Graphic novels are books that are classified as part of this genre of writing because their content is similar to that of comic books. Based on the story they tell, graphic novels can fall into a variety of categories. Fiction and non-fiction are two examples of such categories. In the graphic novel category, notable titles include Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen. These books are notable not only for their plots, but also for their character development and a wide range of literary styles that aid in the creation of a visual text. There have been some claims that the Watchmen is a superior book to Persepolis. These arguments, however, focus on the fact that the Persepolis was a mainly in black and white while, the Watchmen, was in colour, which allowed the authors to paint a better picture. This is true, but several other aspects need to be viewed to determine which of the two, is the best. This essay will attempt to do this by comparing and contrasting the use of various styles, in the two novels. These styles include; the effects of the different artistic techniques, the various uses of juxtaposition throughout the books and the interchange between texts and images.
The Persepolis is an autobiographical story. The story’s setting is in Iran. The story is about the author growing up in two different regimes. The first was under the rule of the shah and the second was under the rule of the Islamic revolution that overthrew the previous regime. Although the heavy use of the colors black and white has come into some criticism regarding its effectiveness, Satrapi has managed to use it as the background for the several contrasting themes in the book. The most prominent themes that are in contrast, in the book include religion and secularism. The book begins with the Islamic regime taking over and imposing strict rules such as having to wear a veil to school and segregation of the schools according to gender. She is bold and strong-willed and has a calling to social activism, due to her family and their participation in social protests, which lands her in trouble with the school and causes her to be expelled. Her parents see that she is better off moving to a more liberal country and send her off to Europe where she comes into close contact with a religiously liberated girl who lives with homosexuals, which is the exact opposite of what she is used. Other themes that come into contrast in the book are childhood and adulthood and good and evil. The author successfully shows juxtaposition when comparing the innocence of the children and the adults. As the Islam extremists whip themselves the children look very shocked and confused, but the Islam extremists stay devoted due to their religious fanaticism (Satrapi 96).
The author sticks to the use of very simple forms to represent figures throughout the text. Features such as eyes, noses, and mouths are used to depict the faces that are made up of plain lines. Additionally, the author employs the use of emanata to show confusion. For example, the author uses “question marks above the heads of the children to their confusion”(Satrapi 96). Furthermore, she represents the noise made by the whip as the religious adults beat themselves by the use of emanata. The use of veils also represents the loss of their freedom to the Islam regime. Throughout the book, the author also uses different styles of graphic weight, such as shading even in black and white to bring the reader’s attention to some particular aspects. Even though the story focuses on some somber themes such as religion and oppression the author manages to bring out the story in a comic nature. For example, Satrapi depicts a body that has been cut into pieces in a way that doesn’t way heavily on the audience (Satrapi 52). This makes the book suitable for all audiences.
The second book the Watchmen is a fictional graphic novel set in an alternate-history. In this alternate-history superheroes, in the USA were real and were on the brink of a nuclear war. The story also ties in a murder mystery with a political aspect. Unlike the Persepolis, the authors of the Watchmen deviate from the main story and characters, to focus on an object in the foreground. In this book, the authors use various cinematic tricks to capture and keep the attention of their audience. This is one of the biggest differences between the two books because Satrapi uses only emanate, black and white to capture her audience. For instance, two characters from the Watchmen, they are placed at the edge of the panel, and the audience sees their conversation through the mirror placed behind them in a scene between Silk Spectre and Nite-Owl. Another example of this is that although not all the pages of the book are nine grid panels, almost all of them are centred on it. This is a common trick used by cinematographers to work within the same page continuously. Another cinematic trick is the use of the larger panels throughout the book. The larger panels in the novel are aligned with different emotional scenes, and therefore act like music in the background to make the scene stand out as much as possible. The authors use colour to portray emotions; they use a flat gloomy town is represented by purple paint while anger and fear are portrayed by splashes of red to.
The two books are similar in that they use most of the basic features in graphic novels. These features include the use of panels in each of the two books, the use of the foreground, the middle ground and the background about what is closest to the viewer, the second thing closest to the viewer and the thing furthest from the viewer. Along with these features, the two books make use of figures in different ways to convey different emotions, and the use of text in different speech balloons about what type of dialogue; external or internal is taking place.
In conclusion, Satrapi has done a commendable job in bringing the main themes in the book to each of her audience’s attention in a way that is easy to understand, without employing and cinematic tricks and using only two colors; black and white. Although the authors of the watchmen have also done a great job, I think that their use of color along with the cinematic tricks gives them the upper hand and therefore appeals to people faster than the Persepolis. The story in the Persepolis is also not very relatable to modern day Americans. Thus I feel that little credit is given where it’s due. The true question here remains, is it possible to equally compare two books of different genres; fictional and non-fictional?
Moore, Alan, and Dave Gibbons. Watchmen. New York, NY: DC Comics, 1986. Print.
Satrapi, Marjane. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. Pantheon Books, 2005. Print