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HT comics column .3

Apologies for dumping this on the main page now that I have an Articles section, but cant seem to find the link on the HT site

Last month, Persepolis, an animated film based on the books by Iranian
comics writer/artist and irregular New York Times columnist Marjane
Satrapi, was nominated for the Palm d’Or and won the Special Jury
Prize at the Cannes film festival. The film is in black and white,
like Satrapi’s books, and follows her simple and subtle style, the
artwork showing the influences of other literary comics giants like
Maus author Art Spiegelman and David B., the writer of Epiliptic,
another funny, sad, deeply moving personal memoir in comics form. The
film is released in theatres in French later this month, and the
English version will be dubbed soon.

At the film’s launch, Satrapi dedicated the film to all Iranians. And
what was the Iranian government’s response to this? “This year the
Cannes Film Festival, in an unconventional and unsuitable act, has
chosen a movie about Iran that has presented an unrealistic face of
the achievements and results of the glorious Islamic Revolution in
some of its parts.”

This is uncannily similar to the Kazakhstan government’s response to
the smash hit film Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make
Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan, though obviously the films in
question have very little in common, except perhaps for their ability
to find unexpected insights in unlikely circumstances.

That said, it hasn’t been a very happy time for Iran in western films
of late; the last major comics-to-film adaptation featuring Iranians
that gained international attention was Frank Miller’s 300, which was
a fun film with brilliant art and special effects, but really should
have starred Sunny Deol. Everything Persian in 300 was grotesque;
Xerxes’ invaders were depicted as either straight-up deformed
monsters, nearly-naked women or giants in tiny jeweled thongs, which
one cannot imagine could have been particularly pleasant for their
movie-watching descendants.

Persepolis, thankfully, has nothing in common with 300. It is the
story of the Satrapi’s coming of age in an Iran under the shadow of
war and fundamentalism; the author’s world as a child in a progressive
family in Tehran (Satrapi is the great-great-granddaughter of one of
Iran’s Shahs, but has pointed out that she is one of several thousand
such), her years as a student in Vienna, her difficult relationships,
her return to Iran, her marriage and separation and her eventual
migration to France. Two volumes are available in English in India; if
you haven’t read them already, please do.

What I love most about Marjane Satrapi’s work is her incredible sense
of humour, her sudden asides that lend the darkest times a touch of
hope and hilarity. My favourite Persepolis moment is in the first
book, where young Marjane, after many lengthy sessions with God (who
looks like Karl Marx, though Marx has curlier hair) about dialectical
materialism, finally loses faith and tells God she doesn’t want to
talk about being a prophet any more. And God, after looking helpless
for a bit, lets her know that the weather the next day will be nice.

Satrapi’s work is always both deeply touching and lightly loveable,
chronicling a time of incredible injustice and suffering and never
once asking for pity. Her art is warm, quirky and what any Hollywood
promo-writer would describe as ‘a triumph of the human spirit.’ This
is a woman to adore and admire, who in a recent Playback interview
said that the only thing that had changed for her after winning
international fame and acclaim was that she could buy pencils whenever
she wanted, instead of having to wait until the end of the month.
Which is sort of like those really successful Indian writers I envy
and admire, if you substitute Europe vacations for pencils.


About Samit Basu

Novelist. Best known for fantasy and science fiction work. Most recently, The City Inside (Tordotcom)/Chosen Spirits (Simon and Schuster)


2 thoughts on “HT comics column .3

  1. you are one of the lucky few who got to read the book, n see the film as well. i’m still struggling to find the book somewhere in this pokey-hole i’m at. i’v tried everything – asking friends in the big cities, checking out crosswords, going through bookstores..nothing seems to help. everyone just stocks bestsellers.
    (for that matter, i could not find ‘the simoquin prophesies’ anywhere either. i strong-armed my school into buying it for the library. i’m now pecking the librarian’s brains to get ‘the manticore’s secret’ as well. let’s see.)

    Posted by sherin | July 15, 2007, 7:04 pm
  2. Samit,

    Are your columns on comics and graphic novels in the HT a regular affair or one-off pieces? Haven’t seen any in a long time. Hope you write regularly.


    Posted by Gopal Srinivasan | August 24, 2007, 8:43 pm

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Copyright (c) Samit Basu. Images copyright respective holders.
June 2007


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