Just as you wouldn’t evaluate a long-form author’s writing style based on a single sentence, it wouldn’t make any sense to evaluate a graphic novelist’s work based on a single image or panel. In the case of Persepolis, it is extremely tempting to do just that, because Satrapi’s simple and graphic style is so appealing that each panel can stand on its own. However, it’s important not to get lost in the small illustrations and focus on the bigger picture, pun intended. While we will look at certain panels as examples, these examples are just that: exemplary of the larger body of work, not images that stand alone.
|The souls of the massacred Iranians.|
Satrapi’s illustrations are clear and bold, black and white images, that give the reader just enough to be able to fill in the rest themselves. Her lines are bold and organic, and along with the simplicity of the drawings, give the illustrations a feeling of warmth and comfort. In Understanding Comics, Scott McCloud describes Charles Schultz’ use of line in Peanuts as calm and introspective (McCloud, 124), and although their styles of drawing is vastly different, their lines are comparable, and the calm, introspective feeling holds true for Persepolis as well. The characters are simple, using small, but recognizable details to differentiate themselves, and when there is a reason for agitation, or when depicting something unsettling, Satrapi changes her lines to a messier style that evokes something more unstable and sinister, as seen to the right.
The same simplicity that applies to her character illustrations can be said for the environments. Satrapi is completely unconcerned with technical accuracy, and her drawings, specifically her location environments, can be said to offer more of a feeling than any kind of solid set. This simplicity in her environments really makes the reader focus and connect with the characters, rather than getting lost in location. This simplicity really emphasizes her character-based narrative. The few times when she depicts any kind of detail in her environments have been when they played a specific part in the story, like when she shows the barren and stocked supermarkets, the former in Tehran, and the latter in Vienna.
This departure from simplicity also comes into play when Satrapi employs the use of symbolism to better explain certain concepts to the reader. In the image below, she uses easily recognizable imagery, like the Union Jack and Uncle Sam, to quickly convey to the reader a long and complicated history.
All of these elements of Satrapi’s drawings culminate in the effect that they have as a sequence. Satrapi’s work in Persepolis employs the use of five of the six types of sequences described in Understanding Comics (excluding the non-sequitur category)(McCloud, 74):
1. moment to moment
2. action to action
3. subject to subject
4. scene to scene
5. aspect to aspect
In addition to the sequence of the drawings in the panels, Satrapi also uses their sizes to convey certain emotions. To convey regular conversations, she uses several consistently sized panels. When important events happen, or to evoke certain emotions (or both, as in the panel below) she uses larger panels. If she’s portraying an intense emotional moment, or a time when a lot of things were happening, she uses many small panels, her adult makeover sequence for example. Satrapi uses all aspects of her panels and sequencing to her advantage, to tell her story as clearly as possible.
This clip offers a behind-the-scenes look at the making of featurette. In the clip, the head of the cleanup artists discusses how, for the film, the worked hard to try and keep the same thick, black line as the comic, since it is so important to the feeling of the story.