Thursday, July 30, 2009

HEROES DISCUSSION GROUP :: Post Persepolis-Discussion Discussion

On Monday night, the Heroes Discussion Group met to discuss the highly-lauded graphic novel Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.

The conversation flowed fast and furious; there was a decisive split between the attendees as to the merit and the success of the work.

Some found the memoir a genuinely engaging slice of life; others had problems with narrative issues caused by Satrapi’s short-comings as a cartoonist.

We explored how she presented life in Iran before and after the Islamic Revolution. The Old Fart moderator added some historical color by describing how the average American teen felt when the American Embassy in Iran was seized.

A substantial amount of time was spent discussing the author’s teen-age years spent alone in Europe far away from her parents and her culture.

The conversation went on far longer than we anticipated. We had to stop at 8:00pm to give us enough time to screen Persepolis, the animated film adaptation of the books.

By the time, the film ended, it was close to 10:00pm and we decided to continue the discussion on line here at our favorite site.

If you have read the books or viewed the movie, we invite you to join us. The questions may range from general discussion about the graphic novel itself to comments about the film to an analysis of the adaptation from comic to cartoon.

To start: there were strong disagreements about the first 100 pages of Persepolis II that detailed the author's teen-age years spent in exile in Europe.

One of our participants—Heroes unofficial and incredibly talented photographer Vy Tran—Face-booked me (a verb is coined!) yesterday and stated:

"I was a little disappointed at how a couple of the folks at the discussion were giving the author flack because the problems she dealt with in the second half of the book "weren't a big deal" and were "stupid." Dusty even said, "Everyone deals with stuff like that." But I'll submit to you that the problems she dealt with during her time in Europe WERE a big deal BECAUSE everyone goes through stuff like that. "

What do YOU think?


Shawn Reynolds said...

I think the reason her time in Europe seemed trivial was because it was immediately preceded by the revolution in Iran. Her cheating boyfriend is far less weighty than a war. Plus in the first volume she used a lot of conceptual imagery and the second volume was, for the most part, straight forward biography.

That being said I think the movie gave that time more importance. After viewing the movie it was more apparant why she was compelled to do this work. She wanted to honor her grandfather and uncle. And in order to tell their story she had to tell hers, which included her time in Europe. It was an important part of her growth as a person. She had to leave and then come back again in order to realize that Iran was not the place for her.

Andy Mansell said...

Vee--You point out the juxtaposition of the external versus the internal conflict and it is brilliant observation—perhaps the core of the story the author was working to present;

But, the plight of a teenage girl is a bit too foreign (as opposed to trivial) for most male readers.
Being former teen age girls, Vee and Shawn related strongly. The guys did not. Was this caused by our inability to relate to the plight of the teenage girl or was it an artist short-coming on the author part....


Do you think the book could have used some conceptual imagery in the European section? Could it have worked?

Shawn Reynolds said...

Did you relate to Alison Bechdel's character in Fun Home? That dealt with very specific circumstances but wasn't it very easy to relate to? Well, it was for me.

The European section might not have benefited from conceptual images because the subject matter was less conceptual. But maybe that is one of the weaknesses of the second volume.

I feel like I am picking Persepolis apart. Let it be said that I really enjoyed it (individually and as a whole).

Dustin Harbin said...

I agree with Shawn--I have never been a teenage girl OR a lesbian, but it was easy to "identify" with Alison Bechdel in Fun Home. Although I'm not sure that it is the author's job in a memoir to make me identify with them or not. I think you could make a good case for either side.

I also agree that the real problem with the second part is a) that it follows the much more dramatic gravity of the first part, set nicely against Marjane's youthful exuberance in the face of such circumstances. The second part has Marjane largely defeated by much more common circumstances, which is just a hard switch for me to make as a reader.

b) The cartooning is strong in the first half, Satrapi does a great job of using the visual end of comics to create a rich world of metaphor and subtext. But in the second part (again, maybe because of the less dramatic subject matter), things seem more drab, less fanciful, less well-made.

Andy Mansell said...

It almost seemed like the first part was done with inspiration and the second half was done in desperation. Suddenly she had a best seller and a deadline.

Here is my quick take comparing Persepolis and Fun Home-- "Home" ended up being more engaging because it was about the creative journey and the artist's acceptance of her past.
Persepolis lacked any artistic sub-text; with one minor exception, her artistic trek was nothing more than anecdotal. This is a story of breaking with her past.
To me the culmination of the story in Fun Home was the book we were reading. I did not feel that at all with Persepolis. Remember, both are memoirs created by artists.

edward said...

I watched this in film class and I was unamazed,uninspired and could have cared less. Yeah it was a good female teen view of the world during a trying time for her culture.
I was confused during most of the movie due to the animation style.

I don't think this should be an inclass read. Not worthy


Dustin Harbin said...

