Behind the Haul of Mood


Around ten months ago, I released my first zine Haul of Mood*, as a part of my Master's coursework. Alongside the comic, we had to create and respond to a topic delving into theory and our personal creative processes. About half an hour ago I was clearing some space up in my Google Drive and came across the essay. I wanted to share it. 

How do comics lend a unique route to stories (especially those autobiographical or anecdotal) in ways novels or non-graphic narrative mediums might struggle to facilitate? Discuss in reference to your own comic-making process and the personal relationship between author and narrative.

Fashion Kitty by Charise Mericle Harper (2006) was my first introduction to comics or any sort of graphic narrative. The plot follows a cat who helps out those in need of fashion advice, and from the get-go, it became one of my favourite books ever. Unlike a novel, I could spend hours looking at the beautiful drawings and envision myself amongst the high-rise buildings, where Kiki Kitty would come to my rescue with the perfect outfit. I don’t think any other medium could've done this story justice; its uniqueness lies in the detailed and colourful drawings of clothes; its ability to engage with the target demographic of children with simple yet engaging language; and its timelessness, so that even 14 years after having read Fashion Kitty, I can still remember its art style, how involved it got me—with diagrams and lists—and how it made me, as a young girl, feel seen without having topics like fashion being mutually exclusive to literature. Although not an autobiographical or anecdotal story, the comic medium facilitated Fashion Kitty in a way a non-graphic narrative medium would struggle to, and now, as a comic artist myself, I can appreciate the medium much more and apply its strengths to my comic-making process.

This essay will therefore discuss the unique routes comics lend to stories, especially those autobiographical or anecdotal, in ways novels or other non-graphic narrative mediums might struggle to facilitate. It will do so by referring to comic-specific elements in Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis that allow autobiography and anecdotal stories to live, express, and represent in ways that cannot be replicated in narrative or prose. It will also do so by referring to my own comic-making techniques and how the medium has allowed me to tell a story that I have otherwise struggled to express via poetry, prose, or narrative structures. 

The uniqueness of comics with reference to Persepolis

Over the past couple of decades, graphic novels have gained literary respect and standing with the publication of political, anecdotal, and hard-hitting stories such as Maus by Art Spiegelman, Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, Peep Show! By Joe Matt, and Over Easy by Mimi Pond, to name a few. These autobiographical graphic narratives stand among the sub-genre of the graphic novels that Gillian Whitlock calls "auto-graphics" (Whitlock, 2007). With the promise of autobiographies to self-express, "from its traditional association with narratives about the representative public and famous man unambiguously situated in history to the "memoir boom" of the last few decades, the impetus and logic of the genre has always been the possibility of expressing the self in one’s own terms" (Kohlert, 2019). 

In the autographics format, the visual, textual, and spatial elements work together to create sound effects and gestures that give deeper meaning to the narratives being told (Hughes; King; Perkins; and Fuke, 2011). Satrapi’s Persepolis (2004) uses these elements to transcend language by creating visual effects such as a dream sequence on page 196 (Satrapi, 2004). This gives rise to an intricate web of meaning to the narratives being told without explicitly stating their nature. Much like dreams themselves, Satrapi creates a collage of images from past pages over the current Marji, hinting at events in her life that inform her present state. This medium-specific element of showing rather than telling works in favour of Persepolis, as it visually overwhelms the reader without having to spell out the reasons for it. Textually, it covers more ground via illustrations in a singular panel than a narrative medium would by giving descriptions of what Marji ‘saw’ in her dreams. It depicts Marji as a child, hints at her guilt and the promises she made as a teenager, and the heaviness of it all looms over her present self—elements of time, relationships, and histories that can all exist without exhaustive retelling. This autographic element is also relevant for flashback illustrations or when relaying a minor story within the overarching story, such as on page 265. Through the comic medium, therefore, one’s personal story can weave in different timelines, perspectives, and retellings without taking away from the point at hand or diverging from the current storyline.


