Like her general drawing style, Satrapi’s characterizations are bold and clear to understand. It is apparent through her writing and storytelling alone that each character is defined, that each has a distinct personality. Due to this clarity and simplicity, there are several things that Satrapi does visually that gives more distinction to her characterizations.
To begin with, we can look at Satrapi’s designs as they relate to the reader. In Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics, he discusses the concept that the more abstract a face is drawn, the easier it is for the reader to relate to the character, because it becomes easier and easier to see yourself as that character (McCloud, 36). Satrapi herself mentions this concept briefly, and admittedly much more vaguely, in this interview http://www.fastcocreate.com/1681466/author-and-filmmaker-marjane-satrapi-on-creating-across-boundaries when she says “"But there’s something about drawing that means that anyone can identify to a drawing. I mean people can identify themselves with Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse." Once we understand this concept, it is easy to see how Satrapi’s story is so relatable and enthralling. While she uses small details to differentiate her characters visually, her overall style in Persepolis is simplified enough that people are very easily able to put themselves in the place of those characters.
Apart from the visual style of the characters, Satrapi uses other subtle motifs to visually define her characters. Each time she shows a group of people, where the importance is the group and not the individual, she depicts them always in a uniform mass, all wearing black, sometimes with only distinctions in their hair cut. She does this when depicting everyone from protesting revolutionaries to oppressed schoolchildren.
The importance in these moments is placed on the actions, the group, and not the individual. Under the oppressive regime of the state, they are all one group, united in their oppression and their revolution. Outside of these groups, there are individuals. Below, we can see Satrapi depicting the peoples’ celebration after the leave of the Shah. She uses bold patterns to not only evoke a sense of celebration, but to once again return the feeling of individuality to each person. During her stay in Vienna, all the people she draws stand alone, all with unique visual characteristics. There is no need to draw them en masse, since their political climate does not invoke the same need for the suppression of the individual.
It’s not only the people in Persepolis that are characterized, but the locations as well. There is a distinct visual difference in the way that Satrapi depicts the environments in Vienna and Tehran. In her drawings of Vienna, she uses many curves and organic shapes to give a lighter, more open feeling to the city. The reader is much more at ease, and Marjane is the centre of focus, with the environments seeming to wrap around her.
Satrapi’s depictions of Tehran are quite the opposite, especially upon her return from Vienna. The city is depicted using strong geometric shapes, that cage in Marjane as she walks through them. Even the buildings are oppressive, reflecting the society it houses.
Satrapi’s more detailed depictions of these environments is deliberate, and is meant to evoke this sense of characterized locations for the reader. Yet even these more detailed environments are also extremely simplified, allowing the reader to easily identify with them, as with the characters.
McCloud explains in much more detail the relationship that people have to simplified characters in Understanding Comics, but a brief introduction to this concept can be found here, on his website.