Perception of Graphic Novels as a Fairy Tale

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Basically graphic novels are perceived as a kind of tales or fables for children, who read those short phrases and admire colourful images of fictitious characters. As far as themes are concerned, comic books are said to raise trivial matters and deal with little things only. However, when thoroughly explored, such pieces of art turn out to be a creative form of literature. There is a variety of graphic novels, each of which seems to be quite different, as authors employ their own writing style, narrative techniques, artistic expressions and a number of other distinctive or unique features. Moreover, many comics posses literary depth and tackle complex issues straightly addressed to adult readers. Works Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi and Maus by Art Spiegelman are perfect examples proving the above. These novels share some similarities, but they also are different and reflect a real creativity of the writers. Both stories mention serious subjects as they were written as a result of serious historical events, that is the Iranian Revolution and the nightmare of Holocaust.

The cover of Maus may be deceived by his innocence. Many times various artists have tried to cover difficult topics, social or historical, under a form that is supposed to alleviate the real facts. And nothing is as positive as the charming animals that conquer the net on numerous memorials or funny films. But(However,) they were often too infantile, speaking in generalities and understatements. Luckily, Maus does not belong to this type of reading. Art Spiegelman’s work is a serious title that has nothing to do with stories for children. The album is a record of memories of a former concentration camp prisoner – this fact alone builds an idea of the gravity of the content. The comic book has a retrospective form. The author conducts a series of conversations with his father, Władek Spiegelman, an Auschwitz Jewish survivor. He is not afraid to tell a straightforward story. German terror, widespread fear of the ‘race of lords’ and their bestiality is shown without any censorship. Death in Maus is torn from heroism. It is closer to a senseless and cruel end, like the works of Herling-Grudziński. From the initial repressions and restriction of freedom, through staying in ghettos, hiding in Polish homes, to staying in the hell of a concentration camp.

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Persepolis has also autobiographical character – it is an honest, subjective account of Iran from its darkest period. It tells the story of the decline and collapse of Reza Pahlavi’s Shah rule and the Islamist religious revolution that followed. Satrapi reports on these little known and fascinating events. However, unlike the well-known journalist, who had an attempt to remain objective at least theoretically inscribed in the creative process, the Iranian woman deals without mercy with everything that hurts her in the story she tells. Raised in an enlightened family, taught as a Western scholar, she was suddenly, overnight, thrown not only into the whirlwind of a senseless war against Iraq, but above all into the abyss of a completely alien society and customs.

Comic books consist of the text and the pictures which complement the story, somehow enrich the piece of work and add some additional meaning to it. As Satrapi once noticed, ‘Images are a way of writing. When you have the talent to be able to write and to draw, it seems a shame to choose one. I think it is better to do both’ (Satrapi, On Writing Persopolis (Persepolis)). The usage of visuals in comics helps to understand more clearly what the author intended to convey through his work. ‘The relationship between writing and illustration is intricate. It annexes an extent visual imaginary, since images are the visual representation of language, designating the bond between what can be said and what can be seen” (Fatema, 2016). Noth perfectly concluded it saying that ‘both are equally necessary to the understanding of the message’ (Noth 2001). Although the authors draw pictures in comics, not all of them should be regarded as childish, because ‘graphic novel mostly embraces the way of representation with the juxtaposition of words and pictures. Whereas, children’s books tend to follow the pictorialisation and inscription most often” (Fatema 2016).

‘Both Maus and Persepolis are nonfictional works that cannot be thoroughly understood solely in terms of the stories they contain, but also, by their very nature as graphic memoirs, through the visual discursive elements they contain’ (Beckler). The pictures in the stories somehow set the tone and mood of it, which is gloomy, dark and ominous. Both novels use visuals to reveal characters’ emotions and to appeal to the readers’ feelings. The images depict the pain better than words may have. From the graphic side, Persepolis is not particularly complicated, Satrapi uses a simple line in her drawings. The content of this story – the heavy, dense, painful form of the document – is contrasted with its form at first sight. It is a black and white comic book, graphically very simple, almost conventional, associated with humorous stripes in Sunday supplements rather than with a poignant historical work. Seemingly unsophisticated designs make the picture have an extraordinary power of expression; the monochromatic scenery gives the story a taste of an old documentary, and through its contrasting nature brings out the most important elements of history and accentuates them.

What makes Persepolis and Maus different is the fact, that the action takes place over various years and thus concerns different social and political issues.. Moreover, while Spiegelman’s work is not an easy and light reading, Satrapi employs simple, informal language and extensive descriptions. Persopolis (Persepolis) seems to be more personal and subjective and Maus somehow represents the larger image of those horrific Holocaust times.

Graphic novels are not only about superheroes, but they bring up many substantial issues. Their duality in the means of communication, namely visual and textual, makes comics more interesting than just a pure lines of words. Some readers need some visual stimulus in order to grasp the meaning of the novel, so that drawings seem to be very helpful. Although Persepolis and Maus deal with distinct subjects, both of them tackle serious and significant matters in the form of comics. Therefore, it is just a stereotype that comic books are reserved only for children. Contrary, graphic novels reveal the creativity and deep imagination of writers and deserve to be read.


  1. Beckler, Hannah. 2014. The Comic Book as Complex Narrative: Discursive Construction of Referential Truth in Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. University of Colorado at Boulder
  2. Fatema, Rumnaz. 2016. A Critical Study of Graphic Novels: Speigelman’s Maus and Satrapi’s Persepolis. BRAC University 29.06.2020
  3. Noth, Winfried. 2001. Word and Image: Intermedial Aspects. 2001. 29.06.2020
  4. Satrapi, Marjane. 2003. Persepolis: The Story of a Return. Pdf.
  5. Satrapi, Marjane. 2003. On writing Persepolis 29.06.2020

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Perception of Graphic Novels as a Fairy Tale. (2022, Feb 01). Retrieved from

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