I grew up in the former Soviet Union, where comic books were not a part of everyday culture, so admittedly I read my first comic book/graphic novel as university student in one of my multi-culture-something classes. The book was Maus, by Art Spiegelman. If you have never read this account of travail and subsequent survival of the Holocaust … it’s really something. But Maus is not your standard comic book, it’s not Batman or Super Man, or even Silver Surfer – it’s real life… as a tale of mice and cats.
Since then I have read quite a few graphic novels, although I still favour informational, allegorical, or real life comic books, as opposed to ones about superheros. Who knew I was so practical…
I am a fan of Joann Sfar, Dominique Goblet, Robert Crumb (although depending) etc… Sarah Glidden’s ‘Rolling Blackouts’ is one of the best sources of information on the war in Syria and middle-east conflict I have read.
However before any of these happened, the person who in fact made me really appreciate the art of graphic novel was Marjane Satrapi.
In the autumn of 2007, just as I moved to Geneva, Satrapi’s first animated film based on her collection of graphic novel books by the name of Persepolis came out and I went to see it on a whim – I think with some newly acquired friends.
My French at that moment was rather rusty, yet somehow revived on the spot at the cinema. In the following weeks I stumbled upon Cumulus, a comic book shop that became my regular stop in the years to come, and purchased the entire Persepolis collection compiled into one fat book.
I sat down to read it that very night, and when I woke up the next morning I knew that there was really nothing else I wanted to do other than to continue reading. What I am about to share next is a confession. And KIDS DO NOT DO THIS PLEASE.. but having started my work only 3 or so weeks prior, I called in sick because I just could not put down the book. I stayed in bed and read all morning and afternoon. I have to say that any guilt I may have felt was certainly outweighed by the great pleasure of reading.
Persepolis is Satrapi’s honest and extremely poignant account of her growing up in Iran in the 70’s, just as revolution breaks out; of her being sent by her family as a young girl to Austria for safety; and her eventual return to the country of her childhood, now changed. The story is so good, the characters are so cool, that any superhero comic just fades in comparison.
Since then I have devoured most of Satrapi’s books: Poulet aux Prunes (Chicken and plums – and please, the book is just so much better than the film) is a story of a broken heart and more importantly music; Broderies (Embroidery) is one of my favourites – it’s a book of women getting together, and talking about life and their experiences in Iran and beyond. It’s funny, heartbreaking and just so good.
It is very clear from her books that Satrapi (as well as women in her family) is an extremely strong, and highly intelligent person. She is a feminist, but without making any political statement on the topic, simply by being the woman she is.
Her books show the side of Iran, that the occidental world does not get to see from behind the facade that the country’s government has erected.
I have learned much of Iran’s history simply from these books, so if you are willing to be moved, entertained, inspired, heartbroken, informed and witness real people being superheros, Satrapi’s books are for you.
** All artwork is property of the artist