Author Satrapi talks comics, movies, cigarettes

Iris Alden

Marjane Satrapi, the author of the graphic novel

“Already an hour and a half without a cigarette is painful,” Marjane Satrapi said in eager anticipation of the five-minute break she would take after her lecture had finished. Her love of cigarettes remained a theme throughout “An Evening with Marjane Satrapi,” though the author and filmmaker went on to discuss much meatier content.

Satrapi’s lecture, which took place last Friday, April 10, was one of the most anticipated events of the spring semester at Whitman. The seats beginning to fill up 15 minutes before the lecture began and students and community members alike lined up to purchase copies of Satrapi’s works. Cordiner Hall was charged with excitement.  

Satrapi is the author of the highly acclaimed “Persepolis,” a comic book about her childhood in Iran during the tumultuous years following the fall of the Shah in 1979 and her subsequent stay in Vienna, Austria.

The enthusiasm for Satrapi’s talk seemed to be specifically focused on her role as an author of comics.

“I’m really interested in the production of the text,” said Walla Walla University professor Dan Lamberton, who teaches “Persepolis” in several courses.  

“It should be interesting to hear why she chose pictures,” said first-year Max Friedlander-Moore.

Satrapi was introduced by Nicole Simek, Assistant Professor of French. Simek spoke about how “Persepolis” highlights and questions the search for truth and redefines the position of the reader.

Satrapi’s first words, “Good night, ladies and gentlemen,” were met with generous laughter: a frequent occurrence throughout the lecture.

Satrapi then apologized for her less-than perfect English, explaining that she had learned the language from watching American movies.

The first topic of Satrapi’s lecture was the term “graphic novel.” She expressed her distaste for the pretension associated with the phrase, saying, “‘Graphic novel’ is a little like ‘Lady Chatterly’s Lover.'”  

Satrapi went on to discuss how she became an author of comics.  

Unlike many famous cartoonists, Satrapi did not grow up in a strong comics culture, though she had been exposed to the medium at age seven. Her desire to express her story through comics was spurred by reading Art Spieglman’s “Maus” (which is being considered as an addition to next year’s syllabus for Encounters, the new Core) after she moved to France in 1994.  

Marjane Satrapi

  • born 1969 in Rasht, Iran
  • spent childhood in Tehran where she attended the Lycée Français
  • 1977: first exposed to comic books
  • 1983: sent to Vienna by her parents to escape Iran-Iraq War
  • returned to Iran for college
  • 1994: left Iran for France, where she attended art school in Strasbourg
  • 1999: began work on “Persepolis”
  • 2003: “Persepolis” finished
  • 2007: film adaptation of Persepolis debuts at Cannes
  • currently resides in Paris with her husband

Satrapi waited five years after emigrating from Iran before she started work on “Persepolis.” Satrapi stressed that it was important for her to let go of her anger before telling her story, saying, “There’s nothing worse than writing with anger, writing with hate.”

Satrapi then explained her choice to tell her story through the form of comics. She said that drawing was a natural way for her to express herself and that the accessibility of the medium also made it appealing.  

“It was extremely important to find a way to tell the story in a way that was attractive,” she said.

Satrapi also pointed to humor as an element that brings people together. The audience greeted her claim that “people with no sense of humor are just stupid” with laughter and applause.

The choice to adapt “Persepolis” into an animated film was also addressed by the author, though her explanation was far less complex than that of her desire to make the book. “If you give a great toy to a child, he will not say no,” said Satrapi.

In her more serious moments, Satrapi warned about the power of language and its ability to divide people, speficially pointing to the danger of the “Axis of Evil” moniker. She also asserted her belief in establishing a minimum quality of life for all people, as well as the importance of education.

“The basis of all the harm in the world is ignorance,” said Satrapi.

After concluding her talk on a positive note, Satrapi opened the floor to questions. Many audience members were interested in her unique position as a female comic book author hailing from Iran, though some had more unexpected responses. One man prefaced his questions with the statement, “You’re beautiful when you cry.”

Asked to give an example of a joke or funny story, Satrapi told the story of a woman in a Salt Lake City Airport who asked her if she could see the moon from France, to which she replied, “No.”

After a reportedly much needed cigarette break, Satrapi held a book signing.

While in line, sophomore Shaheen Qureshi shared her reaction to the Satrapi’s lecture: “I was surprised by how funny she was. She just came off as very natural.”

Satrapi graciously declined further interviews at the book signing, saying, “No, I’m really finished.”  

Satrapi is currently working on a live-action film adaptation of her comic book “Chicken With Plums” with Vincent Paronnaud, whom she collaborated with for the animated “Persepolis” movie.