Saturday, December 06, 2008

From Persepolis to Damascus

Roy is a big fan of comics and graphic novels, as those of you who read his recent blog post and/or attended the session it advertised will know. I, however, am not. I don't really 'get' graphic novels - I look at those nine-panel grids of somewhat hectic pictures and wonder where all the words went. I know it is as possible to read the text of pictures as it is any other text, but somehow I don't feel I have the knack. So it was with some misgivings that I picked up my latest book group reading, the graphic novel Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.

I already had the book in my possession, having bought it a couple of years ago from a comics shop in Brighton. Roy was busy gathering together a stack of items and I wanted something to rest my eyes on, and a comic book about a girl growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution seemed a novel antidote to the long-underpants-style stuff in the rest of the shop. So I bought it, took it home, read a few pages, left it on the bedside table and moved on, still unconvinced.

This week I picked it up again, not really expecting very much. But, quite suddenly, I 'got' it. The almost-crude, blocky illustrations of the text began to reveal for me multi-layered depths of meaning in much the same way that a line of poetry does, and with the same immediacy. Sure, a written text could have conveyed the same information, but in the time taken to read the words that immediate understanding of the situation and its emotional load would, I think, have been lost.

So here I am, a convert to the world of picture story-telling. This is not to say that I now think graphic novels are 'better' than traditional ones. For me nothing can beat the long-term immersion in another world that a really good read gives you. But, as I have said, I think the graphic novel is more analogous to poetry than it is to the traditional novel, or to film, a medium with which it is also frequently compared. It seems to invite more opportunities to fill in the gaps and thus leave more space for the reader to interpret (or misinterpret?) the action.

Good job Christmas is coming, cos Persepolis 2 is on my wish list.

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