One of the many things I am unduly critical about is graphic novels (or comic books.) I wasn’t very fond of either, as a child, when the only comic book I ever owned starred Donald Duck.
I recently read Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, a beautiful and touching autobiographical comic book. The author shows us the memories of her childhood and adolescence, in the form of simple illustrations, just like a child would. Originally written in French, it has two volumes (The Story of a Childhood & The Story of a Return) which are illustrated in a charming black and white. The story is set during and after the Islamic revolution and the Iran-Iraq war.
Brought up in Tehran, Marjane dreamed, as a little child, of being God’s Prophet and later, during the revolution, dressed up and pretended to be the likes of Che Guevara. While she grew up in a relatively independent and liberal family atmosphere, the world around her turned into something entirely different. The book deals with themes like war, discrimination, religion, politics; all from that little girl’s point of view. I never imagined a comic book could handle such a “grown-up” topic in such a “grown-up” way. You can’t blame me, though; I actually don’t know any one who reads comic books of any genre other than fantasy.
What I loved the most about the book, is that it captures a youngster’s perspective perfectly. I always think that when writing about his childhood, an author writes what he feels retrospectively (or what he thinks he must have felt back then.) Because of that, autobiographies tend to exaggerate a child’s capacity to express or understand emotions.
On the other hand, once you’re in your forties, twelve-year-olds and eight-year-olds all seem about the same. So some authors make their younger characters too, well, childish. This comic book displays the little girl’s innocence wonderfully – and without making her seem naive. And as the girl grows up, you grow up with her!
Now, I am not claiming that I am suddenly a fan of comic books about superheroes or Japanese animated characters with uncharacteristically huge eyes. I’m just saying, I’ll try not to be so judgmental the next time; because this particular comic book (Persepolis) is certainly one of my favourite books!