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Giving Persepolis its due

Giving Persepolis its due
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First Published: Sat, Oct 11 2008. 12 36 AM IST

Pioneer: Persepolis’ success is taking graphic novels to a new audience.
Pioneer: Persepolis’ success is taking graphic novels to a new audience.
Updated: Sat, Oct 11 2008. 12 36 AM IST
This week’s Cult Fiction is on Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis.
It's not the kind of book you'd expect to find covered in CF for several reasons.
Pioneer: Persepolis’ success is taking graphic novels to a new audience.
From literary pornography (Lost Girls) to non-comic comics (The Wild Party), this column has written about several genres of comics. All along, this writer has avoided Persepolis the way an alternative rock group would avoid, say, Hotel California, the Eagles song that has been mauled and butchered by several generations of garage bands.
The first reason for that is the book's popularity. Sure, popular books can be good (and Lee Child writes high literature). The second reason is why most people like Persepolis — because it is set in Iran (a fashionable country to like) and because it is essentially feminist. No wonder, most people who buy the book are women (I have only anecdotal evidence to prove this, but that should do).
Now, that's novel — a comic by a woman from Iran, set in Iran, that sometimes deals with themes one thought were taboo in that country. In recent months, interest has also peaked in the book because of the movie. To sum it all up, this writer has thus far avoided writing about Persepolis because the book is popular for all the wrong reasons. I know, that's not exactly a good reason to not write about something, but columnists are allowed their quirks.
This — the avoidance of Persepolis — is actually a bad thing because it is a very good comic book and Satrapi is, arguably, one of the finest contemporary comic-book creators around.
Think Joe Sacco. Think Art Spiegelman. Now add a bit of Guy Delisle's quirky I'm-a-foreigner-in-a-foreign-land kind of humour (best seen in his books on China and North Korea). Add a bit of Satrapi's own so-what-if-I'm-Iranian-a-woman- and-smoke.
The result is a comic book full of ordinary situations — only, because of the setting, Satrapi’s caustic wit, and the rather unique pen-and-ink style drawings, it isn’t all that ordinary. The owner of my neighbourhood bookstore tells me that he ordered 200 copies of Persepolis (the second volume) and managed to sell all.
That’s a lot for a graphic novel, especially given that the same bookstore hasn’t been able to sell the lone copies of some Sandman books, Watchmen, and V for Vendetta.
Any book or writer that popularizes the comic medium deserves respect (and, on a personal note, thanks). Which probably explains why CF has finally decided to write on Satrapi.
Write to Sukumar at cultfiction@livemint.com
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First Published: Sat, Oct 11 2008. 12 36 AM IST