Monday, 12 October 2009

One or two of the four parts of Persepolis (2000-2003) have been around the house before, when Hayley Campbell still lived at home, and I dipped into them while rushing from one thing to the next. They were full of very attractive little cartoon strip anecdotes from a faraway place and Marjane Satrapi is also a formidable personality. I really should have stopped and paid more attention, because reading the whole work now in one thick volume I realize that I have not properly praised this masterpiece in any of my blatherings. The Random House/VINTAGE paperback (2007) collects it neatly in one compact bundle, though at this size the lettering can be a challenge to eyeballs that have been rolling around for as long as mine. This book makes me think how well the cartoon strip is the perfect mode of communication between cultures and languages. I know when my own stuff appears in translation, I don't worry too much about the words since the pictures are there to anchor things to my intended message. The meaning may indeed go adrift but the next panel is always there to pull it back. In other words, the meaning in good comics is not carried by the words or image separately. Nevertheless in scouting around on the subject of the book under discussion, I couldn't help noticing one or two disagreements occurring before we even get to translation:
(from the Wikipedia page on the Book)-
"University of Tehran literature professor Seyed Mohammad Marandi points out that in Persepolis representation is regularly interwoven with other aims and projections, which militate against accuracy. He states that the book and movie are the works of one who has 'Westernized' her outlook. He goes on to say that Satrapi, like Azar Nafisi, constantly confirms what orientalist representations have regularly claimed: the backwardness and inferiority of Muslims and Islam."
One of the reader reviews on the Amazon.co.uk page:
recommended but don't take it seriously
Most of the events are from the eye of a Marxist which makes the narrative biased. In other words seeking iranian revolution history from this book is like learning WW2 history from the film U-571!
It would be a terminally vague person who'd think they could get history out of a cartoon strip or a Hollywood movie, though in a case of suppression of all other sources of information I would privilege the former. The real pleasure of Persepolis, and of Maus and In the Shadow of No Towers, and Fun Home and all other strip cartoon memoirs, is exactly that they are personal. This review from the same amazon page, by somebody who has arrived late to all the 'graphic novel' hoopla, gets it:
"for the unawares, the narrative in this book is made up of artwork, its like a comic book, which makes it utterly adorable
In the fourth quarter of Persepolis with Satrapi now in her twenties, she tells us of a cruel thing she did. I found myself somewhat shocked, and uneager to proceed until some penance was negotiated. It reminded me of something the British critic Waldemar Januszczak wrote in 1984 when faced with Spiegelman's Prisoner of the Hell Planet, that the cartoon strip finds itself the perfect vehicle for the personal, with the reader required to "perform the function of the Catholic priest in the confessional."

news item from Sept 15: 'Persepolis' is One Book, One Philadelphia winner
"The work I have tried to do with Persepolis is to change the ethnic point of view that so many people have about Iran," she said.
"My role as an artist is not to supply answers" to political and ethnic questions, she said, "but to inspire people on both sides of the East-West divide to question their assumptions."
This summer's pro-democracy demonstrations in Iran, she said, have helped Americans to see Iran in a new light.
And they've given her hope about the future.
"I have always thought that I wanted to die in Iran, because it's my home," she said. "Now I'm hopeful that some day I can live there."


ADDENDUM
Between writing the above and posting it, two things just collided in my head. First, I'm sure I quoted it once before on this blog but my search can't unearth it, which may be a spelling issue, here is the complete quotation from Waldemar Januszczak, from The Guardian, July 24 1984. I have long regarded this paragraph as an insightful key to understanding a great deal about the comics of our times. He was reviewing a London Mayfair art gallery exhibition, the theme of which was Comics/Fine Art, and the writer was talking first about Spiegelman's Prisoner of The Hell Planet. (The opening pages of Alec were also included in this exhibition, though were invisible to the reviewer).
Heading: 'A DIET OF BUBBLE AND SHRIEK- Strip cartoons have stepped off the page into the galleries. Waldemar Januszczak reports on two exhibitions which give them the trappings of fine art-'
"WHEN THE neurotics appropriated the strip cartoon we witnessed the ideal marriage of form and content. They subverted its innocence and filled its thought balloons with their wretched, guilt-sodden solilioquies. The strip cartoon turned out to be a splendid medium for confessions. And we, the audience, found ourselves called upon to perform the duties of the Catholic priest.
Art Spiegelman confesses to being A prisoner of the Hell Planet..."
It's just occurred to me after all these years, due to the proximity of the words 'neurotic' and 'Catholic,' that Waldemar must be familiar with Justin Green, whom I mentioned in passing here yesterday:
Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary is a 1972 comic book by Justin Green. It was the first long autobiographical work to appear in underground comics, and was extremely personal, detailing Green's childhood struggle with a disorder which in Catholicism is referred to as scrupulosity and was later diagnosed as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). This comic book influenced many other cartoonists of Green's generation to explore their own personal histories; Art Spiegelman said it made his novel Maus possible.
Green: ""You may deem my material as being too indulgent, morbid, and obscene. I dare say many of you aspiring revolutionaries will conclude that instead of focussing on topics which would lend themselves to social issues, I have zeroed in on the petty conflict in my crotch! My justification for undertaking this task is that many others are slaves to their neuroses. Maybe if they read about one neurotic's dilemma in easy-to-understand comic-book format these tormented folks will no longer see themselves as mere food-tubes living in isolation."

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3 Comments:

Blogger Nino Ortea said...

Hola, Eddie:
I must admit I'm not very keen on Strappi's work (well, I don't like it nat all, ´cause I find her timing really booooooring) Her stories have been a huge sold out here in Spain (but remember the same happens with Lady Gaga and Michael Bay’s films) and the dvd has done quite well.
I do agree with you with the fact that if a persons tries to get an objective perspective of an historical issue from the reading of a autobiography story, that persons is absolutely nut or should be given a Nobel Prize for whatever and ever.
I’ve just waken up, alone again, so having nothing else to do, here I’m counting the days to get my “ALEC: THE YEARS HAVE PANTS” copy delivered.
Besos a Ana,
Nino

12 October 2009 4:54:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Matthew Adams said...

I have yet to see the animated film of Perseplis, but the book is wonderful. Im not sure what Nino is on about the timing, this is an autobiography and the lack of timing in real life is just as interesting reflected in comic form (maybe I am missing the point).

Word verification is unkydrot, which I am now going to insist my nephews and nieces call me.

12 October 2009 7:50:00 am GMT-5  
Blogger Nino Ortea said...

Hi, Matthew.
It's Satrapi's work and her authobiography, she is not to blame if I find both of them really boring (which doesn´t mean they're boring)
I don´t like her as an author, but that doesn´t mean anything that I may have a very bad taste for Art.
I mean, there are people no matter what they tell me I always find them amazing, other people may have wonderfull stories to tell but thay don´t call my attention.
It's not a matter of Life or Death, not of being better or worse, it is just that when you like something or someone, you like it.
On the other hand be sure you're not missing the point, I should improve my English, but even in Spanish my ideas are really negligible.
Well, Matthew has been a pleasure.
Read you soon.
Besos a Ana, Eddie.

13 October 2009 9:29:00 am GMT-5  

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