I Read Persepolis

In my quest to eat up the best that the comics medium has to offer, I turned my hunger onto PERSEPOLIS, a two volume graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi. It's one of the latest admissions to comics canon, a modern critical darling, and was even most recently animated as a feature film. It's a memoir about her time during her time, first as a child and then as a teenager, during the Islamic revolution in Iran.

There is an issue in the non-fiction genre, particularly with memoirs, about whether the storytelling/craft of writing is actually good or if someone  has just lived through, what my non-fiction professor called, "craaaazy shit." Because anyone can be (un)lucky enough to be born into an absurd, extreme situation (Augustin Burroughs), but not everyone can tell that story well. It is even rarer to find a writer who can make the mundane, ordinary life seem full of universal power.

I kept this in mind in trying to decide which side of the fence Satrapi fell on. While I'm not keen on being one of those reactionary douchebags that likes to hate things that are popular or critically acclaimed, there are some significant annoyances that hindered my enjoyment of the book. The big picture is this: Satrapi has had an interesting life, and tells it well enough. But giving it MAUS status as one of the must read graphic novels might be a little much. She might certainly have the potential to craft a masterpiece, but this seems only an indicator of her potential.

The art is the soul of the comic, and Satrapi uses a flat, stark black & white cartooning style that is passable in terms of ease of comprehension. I don't mind that it doesn't have a lot of flashiness to it; I am, in fact, a big fan of minimalist art styles. But it tends to be flat a lot in Satrapi's work. Too often are characters draped in pitch black forms, whether in Iran or Vienna, and they become difficult to distinguish especially since the writing context doesn't always help and characters will change hairstyles. While there's something to be said about difficulty vs. ease in comics, the way Chaucer is harder than Hemingway but both are good in different ways, this feels like the type of story that would benefit from ease.

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