The Sense of Elsewhere by Antonio Faeti

1. Sometimes it seems that everything has already been said about the importance of the pen work in comics as every consideration expressed concerning this essential component in the world of comics is prominent, indispensable and a necessary preliminary. However, when considering a large comic text, a great and new example of authentic narrative based entirely on balloons, only then does one realise the need to reconsider, to be persuaded to rethink, to make comparisons, to review the meaning of a historical series of events.   

Thus the pen work of Marjane Satrapi can also deceive the inattentive eye that does not know how to place it in its variegated genealogy. At first sight it seems to be an intentionally simple pen work, summary, with a tendency to squeeze out all the resources that an essentially stylistic research has always given to cartoonists. Then one discovers immediately that this is a pen work of pictorial derivation, similar to the woodcuts of Frans Masereel, but also devoted to the peremptory clarity of Chester Gould. In brief it is a pen work that fills the entire page with insinuating shadows and is able to represent the nightmare of the city, which shades in streets from a dream that rethinks and rediscovers the deepest connotations of surrealism. Thus every examination based on naive experience must disappear and Persepolis becomes the result of a cultured pen work, allusive, restless, a pen work that knows the mysterious inks of the artist Kafka. On the other hand, in certain representations of stairs, in certain crowd scenes, when it is necessary to represent the torment of traffic or the alienation of the youth, it can even allude to liberty and make use of a multifaceted 20th century tradition in which the outer limits of Sironi approach the engraver Moranti and retrace the deathly grimaces of Otto Dix. It is a pen work then capable of covering its own simplicity with deceptive clarity, a vast apparatus of references.    


2. The young girl, who lived through the passage from one dictatorship, entirely within the final gasps of the old colonialism of kidnapping, to the fanatical Unitarianism of those who use religion to oppress and torture, must be able to rediscover the terrible archetypes endured, to go back to the nightmares of a history that contains so many massacres, so many unwanted visits, so many catechisms imposed by means of torture.

It must be acknowledged that paradoxically Marji has benefited from a disconcerting privilege. She was already rebellious right from the start when the Shah did not understand the abhorrence of his dying power and, of course, she is happy about the change, she opens her mind dutifully to the prospect of hope. So she lives through a frenetic transition from one regime to another but then immediately she condemns also the second, even more disgraceful than the first because it denies any real hope, the assassin of legitimate dreams. It is not by chance that one can define as Kafkanian the hidden torment that extinguishes hopes. Here we are decidedly in Iran but we are at the same time in the mire of all types of Unitarianism, we are in Salem, in Calvinist towns where adulterers had to wear a red letter ‘A’, in a town of Lazio where the tyrant is a Jesuit counter-reformationist, in the Russia of Gogol, it is still the same, with the communists or the Tzar’s Cossacks where a window cleaner is placed in charge of a hospital, because the food of all Unitarianism is imbecility.   


3. Then war breaks out too. For us it was a war on television, planted right in the soft summer days of Reagan-like hedonism, interspersed with “Schiava Isaura” and other television soap operas, with Japanese animated cartoons, with “Quelli della Notte” (another soap), with so many seaside event stories like Miss Italy, San Remo and Oba Oba from Brazil.

But for them it was an immense ‘totentanz’, a carnage that amounted to almost twice the number of deaths of Italians in the First World War.

The child goes on, with hopes, fears, contrasts, just like many children in war who, in order to make it through, often look the other way, concentrating on the discoloured symbols of normality so as not to be completely overwhelmed by intensely coloured symbols of the abnormality that is war. There are still hospitals suspended somewhere between Kafka and Gogol, there are the maimed who can be referred to perhaps in no other way than tragic shadows in a comic, represented with its terrifying capacity for conciseness that transforms them all into symbols. Marji really understands that war and Unitarianism can go on together. Marji understands everything, as happens to children in war, even if this is really a strange war in which Scud missiles are already being used, in which the whip is still used even against those who expect to survive, to celebrate or dance.

There is a maniacal alliance between Unitarianism and war. Here resistance must be based on new strategies, new alliances and new results. The theft of a poster of the group Iron Maiden is as complex as an action by the Maquis, because it is a struggle against the deathly black of those who kill the spirit, the desire to live, the anxiety for existence, hope. The young boys are already to go to the front at the age of thirteen. It is difficult to give a definition to childhood or adolescence with these kinds of numbers and these visions.

It is indispensable to note how the pen work, minimal and dramatic with so much black, for the cellars and the curfew hours, and the language of comics, give Persepolis an absolute specificity. One can hazard a guess: it was the only way to represent the horror drenched in paltry iniquities belonging to all kinds of sanguinary Unitarianism. It should be said that Persepolis really puts the language of comics to the test and squeezes out resources that were seemingly unknown. This Teheran, so black, this pilgrimage of poor survivors who hear a Scud missile land on another city block, this mad otherness presented as if it were a legitimate daily events, or the deep roots of this unprecedented horror in the endless history of horror, can be represented perhaps only in this way. Here, moreover, one is reminded of Bacon’s drawings of those seeking refuge in the London underground while Goering’s planes bombarded England.  


4. Then there is Austria, the beneficent ‘elsewhere’, the Austria Felix where you study, learn and grow. And Marji did indeed grow in many ways, firstly in stature, giddily, and then in the dizzy awareness that all exoticism is folly, deceptive and murderous. This Austria has a smiling ex nazi for president and the extent of his repentance is not known. It is such a racist Austria that it cannot even understand its condition, an Austria where Marji could renew her rapport with Kafka and Gogol with an even more greatly motivated fervour than before.

It is an Austria of underwear, contraceptives, dog excrement, food that is hard to define as food, but with eyes closed to  urinals of certain importance, assorted drugs, rooms to let recalling ‘lagers’, of men lost in the metropolis, of demented schools. There is no Sissi, the Danube is not blue, the New Year’s Eve Concert is not played and the waltz is not danced; it is a great concentration camp where Marji’s contemporaries really try to find themselves, perhaps even going to the Tyrol to look for an alternative that Cesare Lombroso would have been happy to express himself.

On returning home everything acquires a precise form. It was a kind of ‘Grand Tour’, with different itineraries but capable of influencing the view and the perception of ‘elsewhere’.


5. Inevitably, we can say of Persepolis that it is a “education in feelings”, in the most Flaubertian sense.

Obviously, it is also a picture.

Persepolis pays a great homage to the comic and its history, because today, whoever relates an “education in feelings” often falls into the trap of memorialist intimism that makes one regret the fiction of this or that theme, including carabineers.

But when the comic has this painful source of strength, these graphic variations of the abasement of affection, these expressionistic deformations that do not limit however the torment of real affection, can then do without comparisons with Flaubert, the great Flaubert.

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