Weekend Shorts: Welcome to Persepolis

I’ve got two rather different offerings for you today. One is a graphic (as in pictures) memoir of Iran after the Islamic Revolution, the other is the first volume of scripts for the Lovecraftian podcast Welcome to Night Vale. You know, I said rather different, but there are probably more similarities between these two things than anyone wants to admit…

Anyway, let’s see what these are about!

The Complete Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi
The Complete PersepolisThis was yet another of those book club picks that make me read a book I should have read a long time ago. I hadn’t read it because a long time ago, I was totally not into comics things (I know, right?) and had no interest in some picture book even if it was important or whatever. Oh, me. And unfortunately, oh, several of my book clubbers, as the low attendance at this meeting will attest.

But those who did come loved it, and I liked it quite a lot as well. It is a little difficult to get into, even aside from the pictures aspect, as the book is written as a series of vignettes of Satrapi’s life in Iran and Europe that don’t always flow smoothly one to the next. The breaks can be a little jarring and at least once I found myself wondering if I had managed to skip a bunch of pages because I had clearly missed something.

But the vignettes themselves are super interesting. Satrapi starts at the end of the Islamic Revolution, which overthrew one terrible government for a differently terrible government, as seems to happen in these sorts of revolutions. She talks about the abrupt change from co-ed secular schooling to sex-segregated Islamic schools, the new requirement to wear the hijab and other clothing restrictions, her own anti-authoritarian streak that got her in all sorts of trouble, her family’s involvement in the revolution and post-revolution politics, the bombings from Iraq, her time in an Austrian high school, her return to Iran, her marriage, and more. But the clear through-line is Satrapi’s difficulty in reconciling all of these parts of her life which have defined her in so many different ways that it’s hard to say who the “real” Marjane Satrapi might be.

Satrapi’s art style is kind of rudimentary, with imperfect lines and a pure black and white palette, but somehow she manages to capture the individuality of each of her characters and even of herself growing up and changing from a girl to a young woman to an adult. I was really impressed with this book all around and would definitely recommend it to you and your book club.

Mostly Void, Partially Stars, by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor
Mostly Void, Partially StarsYou guys already know my obsession with Welcome to Night Vale, but now you know that the obsession extends to reading written versions of episodes I have already listened to, which sounds weird even to me and I’m the one doing it!

And yes, it did take me rather longer to get through the book than I thought it would, partially because Night Vale is kind of a small doses thing and partly because, I mean, I already know what’s going to happen, here. BUT, it was absolutely worth it to pick up on little references and continuity things I missed the first time and for the short intros to each episode written by various Night Vale-adjacent people. I love a behind-the-scenes anything and this one is excellent.

If you’ve never listened to Welcome to Night Vale but want to, definitely listen first. If you’ve been interested in Night Vale but are not into the podcast thing, this is what you’ve been waiting for! If you love Night Vale, I’m sure the Sheriff’s Secret Police have already delivered you a copy.

Dept. H #1, by Matt Kindt
Dept. H #1Sneak attack bonus! I left this comic off my post-hurricane comics roundup a few weeks back, for reasons I cannot currently remember, so you get to hear about it now!

I pre-ordered this comic when I heard it existed because a) Matt Kindt, and b) the cover tagline that says “murder six miles deep.” Murder! In an underwater headquarters! Take my money!

This is just the first issue, so it has to cover some boring backstory bits, but it gets quickly enough into the going underwater business and the big murdery reveal. I’m super into the protagonist, who is a space person (not, like, an alien — I just don’t know what she does for the space program!) sent underwater to solve this murder for mostly bureaucratic reasons but also personal ones, and, as I knew I would be when I ordered it, I am loving the artwork, which is very similar to MIND MGMT and has a colored-pencil-and-watercolors quality to it that I like a lot. This series somehow didn’t make it to my comics pull list proper, but I’ll definitely be picking up the trade when it comes out in a couple months.

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Welcome to Night Vale, by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor

Welcome to Night ValeI have mentioned before in this space my love of Welcome to Night Vale, the super weird and wonderful podcast that takes place in a subtly Lovecraftian world where the weirdest and creepiest of things are just another boring day in Night Vale.

If you’ve also been listening to this podcast, even on just a semi-regular basis, you will definitely enjoy this book. If you haven’t been listening, but you like stories that are bizarre and a little creepy and that seem to pluck new details out of thin air, both the podcast and this book are worth a shot.

I think the biggest draw of this book for podcast listeners is that while Cecil and his radio show make appearances in the story, the narrative is led by two Night Vale residents, Jackie and Diane, and we actually get to follow along in their adventures rather than just hearing about how everything was solved during the weather break. Jackie is a 19-year-old pawn shop owner, and has been for decades, and Diane is an office worker and mother to a shape-shifting teenage son. So, completely normal by Night Vale standards.

What is strange for Night Vale is the presence of the man in the tan jacket, who has made appearances on the podcast in the past and who is impossible to remember. But in this story, Diane does remember him, or at least a version of him, and Jackie can’t help but remember the name of his town, King City, which has been written on a note that Jackie is incapable of dropping or even destroying. Also weird is the reappearance of Diane’s ex-boyfriend, Troy, in several places around Night Vale, and his reticence to talk to either Diane or Jackie. Diane is curious and Jackie is obsessive about both Troy and the King City note, and they end up working together to find out what the heck is going on.

I enjoyed reading this book quite a bit, primarily because so much of it has subtle or completely blatant callbacks to the podcast, and because I got to see what the people of Night Vale think of the radio show that I enjoy so much. It’s cute and fun and there’s a whole scene set in the library, the most dangerous place in Night Vale, and how can I not love that? Impossible.

It does get a little slow in places, which is to be expected, I guess, when you turn a half-hour radio show into a 400-page book, but these slow parts had enough bemusement density to see me through. I’m not sure a person brand-new to the show and its concepts would be able to make it quite so easily. But who knows? Stranger things certainly happen in Night Vale.

Recommendation: For fans of the show and of slow-burning Lovecraftian horror.

Rating: 7/10