Page 196: dream sequence (top)                               Page 265: telling a story within a story (bottom)

Similarly, the argument, "comics literally enable new ways of seeing, new ways of being seen, and new ways of representing the self," (Kohlert, 2019) is in play on page 299 (Satrapi, 2004) depicting a scene where Marji stands up against the administrators who’ve organised a lecture on "moral and religious conduct" and demand that women dress in a less revealing manner. Here the autographic medium enables us as the audience to find new ways of seeing the repressive regime and understanding where Marji’s anger stems from. Additionally, ‘new ways of being seen’ is concocted by Satrapi illustrating herself in a rebellious light, whilst simultaneously ‘being seen’ by others as a revolutionary and representing the self as an outspoken outlier. Thusly autographic elements allow for anecdotal stories to be told from the protagonists’ perspective with hints at the reactions from the world around them. Page 299 (Satrapi, 2004) for example, focuses on Marji but also gives us insight into her peers’ political standings as they respond with "ohhhh"—a subtle indication of agreement or awakening, yet still in contrast to Marji’s forthrightness, which grounds the narrative in favour of her autobiographical storytelling.


Page 299: outspoken outlier

Furthermore, graphic novels, comic books, and sequential art illustrate a shift from the traditional "reading path of the text" and a linear path of "reading the world as told" to the more interactive path of "reading the world as shown" (Hughes; King; Perkins; and Fuke, 2011) Such is evident on page 281 (Satrapi, 2004), where we are presented with a contrast and comparison page of perspectives from Marji in opposition to those of her partner, Reza. This comic-specific element enables multiple routes of reading, making it an interactive activity and diverging from a traditional or linear mode of storytelling. Satrapi hones in on the contrast between her and Reza, choosing to focus on pretty substantial differences between the two in terms of lifestyles, relationships, and expectations. If we "read the world as shown", we can conclude that the two are probably incompatible: Marji’s favourite activity is smoking, while Reza’s is meditating; Marji enjoys socialising and has a large friend group; Reza is more of a loner; the image Marji has of Reza as being a military man is inaccurate, just as Reza’s image of Marji as a good conventional housewife is inaccurate. But when ‘reading the world as told’ from the perspective of the author whose story it is (Satrapi’s), the last panel diverges from the audience’s ‘reading as shown’, with the caption - “In short, we complimented each other”. Although both readings are valid—that of us as the audience almost in the position of an omniscient reader where the eventual breakup is foreshadowed; and that of Marji in the position of retelling the tale from her lived experience—the comic medium allows for the reader to understand the non-linearity of stories and presents several ways to understand anecdotal tales.


Page 281: comparisons and points of views

 Overall, the above-discussed comic elements—the visual, textual, and spatial working together to create sound effects and gestures, giving deeper meaning to the narratives being told (Hughes; King; Perkins; and Fuke, 2011); enabling new ways of seeing, new ways of being seen, and new ways of representing the self (Kohlert, 2019); as well as shifting from the traditional "reading path of the text" and a linear path of "reading the world as told" to the more interactive path of "reading the world as shown" (Hughes; King; Perkins; and Fuke, 2011)—enhance the anecdotal or autobiographical story.

These components, in my opinion, collaborate to make Satrapi’s story feel truly authentic as if it were an illustrated telling of the human experience. Our lives aren't linear, and our actions are informed by our past experiences. We are the main characters in our lives, and the response from others around us assists in perceiving where we stand—being able to hone in on both seeing the world as told and as shown—making light of humanity and the complex nature of human beings, where we may choose to turn a blind eye to something or can only later reflect on decisions we know we shouldn't have made. Persepolis makes the very hard-hitting tale of a young girl in a war-stricken country while also grappling with her own identity, easy to digest because there is universality in comprehending reactions, expressions, and childhood naiveté. Satrapi uses comic-specific elements to the advantage of her narrative. I not only feel as though I know Satrapi personally now but also that I've endured her struggles alongside her. And isn't that the aim of all storytelling? To resonate with the reader and pull them into your world?

My comic-making process and the relationship between author and narrative

So, how has this informed my comic-making? How can the story I have to tell alleviate in a comic or graphic narrative format? And how can I convey a strong sense of the relationship between me, the author, and my work, Haul of Mood (work in progress)? This project of mine has been on the back burner for quite a while now. I have wanted to express the depth of my emotions and convey my intense feelings towards the everyday mundane. Haul of Mood is therefore an invitation to my emotional world, and for such an endeavour, I have come to realise that the comic format is best suited to it.

