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Marjane Satrapi | Biography

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Childhood in Iran

Marjane Satrapi was born on November 22, 1969, in Rasht, Iran, to parents Ebi and Taji Satrapi. An only child, Satrapi grew up in a close-knit family that emphasized intellectualism and free thought over the religious dictates of the governing Islamic Republic. Satrapi attended French-language schools throughout her childhood, where she excelled in math. Her education continued at home, as her parents encouraged her to explore Western texts, films, art, and music that were becoming increasingly difficult to find in Iran. However, typical children's fare, such as fairy tales and comic books, didn't interest her much. By age eight, she was watching films by Swedish director Ingmar Bergman. By age 11, she was reading books by Victorian novelist Emily Brontë (Wuthering Heights, 1847).

During the 1980s life changed significantly for residents of Tehran, the Iranian capital. The ongoing Iran-Iraq War (1980–88) stripped the city of supplies and able-bodied young men. Leaders of the Islamic Republic cracked down on everything Western, from music to fashion to political views, endangering Westernized Iranians. Alcohol was prohibited, secular school curriculum was suddenly based in religion, and women were required to wear headscarves in school and in public. It wasn't a safe place for Satrapi, a rebellious teenager who identified more with international freedom movements than with the oppressive regime in Iran. Her parents decided it would be best for her, at age 14, to finish her schooling in Austria, where she would live with family friends.

Europe, Iran, and Back Again

Life in Austria didn't go as Satrapi planned. Her surrogate family asked her to leave after just 10 days, and she spent the next four years bouncing from boarding house to boarding house while completing her high school education. An outcast because of her Iranian heritage, Satrapi fell in with a crowd very different from her friends back in Tehran. She engaged in illegal behavior she knew would shame her parents, such as drug use. After the failure of her first real romantic relationship, she found herself homeless, heartbroken, and alone.

Satrapi returned to Tehran and her parents in 1988, where she was accepted into art school. A lifelong sketcher and doodler, Satrapi's interest in art bloomed when she saw an original painting by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso during a family trip to Madrid, Spain, when she was nine. Though she studied oil painting for a few years in her early teens, Satrapi veered toward graphic design in university. It was there she met and married her first husband, Reza, who was also an art student. Their relationship lasted just a few years. At 24 a newly divorced Satrapi left Iran once again for Europe.

After finishing her graphic design studies at l'Ecole des Arts Décoratifs (School of Decorative Arts) in Strasbourg, France, Satrapi earned a living doing freelance design work—while also laboring on the children's books she'd always wanted to write and illustrate. A friend found her a spot at L'Atelier des Vosges, a graphic artists' cooperative in Paris. The other artists were all men, and most were cartoonists. They were fascinated by Satrapi's stories of Iran, and several encouraged her to create comics about her life there. Thinking comics were "bullshit stories" for kids, Satrapi had no interest in writing or even reading them until—in 1988—she picked up a copy of Maus by American artist and author Art Spiegelman. Spiegelman's graphic memoir about his father's experiences during the Holocaust and their father-son relationship sparked something in Satrapi, who begrudgingly admitted comics were probably the best medium for blending her art with her narrative voice.

Persepolis and Beyond

Although inspired, Satrapi knew next to nothing about the structure and form of graphic novels. She continued working on her children's books, piling up rejection letter after rejection letter. In 1999 Satrapi decided the best way to get published would be to do it herself. Instead of self-publishing one of her completed children's books, she started a new project—a comic about her childhood in Iran. Satrapi was determined to show Iran as she knew it—not the country of religious fanatics usually portrayed in the Western media.

Before the ink on the first page was dry, Satrapi knew comics were the right medium for her. She continued drawing and writing, completing the first volume of Persepolis in 2000. Her work immediately found a home—l'Association, a well-known publisher of French comics. Persepolis was an instant critical and commercial success, and it was followed by three more volumes, one published each year through 2003. The collection has sold over one million copies and has been translated into over 24 languages. Capitalizing on the success of the book, Satrapi then cowrote and codirected an animated film based on her story, also called Persepolis. Released in 2007, it was nominated for dozens of awards, including a Golden Globe and an Academy Award.

Satrapi followed Persepolis with two more graphic memoirs. Embroideries, published in 2003, is a compilation of autobiographical stories about life and love from her female family members and friends. Chicken with Plums (2004) is loosely based on the life of her great-uncle, a renowned lute player. Satrapi has also published several children's books, many of which were written before Persepolis.

Satrapi's success and her status as Iran's first published comic book author has not endeared her to the leaders of the Islamic Republic. No longer welcome in Iran, she has made her home in Paris, where she works as an artist.

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