“Persepolis” and “Zahra’s Paradise” – Comics from Iranian Authors
“Persepolis” is a comic written and illustrated by Marjane Satrapi. It follows a one or two year period of Satrapi’s life at the beginning of the Islamic Revolution in Iran. It was first published in 2000 and has gone on to sell over a million copies in many European languages (though not in Farsi, the language of Iran).
“Zahra’s Paradise” is a comic drawn by Khalil, an anonymous Arab artist, and written by Amir, an anonymous Persian writer. The story is set just after the 2009-2010 Green Revolution in Iran. It was published on the internet starting in 2010 as a web comic translated in many languages, including Arabic and Farsi. In 2011, it was published in a hardcover format in English.
Naturally, the two comics draw a lot of comparisons because they are both set in Iran. “The Independent” from England compared the two, saying the were very similar comics. They are not similar.
“Persepolis” is a good piece of literature; however, it is more like an illustrated book than a comic. There is a small narration followed by a picture that demonstrates the small narration. This technique is somewhat outdated. Being Satrapi’s first comic, I would not expect “Persepolis” to have the artistic richness that combines words and images to create a verbal and visual masterpiece. Librarians who don’t follow the medium absolutely love this style, though. It is easier to for the non-comics fan to digest and the Spartan pictures are appealing because they are “adult.” There is no need to contemplate the art. There are no difficult visual cues or graphic themes. It’s just a simple narration with pictures.
“Persepolis” is self-indulgent at times, as are all autobiographies. The protagonist enjoys discussing her rebellious ways as she tries to figure out the Iranian Revolution. While you would think that a ten-year-old would be naive and pitiable, Satrapi is able to discuss revolutionary theory with the best of them. Her ironic demeanor outsmarts her parents and teachers. Perhaps this is not an unrealistic character trait. Perhaps it is a national flaw: at a time when Iran was delirious, the child remained sane.
“Zahra’s Paradise” is the optic opposite of “Persepolis.” There are long-running artistic themes from panel to panel as well as spreads that add to the artistry of the script. The imagery is always amazing. Individual panels often have powerful artistic effects and always have beautiful pictures. This artistic vision holds its own against the best comics. It is easy to dote on the art, which is rich, expressive, and organic.
The writing and story also stand out. “Zahra’s Paradise” takes place in the days after the 2009-2010 Green Revolution, a protest movement that was violently squashed. Mehdi is a fictional protestor who goes missing. His college-age brother and mother try to find out what happened to Mehdi. As the story progresses, the reader meets a hodgepodge of realistic characters, including the mother’s chain-smoking best friend, a copy shop owner who pirates anything the regime doesn’t like, and bureaucrats who are forced to tow the line despite their better judgment. The comic evokes political figures like Ayatollahs, mullahs, and Neda. It could have easily been written as a hard-boiled detective story but the author went out of his way to write a story with tangible characters who act logically.
Both books are definitely worth reading.
“Persepolis” is a librarian’s dream. It is a quick, easy read that provides a look at one family’s view of the Iranian Revolution. While it might not be the comic critic’s most beloved format, it is certainly important because the style reaches a wide audience. “Zahra’s Paradise” is a comic reader’s dream. It requires attention to both the story and the art as it describes the Green Revolution. It is rich in artistry and prose, making it a wonderful piece of literature.