Saturday, 19 November 2011

Persepolis - graphic

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (Vintage: 2008). A graphic novel following the story of the author’s life. She grew up in Iran and lived through the headlines. Persepolis gives an insight into the lives of a political family, and how the story of Iran shaped the outlook of one of its daughters.
I was watching Fresh Meat last week. At one stage, they took the mickey out of “geeks that read Iranian graphic novels and get around to talk about it” (or something like that, anyway).
This was about three days after I finished an Iranian graphic novel. And had decided to blog about it.
It was a struggle not to feel pretty small at that point.
To be fair to Persepolis, it’s also a “major motion picture”, which earns it a few more cool points, right? No?
Well, no matter, I read it and now I’m blogging about it, and if that means I get judged by the Fresh Meat crowd, well I guess I’m just going to have to live with that. So there.
This was my first graphic novel. Which, after a bit of thought, I’ve realised really is too wide a label to be a genre. I mean, it’s like saying this is my first movie, or this is my first cartoon. It’s a format, but the differences between each example can be huge. Persepolis, Watchmen, Sin City – they’re all graphic novels, but I’m willing to bet cold hard cash that they’re all very very different.
So I’ll not pause too much on the graphic novel factor. It was new to me, but I got used to it pretty quickly. I guess the big difference is that there are more tools on hand to create a distinct feel. Satrapi didn’t have to rely solely on the words on the page to develop the atmosphere of the book, she had the style of the drawings, the way they were arranged on the page, the expressions on people’s faces – all came together to signpost both the plot and the emotion of the book very effectively.
Perhaps most impressive about Persepolis was its consistency. The writing style, the pictures, the layout – they all chimed together, they all looked and felt and sounded the same. This is a book with a very strong personality, and it works well to tell a powerful story.
But there was a fairly major downside to Persepolis for me. The style is very simplistic, which means that it comes off as childish in places. Which is brilliant  and apt in the early and middle parts, where the world is being presented through the eyes of a child. But the kid grows up as the story moves on, and the style stays the same. When there’s high drama early on, the child’s voice and perspective makes it all the more heartbreaking. But when there’s similar drama later on, and we’re still experiencing it with the same style of narration, it comes across as flippant.
And a little annoying.
I don’t want to get too down on it. I enjoyed reading it, and it’s probably a little unfair to applaud the style of the book and then criticise it for staying true to that style from start to finish. I just felt that the story moved but the characters didn’t. The grown up Marji at the end of the book still feels like the child Marji from the start.
Maybe that was intentional. Maybe she’s trying to show that we’re the same people our whole lives, no matter what age we are. Maybe that’s a good point to make. But in making it, I think she’s sacrificed depth and development and richness.
Plenty good about Persepolis, but plenty bad too. Classic middle value score.
Next week, think I’m going to turn a little Doctorow. I’m sure the Fresh Meat lot would approve. Not that I care.


Anonymous said...

what's annoying to me is the sheer volume of graphic novels you should have read before this one.

You've gone for the pretentious sunday times readers choice, forgivable but if you'd have asked me i could have given you such better choices.

I know a batman: dark knight rises, we3 and watchemn are the types of story this medium works best with, frustrating that you chose to go with a story that isn't really a classic graphic novel type.

Anonymous said...

by the way, I clicked anonymous by accident, that comment was by me, James Patrick Collins esq, graphic novel specialist.

PaperblogPrincess said...

Secret shame: I've never read this and yet put it on my summer reading list like, yearly. I saw the movie though! Anonymous Collins is right though, there are so many good choices out there. Everyone has got their own jam, though. I totally go mainstream and dig Y: The Last Man (still working on getting your wife to read them - think you'd both really enjoy), Fables, and most recently Ex-Machina (the ending infuriated me though). Sometimes, the art can be what really turns you off; I actually hated Watchmen because of the color palate. If you want to go the youth librarian challenge route, I dare you to not enjoy a graphic/traditional mashup: The Invention of Hugo Cabret. Just got Scorsesed.

Anonymous said...

Ex-machina- great call!