Rearranging History

2009 August 24
by Josh Brown


While not U.S. history, the recent appearance on the Web of Persepolis 2.0 offers a compelling argument for appropriation as a method for quickly creating a graphic history of recent events. This ten-page comic posted on a website called Spread Persepolis briskly and critically recounts the events leading up to the Iranian election last June 12th and the popular protests and repression that followed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s questionable victory, ending with the death of 26 year old Neda Agha-Soltan on June 20th. The comic is called Persepolis 2.0 because the two Iranian exiles who produced it reused art from Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, her graphic memoir (first published in France in 2000, then in the US in 2003, and then produced as an animated film in 2007) about the Iranian revolution and its repressive aftermath. The authors, using the pseudonyms Sina and Payman, used selected panels from the original work and inserted new dialogue and captions to tell their story. Satrapi gave permission for the project but did not participate.

Using Satrapi’s graphic work in Persepolis 2.0 was a wise decision, both for purposes of convenience and because her style is so distinctive and immediately recognizable, which in itself lends the work some legitimacy. The linking of intimate memories with larger historical events that made the original work so compelling is, of course, sacrificed in the comic’s collapsed narrative of events—and sometimes comes across as disconcerting when previously developed characters are now seen operating as ciphers exclaiming exposition.

And I must admit to a certain unease with the history being told—or, rather, the lack of a clear indication of the perspective that the authors, who now live in Shanghai, are espousing. Who can argue against a general critique of corruption and repression? But I was left wondering if there is a more particular motivation behind Persepolis 2.0. One panel showing “Iranians of all backgrounds” explaining why they decided to demonstrate against the election outcome stands out (see above), especially an older woman who states, “We were happier before ’79.” It’s a peculiarly revanchist expression—Ah, for the good old days of the shah!—that you will not find in Satrapi’s work.

Sina, in an e-mail interview, admitted that, “Unlike her original work, Persepolis 2.0 is filled with flaws and inaccuracies, but the bottom line is that it has helped spark hundreds of conversations and that’s more than we could have expected.” I would be interested to hear more about those “flaws and inaccuracies.”

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