Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Book Review: Persepolis - The Story of a Childhood

Book cover for Persepolis - volume 1Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood is a graphic memoir (a memoir in graphic novel form) of Marjane Satrapi's childhood years in Tehran, Iran during the late 70s and early 80s. Those old enough to remember—or know their history—will recall that this is the time when the Shah was evicted from Iran and a religious dictatorship took his place, the American embassy was captured and 52 people were held hostage for over a year, and Iran went to war with Iraq. I'm about Satrapi's age, so I recall those events (from a safe distance) and coming to believe that Iran was ground zero for chaos in the Middle East and the bastion of "Death to America!" sentiment. Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi's attempt to relate what living there was like.

Satrapi's parents were Marxist intellectuals who protested against the Shah's corruption and oppression. This rebellious attitude rubbed off on little Marji and carried with her into her teens. As one tyrant was replaced by a worse one, this became a dangerous trait for Marji to have. As friends and family members were arrested and executed as spies and enemies of the state, the walls around Marji closed in. But rather than shut down, she pushed back as much as any rebellious teen would.

Satrapi remains true to her younger self in telling her story. When she's a child, she daydreams of great things. When she's a teen, she longs for those things that every teen wanted back then: jeans and rock music. While the adult Marjane narrates the story, revealing truths Marji didn't know at the time, she never gets in the way.

The artwork is stark, rendered in black and white. It seems fitting. It reflects the mood. Artistic flourishes and vibrant colors would be out of place here. While the drawings could be labelled "simple," it isn't an insult. In fact, it lends an air of authenticity. Coupled with the workman style of the dialogue, I feel as though I'm reading the illustrated journal of a young girl.

It's probably unpopular to suggest that Persepolis should be in the same conversation as The Diary of Anne Frank. There is plenty of propaganda dictating that all Muslims are evil and makes no distinction between ethnicity or branches of faith. But setting aside their skin colors and religious backgrounds, there is very little that divides these two stories. They both deal with young women growing up under oppressive regimes where the threat of violence is real.

Four stars.

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Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Book Review: Saga - Volume 2

book cover for Saga volume 2So if you haven't read volume 1, this review could be a bit spoiler-ish.

Volume 1 leaves off with Marko's parents teleporting in under the assumption that he'd been captured. Volume 2 starts off with Marko introducing his parents to Alana and Hazel. Marko sets off to find the babysitter, whom Mom has banished to a nearby planetoid. Mom, thinking that Marko is incapable of not screwing up, follows him, thus leaving Dad alone with Alana and Hazel. Vaughn then explores the relationship dynamics between the two generations.

Marko's mom is full of piss and vinegar; Marko's dad is the softie. Mom harps on every mistake Marko has ever made. Dad wants to see baby Hazel and make sure she's "normal." He means healthy, but it comes across awkward. Gender stereotypes flipped! I enjoyed how Vaughn handled the conflict resolutions on both sides.

Meanwhile, we're introduced to Gwendolyn, Marko's ex-girlfriend. She's come by The Will's place to check on his progress in hunting down our protagonists. She's annoyed that he's moping over the death of his former lover. In return, he psychoanalyzes Gwendolyn's motives—with the help of Lying Cat—and reveals another dilemma plaguing his conscience. Gwendolyn offers to help with it if he promises to get off his ass and back on the trail. Gwendolyn turns out to have some traits in common with Marko's mom.

We're also treated to flashbacks to when Marko and Alana first met, the book that inspired both of them, and their daring escape from Marko's prison.

The art continues to be fantastic. I thought that Staples' depiction of the planetoid landscape, the way the star's light cast shadows through the ruins, was rendered especially well. And the scenes inside the rocketship-tree were a great mix of earth tones that were vibrant instead of dull. A warning to those who have sensitive eyes: There's a giant naked troll that leaves little to the imagination and, when Prince Robot IV lies unconscious on a battlefield, gay porn plays on his TV monitor for two panels.

Two other scenes deserve mentioning. One is a flashback to when Marko was a kid learning how to ride a giant cricket with his father offering encouragement. The dialogue is in Marko's native tongue and offered without translation, but the artwork explains it all. The other is something Marko's dad says: "Your first grandchild is nature's reminder that your warranty's about to run out."

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