Oh wow, I had the opposite experience. I was underwhelmed by the book, although admittedly probably because of the insane amount of hype (remember, Persepolis was near the leading edge of the mainstream public's "awakening" to quality adult graphic novels a few years ago, and much was made of it).

But in watching the movie, even sitting on a stool craning my neck in the back of the store, I was BLOWN AWAY by the animation style, by the gorgeous use of black and white, by pretty much everything. I thought it was a much MUCH better movie than a book, it was really something.

Andy Mansell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andy Mansell said...

Okay--gang, we've heard from Edward/Lance who hated the movie and Dustin who enjoyed the movie.

What did the rest of you think of the film?

If you've read the books AND seen the movie, which did you prefer?
Or is it really fair to compare a book to it's adaptation?
We all do it-- but isn't it really comparing apples to oranges?
Example: The two operatic versions of Otello (by Verdi and Rossini) creates a discussion-worthy comparison.
But comparing one of the operas to the film adaptation by Orson Welles seems rather futile.


Daniel Von Egidy said...

Did we come up with an idea of what the next book is gonna be?

Vee ! said...

I personally enjoyed the movie and I don't really prefer one to the other. I see the movie as more of a compliment to the book than an adaptation/substitute as there were details in the movie that weren't in the book and vice versa. Like Dusty, I was blown away by the animation style in the movie. Also, some parts that seemed unnecessarily drawn out in the book were pleasantly condensed in the movie.

I don't have a lot of comments on Persepolis as a literary work. That is, the quality of the art, subtext in the art, etc. However, I DID see some brilliant motifs/themes throughout the book.

Truth vs. Propaganda - In Iran, the Iranian government versus the revolutionists. In Europe, one clique versus another (the choice to fit in or be an outcast--a "revolutionist"). How do you define truth and who do you believe?

War - I've already pointed out that between Persepolis and Persepolis 2, there's a shift from an external war (in Iran) to an internal war (Marjane's quest for self-actualization). While the plight of a young girl is foreign to many, I'm sure there are a lot of people who have had at least one identity crisis in their lifetime or have wondered about what kind of legacy they'll be leaving behind once they're dead and gone.

Bah, I have to cut this short because I have places to be, but I'll say this: I really appreciated how candid Marjane was about her experiences. Maybe it's because I'm one of those people who likes to pick people's brains apart.

Andy Mansell said...

Vy-- you stated...
Truth vs. Propaganda - In Iran, the Iranian government versus the revolutionists. In Europe, one clique versus another (the choice to fit in or be an outcast--a "revolutionist"). How do you define truth and who do you believe?

The interesting thing for me is that we have to take Marjane-- the storyteller/screen writer-- at her word. I have nothing to which I can contrast her story. Is her story the whole truth? Is it slanted? Then again, does it matter? Perhaps not--perhaps her decisions in telling the story her way enhances the subtext you mention above.

Shawn Reynolds said...

I still can't decide if I liked the movie or the book more. I think I am leaning towards liking the movie just a tad bit more. I enjoyed how the movie speeds some parts up (I think Vee mentioned that as well). I like how the movie treats the boyfriend (the one who cheats on Marjane). You get to see the relationship in distorted flashbacks. And I like how the movie doesn't reveal that the marriage is going to end in divorce. The movie just let the story unfold. I too loved the animation. It had the feel of an old Persian painting.

Andy Mansell said...

Here is how I think the movie is an improvement on the book...

The humor really comes through in the movie. I only recall laughing at one point in the book.

In turn,the humorous tone made the war scenes all the more effective.

Now you may all disagree, but the very pleasant sound of the French language really added something wonderful to the film.

When I hear Arabic spoken; I have to admit this-- it is usually on the news and in a dangerous or at least very tense situation, therefore, I am slightly put off. It is a harsh language for unfamiliar ears. The French made the children seem more child-like and also, made the adult women far more appealing than they were in the book.

Am I barking up the wrong tree? What do you think???

Brian L. Martin said...

I thoroughly enjoyed the book and appreciated what it had to say about both the reality of growing up in Iran and the ordinary trials of growing up as a woman, both of which I have limited insight into. However, I was amazed at just HOW superior to the novel the film was.

The characters in the film were much more emotive (despite the fact that they were simply animated) than they were on the printed page. Also, the animation seemed in many places to be much bolder and imaginative than the same scenes as they appeared in the novel. I'm thinking, in particular, of the scene in which Marji and her boyfriend are driving along and almost gliding through the air. The scene in the film carries with it the wistfulness of young infatuation, whereas the novel basically paints things in a much more straightforward way ("Here is my boyfriend. He's great. Although he never wants to pay for gas.").

Brian L. Martin said...

On a sorta-related note, this NPR article discusses the difficulties of adapting works from one medium to another and got me thinking about Persepolis.

Did Sitrapi EVER really allow the artwork to carry its fair share of the story, or did she really rely entirely on the text? I suppose this again brings up the debate about whether or not this really needed to be told using sequential art or if a standard, regular old memoir would have sufficed.