For a narrative based on emotions and feelings, my readers need to see the space in which my emotions exist, and it is best suited to drawing these spaces, ensuring it translates in the manner I want it to, rather than having it be prose and left up to interpretation or the reader’s imagination of my world.

Referring back to the visual, textual, and spatial working together to create sound effects and gestures or deeper meaning to the narratives being told (Hughes, King, Perkins, and Fuke. 2011), the drawings of my inner emotional world work conjointly with the objective outer world where these emotions don't physically exist. Spatially, the feelings are within me, and presenting them on the page via illustrations and labelling them with details and arrows pointing to specific feelings, allows for a real envisioning of my inner world.


Visually, spatially and textually working together to create deeper meaning in narrative: Arrows pointing to specific feelings, allows for a real envisioning of my inner world.

Similarly, equipping and enabling new ways of seeing, new ways of being seen, and new ways of representing myself (Kohlert, 2019) through the comic medium positions my character (me) to be understood from a perspective that is truly internal. In the ‘real’, impartial world around, the noise inside me is what I allow my audience to see. At the beginning of Haul of Mood, I represent myself as being burdened by my emotions—feeling too deeply for my own good. This is followed by representing how I can be seen by others—too neurotic or dramatic—but then concludes with an overarching narrative pertaining to new ways of seeing—a note of acceptance, finding peace in who I am, and celebrating the uniqueness I once felt cursed by.



New ways of seeing/ being seen and representing self: acceptance, finding peace in who I am, and celebrating the uniqueness I once felt cursed by.

And finally, shifting from the traditional "reading path of the text" and a linear path of "reading the world as told" to the more interactive path of "reading the world as shown" (Hughes, King, Perkins, and Fuke. 2011) aided in laying out my work in a way I found difficult to do in a narrative or prose medium. Haul of Mood deviates from the traditional reading path of the text as it plays with going back and forth in time—it hints at a troubled birth and then slings you back into the present tense, for example. The non-linear path of reading the world as shown rather than told also helps duplicate and demonstrate the nature of time- where every version of ourselves still exists within, but the physicality of the real body only speaks for the here and now. Telling about my world is different from showing it; for a narrative based on internal feelings, words often don't do justice, whereas drawing items I am attached to, focusing an entire page on a seemingly inconsequential sweetgum seed standing upright, pulls on what some may label ‘bizarre’ sentiments, yet it conveys much more than simply speaking of it.


Shifting from the traditional "reading path of the text" and a linear path of "reading the world as told" to the more interactive path of "reading the world as shown": hints at a troubled birth and then slings you back into the present tense and a seemingly inconsequential sweetgum seed standing upright, pulls on what some may label ‘bizarre’ sentiments.

In conclusion, comics lend a unique route to stories, especially those autobiographical or anecdotal, by creating deeper meaning in the narratives told, allowing flexibility in representing the self and how others see the story (and you). Furthermore, by shifting from the traditional to a non-linear path of reading, stories can feel a lot more realistic, even when they speak of an internal world that may not objectively exist externally.  These elements work in favour of Marjain Satrapi’s Persepolis and subsequently can be applied to my own comic making to enhance the relationship between my work and me as the author. References

Harper, C.M., (2006). Fashion Kitty. Internet Archive. New York: Scholastic. http://archive.org/details/fashionkitty00

Hughes, J. M., King, A., Perkins, P., & Fuke, V. (2011). Adolescents and "autographics": reading and writing coming-of-age graphic novels: reading and writing graphic novels can be motivating for struggling students and reluctant readers, and can also support development of the multimodal literacy skills needed for school and workplace success in the 21st century. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 54(8), 601+. https://link.gale.com/apps/doc/A256930510/LitRC?u=anon~8959b67&sid=googleScholar&xid=e1ccf6b9

Kohlert, F. B. (2019). Introduction: Serial Selves. In Serial Selves: Identity and Representation in Autobiographical Comics (pp. 1–22). Rutgers University Press. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvscxs0t.3

Satrapi, M. (2007). The Complete Persepolis. Random House.

Whitlock, G. (2006). AUTOGRAPHICS: THE SEEING “I” OF THE COMICS. Modern Fiction Studies, 52(4), 965–979. http://www.jstor.org/stable/26286679 *Haul of Mood is now available for free in PDF format here.

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