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A Trip to Persepolis

Marjane Satrapi
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On Friday night, I attended a lecture delivered by Marjane Satrapi, author of the comic books Persepolis and co-director of the 2007 Oscar-nominated film of the same name -- the English-language version of which opened locally on Friday as well. Satrapi, who spoke at University of Texas at Dallas, looks uncannily like the drawn version of herself, especially when she raises her eyebrows and shrugs, which she did often during the hourlong speech.

Satrapi didn’t speak extensively about her childhood as chronicled in the book and movie -- a tale of leaving Iran, then returning and leaving again in the wake of the Islamic Revolution. She focused instead on the politics of drawing, the Iraq War and the cigarette break she looked forward to taking before she signed books after the talk. Though the Satrapi team declined an interview request from Unfair Park -- we would later learn that, nobly, she wanted to focus on the audience and not the media -- after the jump are a few highlights from her talk. Because, if nothing else it’s always nice to hang with smart people. And Satrapi is one of the brightest we’ve encountered.

Here, then, are a few Satrapi-isms from Friday’s lecture:

• She loathes the term “graphic novel,” which is often applied to Persepolis. Satrapi, like most writers who use sequential art as their medium, believes it's little more than a made-up phrase meant to make adults feel less embarrassed about reading comic books.

• Humor is the height of cultural understanding. Show a foreigner a picture of a sick child, and he’ll definitely cry. Tell a foreigner a joke, and he may or may not laugh. When he does, that means you get each other; you’ve connected at a deeper level. And that’s why Persepolis, at its core, is a very funny book.

• It’s no simple thing to make an animated film from a comic book. Comics aren’t story boards for movies; they are works of art in their own right.

• People like to denigrate drawing as the child’s art form. All children draw. But 99.9 percent of those children grow up to do something different. The 0.1 percent that continue to draw are supremely misunderstood and forever seen as "childish."

• Kids are taught to critique literature, but not art. That’s another reason why art is misunderstood. Most adults have no vocabulary with which to analyze it.

• Americans are not so bad. Even in a democracy, the president doesn’t represent everyone.

Persepolis is intended to humanize people in Iran and the Middle East. All too often the American media shrivels individuals down to “terrorists” or “Middle Easterners” or “radicals.” Says the author, labels like those make it easier to bomb these people.

• The phrase “culture clash” is meaningless and obsolete, she says, because culture is continuous. The real division in the world is between "the stupid fanatics" and the rest of us. --Naomi Zeveloff

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