Monday, February 11, 2008

Marjane Satrapi

by Steven Williams

Marjane Satrapi black and white photographMarjane Satrapi was born in in Rasht, Iran in 1969. She grew up in an upper-middle-class, fashionably radical household in Tehran where her father was an engineer from where her feminist mother frequently marched in demonstrations against the Shah. Satrapi was ten years old when the Shah was overthrown. It is only after the Shah falls that she learns that her great-grandfather was the last emperor of Persia and that he had been deposed by a military officer who, with backing from the British, had himself crowned Shah. Marjane Satrapi black and white self portraitHer grandfather, the emperor's own son, was even prime minister for a short period but he was put in prison as a Communist. Like many other Iranians, Satrapi's parents were overjoyed at the removal of the despotic Shah. In fact, many of her parents' Marxist friends and colleagues were free after years in prison under the Shah and some of them would come to the family's apartment to celebrate. Soon though, the Islamist revolutionaries throw many of these same people back into jail, even murdering some of them.

Satrapi was strongly marked by her experiences growing up in Iran after the Islamists took power. In fact, she was briefly detained by the Guardians of the Revolution for wearing Nikes and also got into trouble at school for declaring that the teacher lied and that were many more political prisoners under the Islamists than there had been under the Shah. Art Speigelman black and white photographBy the time she is fourteen years old Iran is at war with Iraq and her parents send her to school in Austria for safety. She remained there through her high school years.

Satrapi returned to Iran to attend college and it was there that she met her first husband though they later divorced. She eventually earned a Master's Degree in Visual Communication from the School of Fine Arts in Tehran Azad University. After earning her degree, Satrapi moved to Strasbourg, France. It was after she moved to France though that she began consider producing comics. Pierre-François Beauchard aka David B black and white photographNot long after her move she was exposed to the work of Art Spiegelman ('Maus, A Survivior's Story, My Mather Bleeds History' and 'Maus, A Surviror's Story, And Here My Troubles Began'). This gave her a new perspective on storytelling. She frequently had told friends there stories about her family and her life growing up during the Islamist Revolution in Iran. Particularly important to her was telling about how her experiences of life there was much different than the picture of the people and the country presented to most Westerners through television and the media. Her work as a comic artist began in ernest after she met the noted French comics artist Pierre-François Beauchard who works under the pen name 'David B.'

'Persepolis' by Marjane Satrapi front coverPersepolis (2003) and Persepolis 2 (2004)
Satrapi began to produce autobiographical comics about her childhood in Iran and her adolescence in Europe in 2000. The title she chose for what became a series of books was Persepolis. 'Persepolis 2' bh Marjane Satrapi front coverBeginning in 2000 and through 2003, four volumes of Satrapi's Peresepolis were published in France. The name was taken from the Greek name of the ancient ceremonial capital of the Persian Empire built by Cyrus II (Cyrus the Great) around 560 BCE. The book was an immediate success. In 2001 Persepolis won the Angoulême Coup de Coeur Award and in 2002 Persepolis: Tome 2 won the Angoulême Prize for Scenario. The four books that made up the French edition of Persepolis were reissued in English language versions in two volumes in 2003 and 2004 respectively.

Persepolis artist conception color drawing'Embroideries' by Marjane Satrapi paperback edition front coverEmbroideries / Broderies (2005)
In this book Satrapi looks at the lives of Iranian women. The book begins with Satrapi arriving for afternoon tea at her grandmother's house. There she spends time with her strong grandmother, her stoic mother, her glamorous and eccentric aunt and all their friends and neighbors. The women spend the afternoon drinking tea and talking, telling stories about their lives and the men in them. As they pass the afternoon sharing their secrets, their regrets, and their frequently outrageous personal stories they reveal private lives that are both fascinating and absolutely not unique to Muslim women. The significance of this book is the profound recognition Satrapi provides the reader that, despite the seeming gulf of religion and culture, these women have lives fundamentally the same as women everywhere.

