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'Persepolis' author releases a new graphic novel on Iran's women's protests

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Marjane Satrapi has just published a new graphic novel despite having sworn off creating them 20 years ago. She's the author of the bestselling "Persepolis," about an Iranian girl's coming of age during the 1979 Islamic revolution. Her new graphic novel is about Iran's latest uprising led by young women. Satrapi talked with NPR's Eleanor Beardsley recently and told her she felt compelled to draw again because history was in the making.

MARJANE SATRAPI: Please come in.

ELEANOR BEARDSLEY, BYLINE: Thank you.

SATRAPI: Do you want a cup of coffee or something?

BEARDSLEY: I would love a cup of coffee.

I sit down with Marjane Satrapi in the dining room of her bright Paris apartment. As she makes us coffee, her cat plays at our feet.

SATRAPI: She's a very friendly one.

BEARDSLEY: Satrapi thought she'd left graphic novels behind, but in September 2022, Iran's morality police arrested a young Iranian woman for not properly wearing her hijab. Mahsa Amini died in custody, sparking months of protests across the country.

SATRAPI: When I saw that, you know, the girls - they came out yelling, woman, life, freedom.

BEARDSLEY: Woman, life, freedom was the slogan of the protesters and is the title of her new book. Satrapi says the young women mounted the first real assault on the patriarchal culture underpinning Iran's clerical regime, and men joined them.

SATRAPI: If that was only young girls, I would be extremely scared. But our young girls - they are carried by young guys. This is the difference. A real feminist revolution cannot succeed until men understand that the equality between them and the women is also good for them.

BEARDSLEY: The book is a collaboration between more than 20 artists, activists, journalists and academics. It depicts the historic uprising in the context behind it. Abbas Milani fled Iran in 1987 and is the director of the Iranian Studies Program at Stanford University. Milani also feels this movement is different.

ABBAS MILANI: The Iranian women's movement, in its civil disobedience, in its defiance, in its persistence, is absolutely one of the most important civil disobedient movements of 20th century and completely comparable to, for example, the civil disobedience movement led by Martin Luther King.

BEARDSLEY: Milani says, only Satrapi, with her connections and international stature, could bring together such a talented group and turn out this book in just five months. "Woman, Life, Freedom" was published in Persian and French for the first-year anniversary of Amini's death last September. The English version came out in March.

PATRICIA BOLANOS: I thought it was a prank, and then I got an email from Marjane confirming that it was real.

BEARDSLEY: That's Spanish artist Patricia Bolanos describing the moment she was contacted to participate in the project. Bolanos drew the chapter on the Aghazadeh, the children of the mullahs and Revolutionary Guards. She was inspired by Instagram account Rich Kids of Tehran. It showed them wearing bikinis on Riviera beaches, partying and drinking alcohol.

BOLANOS: It was really scary because these kids are the children of this Islamic Revolution Guard that are setting the rules, but they don't follow the rules. At certain moments, they have to collide with this other world of other women fighting and even dying for freedom.

BEARDSLEY: She wanted to know what those moments are like. The last cartoon in her chapter shows a stylish Aghazadeh checking her Instagram account.

BOLANOS: And she's seeing all these videos of the women burning the veils and yelling freedom. And you can see that on the reflection on her sunglasses. And someone asks her, what are you watching? And she says, nothing.

BEARDSLEY: Satrapi said it was important to involve people from outside Iran in the project to show Iranians the world is watching and embracing their cause. She herself drew the chapter on the Revolutionary Guards.

SATRAPI: It was aching physically, you know, just having to - you know, I don't want to draw their dirty faces.

BEARDSLEY: Satrapi says, nobody would read a 280-page book on the history and society of Iran, but a graphic narrative draws you right in.

SATRAPI: A comic has this advantage because the first language of the human being is drawing. So it's an immediate relationship that we have with image. It - instead of using 1,000 words, you draw an image, and a human being understands what this image is about.

BEARDSLEY: Satrapi, who's 55, says her generation was exhausted after living through the Islamic revolution, the massive wave of executions that followed and the Iran-Iraq war. But she believes this generation, with so many educated women and the mobilizing power of the internet, will bring change.

SATRAPI: It's such a courage, and this is why I believe that this revolution, sooner or later, is going to give its result.

BEARDSLEY: There's no doubt, she says. It's just a matter of time. Eleanor Beardsley, NPR News, Paris.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eleanor Beardsley began reporting from France for NPR in 2004 as a freelance journalist, following all aspects of French society, politics, economics, culture and gastronomy. Since then, she has steadily worked her way to becoming an integral part of the NPR Europe reporting team.
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