Persepolis is an autobiographical graphic novel* about growing up in Iran. I think it might be the first graphic novel I’ve read — certainly the first critically acclaimed one. So I’ve sort of been wondering what it does or doesn’t gain from being drawn as well as written… and haven’t really reached a conclusion.
So first things first: it certainly does work. It’s a vivid portrayal of day-to-day experience, initially under the Shah but mainly after the Islamic revolution, and including a period of living away from her family in Europe. Politics and religion are inescapable and a constant presence, but it is full of the intimate details of everyday life: the music, the clothes, family, flirtation, and all the little ways that they try to accommodate or avoid the regime. The narrative is unsurprisingly full of tragic events, but it is also funny and honest.
But what the format brings to it; well, this book has a kind of directness. The pictures are very simple, cartoonish rather than any attempt at visual realism, and the quantity of text is relatively limited compared to what you would have in a prose memoir. So the overall effect is a very direct, stripped-down quality. I guess you might call it a naive style. Of course, that’s a quality of this book in particular rather than due to the graphic format.
Anyway, well worth reading.
* i.e. it’s an autobiography in comic strip form. I suppose by the logic of the terminology, that makes it a graphic autobiography. But that sounds confusing as well. *shrug*