‘Words are never enough,’ says 'Persepolis' author Marjane Satrapi


Two of Marjane Satrapi’s artistic products are a new film about a likeable American serial killer, and a girl’s take, in graphic novel format, on life in tumultuous Iran.

The Parisian will bring her world view to Toledo at 7 p.m. Oct. 22 when she’ll appear at Authors! Authors! in a question-and-answer format with Kurt Franck, executive editor of The Blade. The talk in the McMaster Center of the Main Library is sold out.

Satrapi’s first book, Persepolis, published in volumes beginning in 2000, put her on the literary and cultural map.

“Words are never enough for me. I draw lots of things I prefer not to say. The feeling of a person is very easy to show by drawing,” says Ms. Satrapi in a telephone interview from her home in Paris.

Using black-on-white drawings, Persepolis — the name of the ancient capital of Persia — has been taught in schools and colleges, translated into dozens of languages, and, she figures, sold more than 2 million copies.

A note about “graphic novels:” the term once referred to a story that was extremely explicit, perhaps beyond the realm of good taste, but the meaning has changed in the last 15 years. It now describes a story presented with images like a comic book, but usually longer and often more complex.

Persepolis was the first of a few small books she penned about her life and her relatives, some of whom were imprisoned and tortured for speaking out against the government.

In her 20s she moved to Paris and befriended a group of comic book artists. After regaling them with stories of her colorful family, including a dethroned emperor, they encouraged her to draw her tales.

She’d been deeply impressed by Maus, Art Spiegelman’s 1991 graphic novel about his father’s experiences as a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor. In it, Jews are portrayed as mice, Germans as cats, the Polish as pigs. In 1992, Maus became the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize.

She followed Persepolis with Embroideries, about her female relatives as they reveal secrets about themselves and their men, and Chicken with Plums, the tale of her musician uncle’s strange final eight days on earth.

Lifelong reader Ms. Satrapi, 43, is the only child of well-educated parents who live in Iran; her father’s an engineer, her mother, a housewife. They visit her but she doesn’t go to her homeland for fear of being arrested.

“People who have done similar stuff to me have gone to jail so why wouldn’t I be put in jail? But nobody’s said that.”

Her parents aimed to raise a human being, she says, not a girlie girl.

“My parents didn’t want me to become a princess. I had toys but that was just for the end of the year and my birthday. But I could have as many books as I wanted and could go to as many movies as I wanted, as long as it was culture.”

And the house was full of books.

“I read a lot and nothing was forbidden. I read a book about Che Guevara when I was 9 and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights when I was 10. I read Jean Paul Sartre when I was 11 or 12; I didn’t understand all of it.”

She was enrolled in a Persian/French school in Tehran at the age of 4.

“From 8 a.m. to noon we learned in Persian, so I was writing from right to left, and from 1 to 5 p.m., we had French so I would write from left to right. Two handwritings and two ways of reading.

“I learned English by watching films and then trying to read with a dictionary beside me and looking up words.”

In filmmaking, she found things she hadn’t in writing books: compromise, promotional work, and even fighting, which doesn’t bother her a whit.

“Suddenly I discovered the joy of the only child who can go out and play with her friends in the street. And that was the feeling of, ‘Oh cool! This is much more fun because I can play with all these kids.’ I have much less control but it’s much more fun.”

She and a partner made Persepolis into a French animated film in 2007, followed in 2008 by an English version voiced by Gena Rowlands, Sean Penn, and Iggy Pop. Chicken with Plums became a 2011 live-action film.

In theaters in February will be Voices, which she directed but did not write, starring Ryan Reynolds, the superhero in 2011’s Green Lantern and the main character’s voice in 2013’s animated Turbo.

Filmed in English, Voices is about a well-meaning fellow employed at a bathtub factory where he accidentally kills a coworker. Then, his cat (a bad voice) and his dog (a good voice) begin talking to him. It has serious, comedic, and thriller-type moments.

“In film, you have 100 cultured people working together for a year or so and everybody is ready to die to make something that is one and a half or two hours of a spectacle, just for a collective dream.

“When I show a film at a festival and 3,000 people are watching it at the same time as me, I can hear their breathing, I can hear the reaction and exactly what is going on.”

She and Mattias Ripa, her Swedish husband, own a movie production company. “When you don’t do the same work, after a while you start growing apart and at one point you lose the person.”

And Paris?

“I know for the rest of world Parisians are rude. They’re always angry about something. I’m kind of used to it. The city is really beautiful. When I wake up and I’m walking to my studio, I’ve thought, ‘Is that really me living in this city?’ It’s vibrant. There’s lots of culture. There’s lots of good food. All my friends are here.”

Authors! Authors! is cosponsored by The Blade and the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library. The talk is sold out. Information: 419-259-5266.

Contact Tahree Lane at: tlane@theblade.com or 419-724-6075.