be seen on a single frame, like on page 20. The last frame has text bubbles and Marji’s narration. In this particular frame, the reader would be lost with only one perspective, but both perspectives work to clarify what is trying to be told.
4. Describe one scene in the novel, either a single frame or a series of frames, that you feel is particularly significant. Why is this sequence so important? Do you admire this passage more for its narrative (the words) or its art (the images)—or both? Make sure we can not only see what’s going on here, but we see how it relates to the story at large.
Page 102 in Persepolis was a very significant page for me. On this page, in the first (and larger) frame, you see shadows of young children with keys around their necks being blown up by mines. The frame below it has children dancing at a party. The words are important on this page, but the pictures do most of the talking. The larger frame shows the fate of the poor children; the smaller frame shows the children who are in the upper social classes. This single page can almost summarize the entire graphic novel. The fighting during the Islamic revolution in Iran was based on freedom and equality. When the war began with Iraq, poor children were sent to fight, being duped into thinking that if they die, it’s a much better fate than what there was for them on Earth at the time. The upper social class kids are laughing and having a good time at a party. It was hard for me to see how different lives of these children were up until this point in the story, and how unfairly and unequally these children were being treated. So much was being thrown at me on this page; it took me twice to read it before I could truly fathom what was going on. This page is emotional, controversial, and it shows how life was on opposite ends of the social spectrum.