28 July 2009

Embroideries by Marjane Sartrapi

Graphic as a genre rather than adjective
Based in Iran, this book represents, through a group of stereotypes, various facets of sexual repression and the feisty,
inventive or sad ways in which women deal with them. One woman doesn’t know anything about sex though she has 4 children. How did that happen? Well, her husband comes in to the room at night and puts off the light. Then “Bam! Bam! Bam!” (and the other women listening to her speak go “Ha! ha! ha!”) In fact, she was blessed with four daughters so she has never seen a penis. Another of the women waited for her husband to call her to America for decades – they had fallen in love as teenagers and he had left soon after – only to find nothing, worse than nothing, waiting for her. Another escapes from her bathroom window on her wedding night, yet another nicks her bridegroom's testicles with the blade that was supposed to draw her own blood to prove she was a virgin. A wide-eyed western woman wants to make use of ancient Iranian techniques to bring elasticity back to her vagina. There are more. The chatting, embroidering women span 3 generations and are full of fun. If I compare this book with the only two other graphic novels I’ve read, I’d guess that it would be popular primarily because it is written by the author of Persepolis. Palestine, written and drawn by the journalist Joe Sacco is a very artistic and vivid portrayal of the history and plight of the Palestinian people whose land was suddenly occupied. The illustrations are stunning and depict violence in a uniquely creative and effective way. Unfortunately this aspect of graphic novels are rather wasted on me since I tend to race ahead with the text and create my own mental images. Regular comic books don’t need any focus on the illustrations which are bland and repetitive. With this book, I had to keep reminding myself that I was missing good stuff and turning back to examine the intricate and beautiful drawings. The other one I read a few months ago was Private-Eye Anonymous by Tejas Modak. It’s an entertaining detective story, well written and well illustrated. In comparison, I found Embroideries more like a comic book than a graphic novel because it lacks a storyline and the characters are caricatures rather than real people. Comic books were one of the delights of my childhood. We had no television or computers. It sounds like the ice age but it wasn’t hundreds of years ago … it was just a combination of a particular geography with a particular level of technological development which made us more isolated and less exposed than other kids similar to us in other ways. Comic books taught us American idiom – I would have surely scored high on the TOEFL. They were barely tolerated by parents and teachers, but considered junk. Kids nowadays have many other choices of brightly-coloured and low-mental-stress activity and aren’t as devoted to comic books as we used to be. The first time few graphic novels I saw in shops, on the other hand, made me confused and dizzy and even gave me a little touch of vertigo. I think this is because I felt intimidated by their modernity and their popularity amongst smart youngsters – though I do admire the intense illustrations and the strong activist messages that many of them carry.

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