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Satrapi’s “The Complete Persepolis”: Understanding Comics Essay

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Updated: Jul 11th, 2021

Comics are an essential part of literary work and writing. It is highly unique and contains the right mix of literature and visual art. They are a story in pictures that are arranged in a clear chronological order. The given form of writing impresses with their laconic and, at the same time, logical and enriched plot. Depending on the volume of the story, comics can be called differently: if the story is long enough, it can be described as a graphic novel; if short, it is called a strip. Comics are the modern form of figurative narration. The integral part is a sequence of pictures accompanied by textual content, and it is supplemented with various ideographic signs. It is a special way of narration, where the text is a sequence of frames. It contains the drawing with a verbal work, and it transmits mainly the dialogue of the characters with an enclosed special structure. Moreover, the picture and the spoken text enclosed in it form an organic semantic unity.

“Persepolis” is a story of an Iranian girl who grew up in a liberal, rich, and even aristocratic family: on the very first pages, together with the heroine, we learn that her great-grandfather was the last Shah of the Qajar dynasty, overthrown by the father of the current Shah Pahlavi. However, the usual teenage rebellion is superimposed on her tragic social events: the revolution of 1979, the return of political prisoners, the war with Iraq, and the sharp clericalization of Iranian society. Marjane sees a part of these events from the side – from 14 to 18 years old. She lived in Austria, but it didn’t bring her happiness in the desired West. It is based on the autobiographical story of a French writer of Iranian origin, Marjane Satrapi. In short, it is about the Shah regime and its collapse, the great Islamic revolution, the Iran-Iraq war. Then she studies in Europe and experiences a breath of freedom, first love, the failure of hopes, and returns to Iran Satrapi (Satrapi 301). There is a bitter feeling in the story that always accompanies the search for a lost paradise. The girl is attempting to find her place in life. After several years of mental anguish, the main hero leaves her homeland again, now forever.

The writing “Understanding of Comics” can be used as a basis and guide for creating outstanding comics. The key idea includes the concepts and step-by-step instructional recommendations by Scott McCloud. These steps consist of 6 critical tasks: idea/purpose, form, idiom, structure, craft, and surface. He uses a layered apple as a demonstration of the entirety of comic books (McCloud 162). The process of creation and analysis should begin with an idea and end with surface details. However, it is highly important to understand that the comics’ style should be preserved through specific text forms and picture placements. In addition, the given concepts are not designed only for comics writers but for any art creator. The six layers outline the most important and crucial elements of art development.

Scott McCloud’s theories can be applied to the writing “Persepolis,” but it should be noted that the given story is unique and different from mainstream comic books. Therefore, the first reason is that the concepts should be used as a lens to understand and appreciate the “Persepolis” fully. Verbal components are literal text, all speech unity in the framework of the comic. On page #87, row #3, panel 1 (87), two subspecies stand out here: the characters’ speech and the author’s speech, which includes captions, headlines, author’s summary, comments to the entire comic or individual episodes (McCloud 87). On page #7, row #1, panel 2 (7) in “Persepolis,” the main heroine says, “and this is a class photo. I’m sitting on the far left, so you don’t see me” (7). McCloud’s concept does not fully explain the author’s move because the narration is done by the girl in comics. However, it does correspond to McCloud’s ideas of laying out narrative responsibilities. The characters’ speech is placed in a special space, which is a “cloud” coming from the character’s head and enclosing his remark. In comic book research, this space is called phylactery. This element is most noticeable due to its constant use of the ideographic sign in the comic.

The second conceptual reason includes the overall elements of delivering the communication style and information, which is clearly shown in “Persepolis.” On page #193, row #1, panel 1 (193), non-verbal components include comics graphics, which is a sequence of drawings, each of which is framed and forms a window, and a paragraph that broadcasts mostly background information, additional knowledge, which acts as a substitute for literal text and participates in creating expressiveness and emotiveness of the comic, as well as forming animation graphics part (McCloud 193). On page #10, row #1, panel 1 (10) in “Persepolis,” the author shows interesting comics graphics because it can be outlined through McCloud’s idea of providing background and additional knowledge by drawing. She says, “I really didn’t know what to think about the veil. Deep down, I was very religious, but as a family, we were very modern and avant-garde” (10). The girl is represented as being trapped between two worlds of religion and science. The visual component occupies no less of the significative space of the comic than the verbal one. There are possibilities provided by the comics for the communication of textual works with elements of a picture inside a frame or their coordination with the overall composition of windows on a page.

Thorough and systematic analysis of “Persepolis” revealed the third reason, which is a parallel resemblance. It can be shown that, on average, less than half of the frames in the comic are purely pictographic, while the number of structures lacking the pictographic component is negligible. According to McCloud page #169, row #1, panel 2 (169), the drawing easily copes with the tasks of the narration without the help of text, which is facilitated by the use of a certain set of tools for graphically isolating the semantic dominant (McCloud 169). On page #26, row #3, panel 1 (26) in “Persepolis,” it is written, “My grandpa was a prince” (26).