'Chicken with Plums' by Marjane Satrapi front coverChicken with Plums / Poulet aux prunes (2006)
This book is set in 1958 Tehran and it is a story about Satrapi's great-uncle, Nasser Ali Khan, a celebrated Iranian musician who played the traditional Tar, a long-necked, waisted lute found in Azerbaijan, Iran, Armenia, Georgia, and other areas within the Caucasus region of central Asia. When his instrument is irreparibly damaged in a fit of rage by his wife, he goes out looking for a replacement Tar that is of comparable quality. Despite his efforts, none of the Tars he finds match the lost instrument. It also turns out that there are no longer any craftsmen able to produce the instrument and never again will there ever be a Tar of the same quality as his lost one. He then has to come to terms with the loss. In his despair he takes to his bed and renounces the world, including the love of his wife and children. As time passes, despite the best efforts of his family, he gradually slips away, apparently dying after only eight days of a broken heart, unable to ever again to play an instrument capable of the power and passion of his beloved Tar. The French edition of this book won the 2005 Angoulême Best Comic Book Award.

'Monsters are Afraid of the Moon' by Marjane Satrapi front coverMonsters Are Afraid of the Moon / Les monstres n'aiment pas la lune (2006)
A children's picture book about a little girl who is afraid of the monsters come to her room each night. She figures out that if she cuts moon out of the sky and hangs it in her room, the monsters will stay out because they are afraid of the light. Unfortunately, with the moon no longer in the sky at night the village cats start having a terrible time, bumping into everything and eventually ending up in the hospital. With the cats gone, the mice run wild and things become worse. Furtunately the Cat King comes up with a solution that works for everyone involved and peace is restored.

'Les Premiers Jours' with Eglal Errera front cover
Satrapi's titles that have been published in France but not yet released in English editions include Sagesses et malices de la Perse (Persian Wisdom and Mischief, 2001) with Lila Ibrahim-Ouali and Bahman Namwar-Motlag, Ajdar (2002), Ulysse au pays des fous (Ulysses in the Land of the Madmen, 2001) with Jean-Pierre Duffour, Les Premiers Jours (The First Days, 2002) with Eglal Errera, and Le mythe de Ah le soupir (The Legend of Ah, the Sigh, 2004).

'Persepolis' film posterPersepolis, the film version (2007)
The immediate success of the 'Persepolis' books brought Satrapi a lot of attention and when the final, fourth book was published, several offers were presented to her to adapt the story to film. Most of them apparently had an over-the-top Hollywood quality that Satrapi immediately recognized were inappropriate for the story. It was when she began discussing a potential film project with Vincent Paronnaud. Vincent Paronnaud black and white photographEventually she decided to take on the challenge. Surprisingly, the decision to do an animated version instead of a live action feature was very simple for her to make. Satrapi knew that she wanted to produce an animated film in order to avoid the the distance and exotic atmosphere that live action would create. Satrapi's decision to maintain a predominately black and white look to the film seems less obvious to an observer, but the aesthetic decision was obviously the right one to make as any of the viewer of the film will acknowledge.

color still from the film 'Persepolis'After three years the film version of Persepolis was produced and went on to become a co-winner of the 2007 Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize as well as 2007 Best Animation of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, the 2007 Bvlgari Award for NBR Freedom of Expression of the National Board of Review, and the Best Foreign Film and Best Animated Feature 2007 awards of the New York Film Critics Online. Originally, the French voicing featured the great French actors Chiara Mastroianni as Satrapi as a teenager and a woman, Catherine Deneuve as Marjane's mother, and Danielle Darrieux as Marjane's grandmother. Sony Pictures is distributing an English dubbed version in the US and unfortunately, because of language limitations, was only able to reuse Catherine Deneuve in her original role. Sony has though, been able to add the voice talents Gena Rowlands, Sean Penn and Iggy Pop for the English version.

Marjane and Vincent Paronnaud color photographMarjane Satrapi currently lives in Paris and continues to work there as a journalist as well as an author and illustrator children's books. She will be making an author's tour in the US in April of 2008.
Marjane Satrapi circa 2007 color photograph

Newer Article: Texas History Movies, its publishing history and reincarnations


Older Article: Marjane Satrapi, memories of growing up in Islamist Iran

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Marjane Satrapi, memories of growing up in Islamist Iran by Steven Williams is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available by contacting Steven Williams through Bookmarc's BookmarcsOnline.

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