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anorton's picture

Visual narration

Textually, Persepolis is a very quick read. It was not infrequently that I found myself hardly looking at the pictures at all, experiencing the book instead as a quick succession of dialogue combined with blurbs of (often setting-related) narration. I've noticed this preference for text in subtitled movies and television programs with closed captioning: even if I understand the language the people on screen are speaking, I can hardly tear my eyes from reading the text long enough to actually watch what they are doing and saying. I'm wondering if this is a common experience, or if it has something to do with my being an English major and someone who reads a lot. A friend of mine was skimming through Persepolis before I began reading it and advised that it would only take a couple of hours to read because graphic novels are so much quicker than conventional, textual novels. I am coming to think that this is not actually the case: it is true that I spent less time reading the pages of Persepolis than I spent reading the pages of Middlesex, but I fear that it is only because I, dependent on text, did not give the images the time they deserved.

When I did catch myself not paying attention to the visuals, I would go back to more-thoroughly examine the frames and end up spending a lot of time trying to analyze Satrapi's artistic style. I was intrigued by the use of only black and white. In uncountable instances, it is only possible to tell the outlines of the figures by (perhaps unconsciously) assuming their shape. Take the whole-page image on p42, for example: most of these "shirts" are not actually outlined; instead, we have to infer their borders by where the patterns end. When an outline is physically drawn to distinguish between two different objects of the same color, it must by necessity be of the other or opposite color: see p95, on which each girl is separated by lines of white. Often, Satrapi could have avoided the necessity of outlining in the opposite color by making the entire background that opposite color; instead, she chooses to illustrate people in the same color as their background. This has interesting implications for the understanding of people as separate individuals: either they have to be clearly separated from their surroundings, or the literal lines between them and their surroundings become unclear and distinguishable only based on assumptions.

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