The most interesting element of the given panel is an illustration, which is designed in a highly peculiar way. It shows how her grandfather is riding an elephant in a mist of clouds, but there is also an evil lion holding a sword. Both the lion and sun express vile intentions, which represent the people who overthrew the prince. The external elements mean that changing the character’s posture and graphics frame structure, which is manifested in the movement of the planes and angles of view, is important. It determines the dynamic characteristics and also serves to combine individual drawings into larger units in order to recreate narrative continuity. The internal parts mean that they convey the dynamics of the pattern, as well as the emotional state of the character, include strokes surrounding the characters and lines that express the movement of objects inside the frame.

Separate attention should be paid to the concept of analysis for the chosen color spectrum in the “Persepolis” as a means of direct influence on the reader’s emotions. This is the fourth reason, which is one of the methods for fixing the semantic dominant. In addition, it is important to address the role of color in the comic, which is necessary to consider its meaning-generating and structuring function. The meaning-generating purpose of color appears when analyzing individual frames as independent units of a comic book, and the structuring function seems when considering a window as a component of larger groups: page, spread, and comic book structure. Color can merge frames on a page into a single whole or underline the moment of transition from one story plan to another. According to McCloud page #197, row #2, panel 2 (197), the use of color in the “Persepolis” can perform the following functions: reality formation, symbolism, and aesthetic function (McCloud 197). On page #56, row #1, panel 1 (56) in “Persepolis,” the main character says, “In the end, he was cut to pieces” (56). However, the most important element is coloration and symbolic meaning. The body parts are shown as empty and hollow tubes, and the blood is absent due to the color choice. It forces a reader to feel a certain shock without any degree of disgust. First, the realistic or analogy role consists of establishing a parallel between the color of images and the color of the depicted objects in reality.

The fifth reason is that the more realistic the color gamut of work, the better it fits into the concept of a conformist vision of the world, which manifests itself in the most rigorous and objective reflection of the referent, in the role of which the surrounding reality acts. The predominance of this concept in the comic can be considered as a means of removing difficulties in the process of interpretation. Second, the symbolic part consists of the variations of color depending on the individual author’s philosophy or artistic concept of a particular work in accordance with the signification adopted in a given culture. For example, white is the color of a holiday in Europe and mourning in India. According to McCloud page #186, row #2, panel 1 (186), the color symbol in the comic book is recognizable only due to the significant repetition of a particular color (McCloud 186). On page #152, row #3, panel 2 (152) in “Persepolis,” the girl’s father says, “Don’t ever forget who you are!” (152). It is a critical point in the story where the main character owns her heritage and identity. McCloud’s symbolic nature of color repetition is demonstrated here because the father is drawn as black passing his wisdom to his young daughter. It emphasizes the complexity of their relationship and how they love each other regardless of challenges. Third, the aesthetic function is relevant due to the implementation of which the figure can attract the eye of a connoisseur with its advantages. A certain coloring style of all works becomes the brand of the author’s handwriting.

In conclusion, the comic book is a complex work that is formed in the interaction of two source systems – verbal and pictographic. The writing “Persepolis” is a clear illustration of how social life can be altered through comics. It demonstrates the hardships and struggles of an individual to find his/her place in the world. However, there are always trade-offs because the country of origin might be hostile, whereas a welcoming country is not familiar and traditionally close. It also shows that a nation’s political environment can diminish the artistic development of society. Despite the heterogeneity of its components, it is characterized by a high degree of consistency and focus in the presentation of information. The work of art “Persepolis” is an ideal demonstration of comics’ capabilities in delivering the message through visual stimulation. It is important to realize that new technology and art development will encourage comic writings to become more prominent and popular. The comics are unique in their way of delivering the message, and they will continuously improve and integrate further into the world of writings and arts.

Works Cited

McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. HarperPerennial, 1994.

Satrapi, Marjane. The Complete Persepolis. Pantheon, 2002.

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"Satrapi's "The Complete Persepolis": Understanding Comics." IvyPanda, 11 July 2021, ivypanda.com/essays/satrapis-the-complete-persepolis-understanding-comics/.

1. IvyPanda. "Satrapi's "The Complete Persepolis": Understanding Comics." July 11, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/satrapis-the-complete-persepolis-understanding-comics/.


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IvyPanda. 2021. "Satrapi's "The Complete Persepolis": Understanding Comics." July 11, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/satrapis-the-complete-persepolis-understanding-comics/.


IvyPanda. (2021) 'Satrapi's "The Complete Persepolis": Understanding Comics'. 11 July.

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