Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and Persepolis 2: The Story of A Return are by themselves complete memoirs. Besides the satisfaction of learning what happens when Persepolis (Satrapi) leaves her parents in Iran and goes to boarding school in Austria, reading both graphic novels is an opportunity to discover the author’s artistic patterns in her funny, sad and informative graphic novels.
The similarities begin with the almost silky smooth, pleasant to touch firm covers, much richer than typical paperback books. In the center of the covers are identical designs, similar to the frame of a cameo broach. Persepolis has a red background, with a round-face child with sad eyes in the center. Persepolis 2 has a blue cover that complements the red of the first book. It has the same cover design except a woman with a thin face and shocked eyes is in the center of the frame.
Satrapi’s panels are black and white throughout both novels, a good lesson in the power of simple lines and negative space. By reading both books, the panel style becomes more apparent. Persepolis, page 47, for example, has a single horizontal panel at the top and two vertical panels beneath it. The same layout is used on page 39 in Persepolis 2. In both instances the top panel depicts the issue (political prisoners being freed and Persepolis’s angst about betraying her culture). The bottom panels make use of white space to include significant statistics. The second demonstrates effective uses of white space by including multiple lines of phone conversation.
Both books occasionally use text boxes at the bottom or top of panels, a technique which allows “asides” for the protagonist to mention inner conflict.
In other panels, Satrapi draws the background to the left of the panel and a larger figure to the right, representing the typical foreground. White space between the “background” (page 43, Persepolis 2) suggests the distance between the girls in the booth and Persepolis rebelling against their criticism in the same panel. The final three panels on the same page represent time lapse, expressing effectively in the graphics the emotional reaction and thought transition, an aha! moment for Persepolis.
A more obvious similarity between the novels is the way Satrapi depicts mass chaos with swirly lines on panels with black backgrounds. In Persepolis, page 95, school girls whose eyes are mere circles with dots in the middle (suggesting obedience and fear) fill the one panel page. In Persepolis 2, page 102, the same one panel, black background technique shows white inked faces of the executed revolutionaries.
My favorite panel is in Persepolis 2 (page 127). It reminds me of lessons that teach “make it your own.” Persepolis must submit a drawing as part of her application to the College of Arts, depicting “The Martyrs.” She practices Michelangelo’s “The Pieta.” For the exam, she makes it her own by covering Mary in a black chador and drawing an army uniform on Jesus. She is successful and so is Satrapi, showing graphic novel form can effectively show how the Islamic Revolution affected an Islamic girl with Western ideas. In fact, the graphic novel form makes the serious subject of revolution and one woman’s experience a form which might reach a new audience.