Sherrel: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis depicts an Iranian childhood using solely black and white, no gray area. The lack of color has the association of the past, like a black and white television show, we know the events are not actively happening. They are instead being reflected on by the artist. The use of blacks, highlights the culture and ethnicity. Iranians are known for long black hair. Since the head scarves in this graphic novel are also black we can see how the hair cover almost mimics the women’s natural hair. The use of black and white also helps indicate the mood of the text. At times only Marjane is white, and the adults tower over her as black blobs. We can visually see the intimidation she feels. The lighter panels, using mostly white images, shows a more whimsical mood, like when Marjane is imagining climbing through a herd of sheep.

The color and size of the panel are related, the small squares reminiscent of the funny pages in a newspaper. Instead of the classic four panels horizontally, the majority of Persepolis are three horizontal panels, with three vertical. This eliminates the beat panel. Although we have been taught the beat panel is used in comedic texts, the fourth panel can be used dramatically, to give the reader a break, a moment to digest. Persepolis offers no such catharsis, the reader is constantly eating information and images together and this slight deviation allows us to think about panel structure. Perhaps the lack of a fourth panel allows the reader to experience the image as intended, since this is based on life, with no time to comprehend while it’s unfolding. Also, we see the contrast between the events of Persepolis and the funnies. The funnies begin and end in those four panels, and say something pun worthy. Meanwhile, Satrapi is attempting to give us full characters, full wonder, full drama, and maybe a few chuckles.

Continuing the similarities in style, Satrapi’s icons are simplistic and help lighten the weight of the story. All of the characters have round heads, similar bodies, and their only distinguishing marks are something like a mustache, or height, the only real clothing marker being Satrapi’s leather jacket. Most of the icons are black using the white negative space for highlights, indicating shape or texture difference. The simple icons help make the story less real, less anatomical. This lessens how harsh some of the subjects are, such as war, sickness, and death, this allows some separation from the reader. We might also attach the icon style to Satrapi’s age. We associate cartoon images with childhood television, it follows that we might connect cartoon images with a childhood reflection piece. It shows just how normative struggle was for the author, how often her family faced issues of political strife and at a young age it was as normative as watching a cartoon.