Comics to Read – Persepolis

Cover of Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Cover of Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis is an autobiographical graphic novel by Marjane Satrapi. She grew up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. When things seemed to get to rough she got sent away to Europe, but eventually came back home. It was also one of the top challenged books in America in 2014.

Using a graphic novel to tell the story made it something that could cross boundaries in many ways. It is difficult to talk about a situation from another culture if you have not grown up in that situation. Visuals help to translate those cultural differences into something that can be interpreted by others. The story itself is so incredible and to see those items visually it really brings power to the story being told.

A graphic novel granted Marjane Satrapi the ability to put a face on the situation in Iran, where otherwise it could just be seen as something that is happening far away that doesn’t matter.

An Autobiography

The important thing to remember when reading Persepolis is that it is an autobiography. Someone could try and separate the story being told with the reality of the situation – but this was the real situation. One of the things that we often forget about the facts of history is that they are experienced by real people. Those people experience and view those events through the lens of their personal experience.

In Persepolis Satrapi really shows you her experience and her view on her life. She takes you from living in Iran and dealing with her world being turned upside down. Then to being the fish out of water trying to live in Europe where suddenly the culture and customs are completely different. Finally she ends up back in Iran because she wants to go – only to discover that home is a little harder to find then she thought. It gives you a unique look into a story that most people have no connection to.

Visual Storytelling

Opening panel from PersepolisThe graphic novel does a great job of giving visuals to circumstances that other cultures could not relate to. A great example of this is the very beginning of Part 1 where Satrapi is explaining about the veil. I think that other cultures have a view of what the veil is and what it means, but it is great to hear from someone who grew up in that culture. The other piece is that there is no one type of veil – there are multiple. Part of what the different types of veils tell you is about the person’s own beliefs.

It is amazing how much can be brought out of what seems like a simple piece of fabric, but there is so much more to it than you might expect. At the same time to be able visually see how the veil is represented in Iranian culture really helps to understand everyday life for Satrapi.


Marjane Satrapi’s story is not easy to hear. Persepolis gives you a look into a harrowing series of events. Panel of PersepolisShe does not shy away from talking about difficult and personal experiences in a very open and honest way. It is not about the clinical numbers that we might hear about in a history book. It is about the real people in her life who she knows and cares about.

Sometimes history can seem like just a series of numbers and the situations can be tragic, but we often distance ourselves from the real tragedy. Persepolis brings the lives of those who lived through this particular situation into focus. It is obviously only one story, but it gives a glimpse into a different life and a different world. It puts a face on the history of a nation that many of us would not know otherwise.

Bryan Lee O’Malley – The Voice of my Generation

I’ve talked before about the voice of a generation – I feel like Lorde has the potential to be that for folks younger than me. You know, kids these day. Me? Coming in at a round 30, the prophet of my generation would have to be graphic novelist Bryan Lee O’Malley.

Who’s that, you ask? Why, none other than the guy who penned Scott Pilgrim and his precious little life. I honestly already pretty much felt this way after reading Scott Pilgrim the first time. Actually, probably after the second time. Because you want to know what I did as soon as I was done with book 6, Scott Pilgrim’s Finest Hour? I picked up book 1, Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life and read the whole series again.

What does the best fighter in the Province have to do with my generation? I think it’s more the aimlessness. The suburbs. The needing to get it together – and it feeling like that’s taking longer that before. And the feeling that we really wish something more epic (but manageable) would happen – though in the Scott Pilgrim universe, epic comic book/video game style fights are the norm. Emotional baggage become manifest, and battle ensues!

Ah, with wonderful panels like this - faithfully recreated in the Edgar Wright film.

Ah, with wonderful panels like this – faithfully recreated in the Edgar Wright film.

Honestly, I feel like I need a reread – I’ve been holding off until the full color edition was out, which only just finished releasing recently. If you’re looking for an amazing comic to pick up in all its color glory, this might be what you’re looking for.

But if you’re looking for just one graphic novel, then you’re looking for his most recent one, a stand alone story about the now-30 crowd. It’s called Seconds, and it’s about a chef who opened a restaurant with all her friends, who by 30 have all left and she’s alone. She’s tired of the place and wants to move on, and is working on opening a new restaurant – the purchase and repair for which is a nightmare.

At least, that’s what it’s about until she starts rewriting history.

Katie playing boss at her restaurant, Seconds.

Katie playing boss at her restaurant, Seconds.

Seconds is about, I suppose, second chances. And third, and fifth, and on from there. And how, if we could do it all again, maybe we shouldn’t. About how my generation was promised that we could have it all, and how the real world does not seem to actually work that way – and even if you had the power to try to make it so, it still wouldn’t work.

Seconds was amazing, and I highly recommend it. Holly will be writing a reaction to it later today on Comparative Geeks. But until then, what do you think? Love Scott Pilgrim? Thoughts on Seconds? Other selections for the voice of our generation? I would love to know – join the conversation in the comments below!

#SummerofSandman — Because #EndlessSummer is Taken Already

Just in case you missed this last week.

Comparative Geeks

Sandman covers by Dave McKean. Collage discovered at The Book Wars Sandman covers by Dave McKean. Collage discovered at The Book Wars

Diana, David, Holly and I started discussing a run of Sandman posts for Comparative Geeks back in February, and those are coming soon.  Since we’re publishing so many Sandman posts this summer, here’s an introduction to the series for those of you who haven’t read it yet.

The Sandman is a comics series by Neil Gaiman with various artists published by DC Vertigo between 1987 and 1996. It defies categorization. Fantasy-Horror-Supernatural epic is the best I can do for a descriptive label. The original run was 75 issues. It spawned various spinoffs, derivative works, etc.

