This autobiographical series is from Iranian graphic novelist and director Marjane Satrapi. So, yes, they’re comic books—there are two, one from 2000 and the other 2004.
Opening in 1980, we find 10 year old Marji as she grows up during the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Which she depicts with great resolve, humour, and wit. Let’s have a look.
Okay, so this is a bande dessinée—a French comic book (think of Asterix in Britain).
If you’re wondering about the name, that was the capital of the Persian Achaemenid Empire—up until its destruction in 330 BCE.
The first book is the “story of a childhood”, the second “the story of a return”. Yes, it’s autobiographical (if you were wondering).
From an upper-middle class family, she threw herself into her studies and engaged in popular culture of the day—much of which clashed with the traditions of her surroundings.
She talks with her uncle about politics, where he explains his communist leanings—as social reforms clamp down on Iran, Marji shifts her stance to equality and steps up her resistance activities.
This, of course, all plays out in comic book strips. And we think this is how Persepolis really stands out, as the story is more accessible—plus, visually striking.
It’s not just about the words, but the stark images. With Satrapi conveying a strong sense of humour and fun.
As a young woman, war erupted between Iraq and Iran. So her concerned parents sent her off to Europe—she went to Austria to continue her studies.
This is where Persepolis 2 starts. Over in Vienna in a boarding house, she struggled with a conflicting sense of identity.
Whilst happily immersing herself into the European way of things, she also suffered from culture shock and xenophobic abuse.
Such as from a nun. Her scathing response got her kicked out of school.
It’s a coming of age story, essentially, especially as Marji obsesses over guys and starts to date a painter called Reza (when she moves back to Iran).
And the story plays out with her contemplating her Iranian heritage, whilst looking to embrace some of the more culturally open aspects of Europe. Ultimately, she settled in Paris (where she still lives with her husband).
So, it’s a striking work. Despite the vibrant, eye-catching nature of the two book’s respective front covers, the comic books play out in black and white.
And they’re very engaging. They’ve proven a big hit, selling over two million copies, but the works are actually controversial in America.
As it’s graphic with its use of images (such as with scenes of torture—public lashings etc.), it’s a heavily challenged book for its use in classrooms.
Should kids read this? Of course. Why not? It’ll introduce you to a different culture and the troubles of a famous nation.
But as a dramatic and life-affirming read, it guides us through the tragedies and triumphs of Satrapi’s family. And all with great artistic flair.
Directed by Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud, the film is also excellent.
It launched in 2007 and off its $7.3 million budget went on to make $22.8 million. A deserved success. And also a big award-winning effort—it was Oscar nominated.
Again, it went for a black-and-white look. Satrapi explained this was so her characters would look like people in a country—not foreigners living in some distant land.
In other words, for those not from Iran it helps us identify with how trouble and strife can so easily rear up. Wherever we may live.
So, yes, we highly recommend the book and the film. It’s an impressive hybrid of many positive human attributes.
There’s resilience, resolve, bravery, feminism, equality, and embracing new cultures.
And Satrapi’s considerations on her home country are intriguing—a tumultuous tale, out of which came a striking comic book for the ages.