As the graphic novel has become a more respected medium of literary work, artists/authors have found a more effective yet subtle method of communication: instead of explicitly stating feelings, they can be portrayed through illustration which will be absorbed both consciously and subconsciously by readers, further developing an understanding and connection to the content matter. In the graphic memoir Persepolis, author and artist Marjane Satrapi reinforces her turbulent emotional states over the course of her youth through panel design-specifically, captions, splash panels, and patterns.
This, in combination with the monochromatic design heavy on negative space, communicates a clear narrative of distress, devastation, elation, and pride. Satrapi utilizes captions, providing a running narration that directly addresses the reader and bonds them to the text. Captions, as opposed to bubbles, are particularly prevalent in the first 53 pages due to its historical context. The use of captions acts as a buffer between Iran’s rich history and the reader’s presumed ignorance of it. The tone is fairly formal and informative due to the chaotic and violent nature of Iran’s istory, and refrains from too much emotional connection.
However, it soon begins to act as an internal monologue, switching from her younger selfs reactions to her current reflection. Casual language and general flippancy in the face of adversity softens the situation, and relates the audience to Satrapi in her encounter with the Guardians of the Revolution. Her casualness at the time (declaring Michael Jackson is instead Malcolm X) is no match to her later attitude, as seen by her side comment to the audience, informing them the encounter occurred “back [when] Michael Jackson was still black” (Satrapi 33/6).
The narration wanes off as Iran’s situation becomes more dire: there’s no need to tell the audience of the awful circumstances when it is so obvious. However, for dramatic flair, Satrapi jumps eleven days ahead after her departure from Iran and instead works backwards, all the while narrating via captions. (155) As her time in Vienna continues, captions become more common; the day by day depiction of Iran due to its constant turmoil is traded for occasional anecdotes ranging large intervals of time as her time passes faster than ever.
Satrapi’s captions provide both an informative and personal narration throughout the novel. Because the work is autobiographical, Satrapi can directly address the audience and do so with an awareness of their presence. Additionally, she can speak on her emotions with her perspective as of the writing of the work; she can immediately tell us of her feelings of depression or dissatisfaction with marriage, aspects she was not comfortable with at the time. Splash panels mark the most significant events of Satrapi’s life. They are particularly abundant n her younger days, as events feel more notable.
The first splash panels conveys the public’s joyous celebration in wake of the last Shah’s departure from power. (44) Negative space is nonexistent, as the panel (and page) is completely filled with visibly euphoric citizens. The next major event in Satrapi’s life/ next splash panel portrays her emotional isolation in response to her beloved uncle’s execution and her subsequent dismissal of God in her life. (71) The page is completely negative space, aside from her small body and a spiked bubble in a different, more intense font.
After this, splash panels become more prevalent as Satrapi’s life and country become more chaotic and war-torn. However, these panels are often notably positive events in her life such as her family vacation and first punk party (77 and 102, respectively) because violence and distress become the new normal and it is instead pleasant occurrences that are shocking. Events that previously would have warranted illustrational focus, such as Satrapi’s encounter with her neighbor’s crushed body, are artistically minimized. 142)
As she grows older, major events such as departure from Iran and her amily (153/2), homelessness (239/3-5), divorce (338/7), and grandmother’s death (341) are downplayed to a panel or two, or even a passing comment. After all that Satrapi had traversed, she had matured to a point where nothing could daunt her. The incorporation of patterns, specifically in the first 150 pages, illustrate Satrapi’s innocence and optimistic perspective in contrast to the horrific events of the Islamic Revolution and subsequent loss of this naivety as she moves to Austria and enters a depression.
Satrapi’s flowered dress is ironic in comparison to her ambition to embody “justice, love and the rath of God all in one” (9/5-6), showcasing her bizarre familiarity and comfortability with heavy topics at such a young age. The juxtaposition of the commonplace patterns of young Satrapi’s pajamas/her parents’ covers and the graphic massacre of the Rex Cinema (14/1-6, 15/2) represents the normalcy of violence to Satrapi and her family and its subsequent loss of seriousness to the public.
Additionally, the portrayal of the army and the demonstrators as visually uniform in a tessellation-like manner (18/2-3) emphasizes the abundance of supporters on both sides of the Revolution and suggests futility. This is mirrored by the patterned depiction of those killed in massacres (40/1-2), a tactic that portrays the multitude of people dying yet portrays them as all the same in order to address the pointlessness of so many people dying and how the public begins to care less because of the large scale.
The dismal and often ironic use of patterns is continued in the parallel in which an image shows a family friend’s murdered body in a gridded tile bathroom next to her uncle in a similarly gridded shirt (65/7-8), reminding the viewer of the closeness of brutality to Satrapi’s own family. The use of patterns is not always so severe and morose; sometimes, they truly do represent youth and lightheartedness without the purpose of subverting it in the face of violence.
Satrapi and her parents are often found in patterns throughout her youth, but her grandma is the most consistently adorned in patterned clothing (7/5), signaling her warm and sympathetic nature. The representation of patterns as not only an indicator of positivity but exceptionally wonderfulness is confirmed and enforced when Satrapi dreamily imagines her grandpa as a prince and the panel is completely filled with either negative nor positive space but an intricate squiggly pattern, instead. 22/6)
The most joyous moment of the book is made obvious by the splash panel celebrating the last Shah’s departure from power; the large size of the panel and the citizens’ smiles emphasize the elation, but the vibrant patterns each person is wearing is what stands out most. (42) When a childhood friend of Satrapi’s mother comes to Satrapi’s home seeking refuge with her family after the destruction of their home, their plain clothes are juxtaposed against the Satrapi amily all adorned in patterned pajamas (90), symbolically emphasizing their loss of innocence.
Ironically, Satrapi and the young children of the visiting family go to sleep in stars and stripes, eerily simulating the American flag. (91/6) This loss of innocence and hope is later mirrored by Satrapi in Austria: constantly surrounded by new overwhelming patterns like those of her bedding and curtains (155/3) and her friends (195/2), Satrapi is always dressed solely in black. This communicates her feelings of alienation, loneliness, and dismay in the face of everyone’s joy.
However, after Satrapi proudly defends herself and her heritage (197/1, 6), she happily surrounds herself with company similarly minimal in attire (198/4) and becomes content. The medium of graphic novel provides a unique outlet for emotional release through discreet illustrative depiction. In Persepolis, Satrapi emphasizes her tempestuous life and feelings over the course of her youth through illustrative tactics -specifically, captions, splash panels, and patterns. This, in a running theme of negative space, recounts a clear narrative of distress, devastation, elation, and pride.