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Persepolis author brings lessons from youth to readers, University


Students, faculty, and members of the Baton Rouge community gathered in the Bo Campbell Auditorium in the Cox Communications Academic Center for Student-Athletes Tuesday evening to hear the words of a familiar name, internationally acclaimed author Marjane Satrapi. 

Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Astrid Merget opened the evening with an introduction for Satrapi, naming her “a true citizen of the world.”  

Satrapi is familiar to the LSU community after her book, The Complete Persepolis was chosen as the 2008 selection for the Summer Reading Program. Persepolis is Satrapi’s memoir, which illustrates, in comic strips, the early years of her life in Tehran, Iran, during the Islamic Revolution.  

She took the stage, first noting she felt honored to be at the University. Part Azerbaijani, part Turkmen, part Muslim, part Zoroastrian, Satrapi immediately apologized for her English, a language she was never taught. The English she knows, she said, she picked up from watching American movies, but her message was heard.  

Comics as the Chosen Genre

Satrapi said one of the things she gets asked often is why she chose to write a comic book. 

“It is still a book, depending on the definition of a book,” she said. “No one would ask a movie maker why they made a movie and not a book. Cartoonists have to answer this all the time.”  

Although the book is sometimes referred to as a graphic memoir, she prefers the term “comic.” Since comics are often associated with children, publishers will use “graphic novel,” but the comic strip is just the medium she used, not the genre.  

“Part of the narration is the drawing,” she said. “Comics work together in that what is drawn isn’t said and what is said isn’t drawn.”  

Satrapi described drawing as a language that is often related to childhood.  

“We never learn how to talk about a drawing because we aren’t used to it,” she said. “But drawing is the first language of the human being.”  

She was quick to state she was not brought up to be a cartoonist. Born in 1969 in Rasht, Iran, on the edge of the Caspian Sea, Satrapi grew up in Tehran—the capital and the largest city in Iran.  

In her early years, the memoir touches on Satrapi’s dream of becoming a prophet. However, during the Revolution in 1979, Satrapi put her destiny aside. At school, Satrapi and her classmates at the Lycée Français were forced to wear veils, and their school books were revised to reflect the new regime’s ideals. After the war officially began, Tehran became the main target for bombers.  

At 14, Satrapi got in trouble at school for wearing jewelry, which was forbidden. A fight with the principal ended in her expulsion. Her parents decided it would be best for her to leave Iran to receive a French education in Austria.  

Satrapi said she grew up around translated cartoons like The Adventures of Tintin and The Adventures of Asterix, which both include men as their main characters. In Persepolis, Satrapi is the main character.  

“I had to find a way to make this story interesting,” she said. “It’s something we hear about all the time. For breakfast, it’s the Middle East, for lunch, it’s the Middle East, and for dinner, it’s the Middle East.”  

For Satrapi, humor is the height of understanding. She said writing her story as a comic strip gave her the ability to communicate while keeping herself distanced.  

“It is our fate to become cynical, so for that reason, I refuse to become cynical,” she said. “If I die with a hint of a star in my eye, then I will have succeeded.”  

Persepolis author, Marjane Satrapi

After It Is in Print

Satrapi said she never wanted the book to be a political or a historical statement. 

“As humans, we want to know where the evil is, we want to put an address on it,” she said. “I just used myself to describe what happened around me.”  

Although the book was published in 2003, Satrapi has not been back to Iran in ten years. She said after the book was published, her parents warned her not to return.  

“We can’t go on in life being scared,” she said. “It’s just a price to pay.”  

In Persepolis, revolutionary ideas and demonstrations were nearing an end in Iran, Satrapi faced her demons. She wrote, “When we’re afraid, we lose all sense of analysis and reflection. Our fear paralyzes us. Besides, fear has always been the driving force behind all dictators’ repression.”  

Her goal in writing the book, she said, was a hope that someone could identify with her on any level.  

“It’s about time we stopped talking about everything else and start celebrating the human life,” she said.  

In 2007, Persepolis was made into an animated film, which won the Jury Prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival and was later nominated for an Academy Award for “Best Animated Feature Film.”  

Satrapi said she was apprehensive about making a film from her book.  

“Just because I had a book, doesn’t mean it would make a good movie,” she said. “I thought it was a bad idea, so I did everything to turn it down.”  

However, French producer Marc-Antoine Robert agreed to all of Satrapi’s requests—creating all drawings by hand, in black and white, and creating the film in Paris, making it impossible for her to say no.

Lessons Taught 

Satrapi currently lives in Paris, where she spends her time drawing and painting. Her illustrations appear regularly in magazines and newspapers. Since the Persepolis was published, she has released Embroideries and Chicken with Plums.  

As the majority of her books deal with Iranian life, Satrapi hopes she can bring a part of Iran to her readers.  

“I have a little bit of responsibility to represent my country,” she said. “There are not so many things that I believe in, but one of the things I believe in is the importance of instruction and culture.”  

Satrapi said she doesn’t understand the idea of a “culture clash” because she believes culture is related. She encouraged her listeners to talk about the differences in the world.  

“Everything is about our point of view, but we should know there is always another point of view,” she said, “so we can have a panoramic view instead of just our own.”  

Satrapi closed the evening with a question and answer session and signed copies of Persepolis.

Holly Ann Phillips | Writer | Office of Communications & University Relations
April 2009