Dream of the Endless, known to the Romans as Morpheus, is the central character. He is one of seven anthropomorphic personifications. He has two older siblings – Destiny and Death – and four younger ones – Destruction, Desire, Despair, and Delirium. The Endless are…

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Breaking All my Comics Rules – Watchmen

I spent a few weeks exploring the general rules that seem to permeate comic book movies. From there, I explored all of them at once – as they all show up during the X-Men franchise. But as the phrase goes – the exception that proves the rule? How about a little Watchmen, then?

Generally regarded as the greatest of graphic novels, this twelve-comic series is a commentary on the entire comic genre, while itself being in the form of a comic. This meta-commentary is a large part of the success of the story, and it’s a similar situation as you see in other great comics commentaries – The Dark Knight Returns, The Incredibles, and eventually in this vein, Marvel’s Civil War.

Seriously - that is some strong praise.

Seriously – that is some strong praise.

The heroes get too big, work outside the law for too long, things go too far, and they have to hang up the cape. And then things get too big, and the world needs its heroes to save it once more. That’s the story in an extremely short nutshell. In the end, it’s not the story that’s my point here. The point is in the comics themselves, and the movie that eventually came from them.

Because by and large, these break my rules, while also containing the rules — as you might expect in a meta-commentary. And then, when you finally get to the present day,  some of the rules start to fit again, in an obvious way.

The Origin Story

For one thing, Watchmen as a comic does not open with an origin story. It dives right into the action – well, right after the action. The Comedian is dead, and it’s being investigated. We start with Rorschach narrating — ever the unreliable narrator. We aren’t given insight into this world, as much as disinformation. And it’s a mystery from the start.

Rorschach’s opening-page monologue also works really well as the main dialog in the amazing trailer:

Sure, origin stories are explored throughout, but they are weaved throughout the plot and serve the purposes of the plot. They serve as part of the larger exploration and revelations of the mystery.

I had three rules about origin stories. For one, start at the beginning. Watchmen does nothing of the sort. Well, the movie does a bit – giving us some history in the opening sequence. These set the scene of this as an alternate reality to our own, while placing the story in its place in history. The comic takes its time doing this.

For another, pick one origin story and run with it. That doesn’t quite apply to a one-off story like this – it’s the only option to choose. It’s also full of the origin story of two teams of superheroes, and many of the members of these teams. It’s not focused, but instead explores the whole idea and existence of superheroes.

And for a third, stick with a writer – generally the one from your origin story. Again, it might be cheating to say that this applies – of course they stuck with Alan Moore. However, Alan Moore was not supportive of the movie, as opposed to someone like Frank Miller who has been involved in a number of movies based on his comics. It’s just not the same.

Sequels, Villains and Changes

My second set of rules had to do with a larger franchise — with the comics leading to a larger universe that keeps going, that has a life of its own, and in the movies they keep going with sequels, full of more and more villains, and increasing changes from the comics.

This is it - 12 comics, one collected edition: the whole story!

This is it – 12 comics, one collected edition: the whole story!

These things just aren’t true of Watchmen. The story hits its end, is finished, and doesn’t need to go anywhere else. The comics didn’t go anywhere else, and the movie can’t really either. It will stand alone as a single thing.

And while it’s normally the sequels that have lots of extra villains, if we only have Watchmen to look at, it only has one villain. There is Molloch, who serves the purpose in the mystery of the Red Herring. In terms of my rules, he also serves the purpose of the “second villain,” there to distract our heroes. However, he is actively framed and used this way by the actual villain, so this is more of a meta-commentary on this type.

In the comics, it’s not a world full of villains that needs a hero. It’s a world at war, ready to explode. It doesn’t need a hero – it needs a miracle. Or a massacre.

Which leads to the last point — to changes. By and large, the movie is considered to actually be pretty close to the comics. Sure, some of the secondary story that the comics tell (like The Black Freighter) don’t make it onscreen, but most of the story does, mostly in comics order. It’s from Zack Snyder, who before this made the incredibly faithful 300. So maybe it’s no surprise.

The one main change that you see is in the ending, which bothered me at the time, but when you get down to it, it’s not much of a change. It exists more for time, and still keeps with the feeling and purpose of what happened in the comic. So I would say more that this should almost have seen more changes, as a movie, than it did. It looks and feels like it is a comic book turned into a movie, with occasionally some really awkward scenes because of that faithfulness.

Since the Movie

There are some things worth mentioning that have happened since the movie. For one thing, a bunch of new Watchmen comics have come out. For another thing, Alan Moore has happened.

Not both at the same time. Nope, the comics aren’t by Moore. And what types of stories are they? What could they possibly be? Why, prequels, of course – there’s nowhere to go with a sequel, as I said. And these are not just any prequels, but of course, origin stories. For, what it looks like, just about all of the characters.

This just seems like a ploy to make money, so someone had the rights to release more comics — I’m sure there were people who wanted to actually make the comics — and they fell back to what the default always seems to be. Origin stories.

But no, not by Alan Moore. He has some pretty choice things to say about the movie, superheroes, and comics in general. Oh, and Hollywood. Not favorable. I’ve been thinking about it, and it feels like he never really picked up on the joy of these stories, the speculation, the triumph, the escape, the wonder.

I wouldn’t call him a fan, a geek, or any part of that. He’s a critic. He’s outside looking in. So while he maybe gets it in some ways, he misses it completely in others. I am pretty much good with his story, his world here. I will happily disagree with him, and continue to enjoy comics, and the movies that they make from them. He made a story which does not fit that mold, which critiques it, and that’s good. It needs to exist. But I think I’ll stick with my comics full of joy and fun. Avengers: Age of Ultron, anyone?