First-Year Reading Experience gets graphic
At first glance, the University of South Carolina's First-Year Reading Experience 2009 selection might appear to be a very thick black-and-white comic book. But don't judge a book by its cartoon-embellished cover.
For those familiar with graphic novels, The Complete Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, is a gem of the genre, an illustrated coming-of-age story set in Iran that offers a nuanced perception of life in a culturally complex country. A movie based on the book won the 2007 Cannes Film Festival Jury Prize.
Persepolis is being distributed to Carolina’s incoming class of some 4,000 freshmen during summer orientation, and the First-Year Reading Experience (FYRE) will be held Aug. 17 at the Carolina Coliseum.
Qiana Whitted, an assistant professor in English at the Columbia campus, will begin the morning with observations of the literary value of the text and the evolution of the graphic novel genre. Whitted will be followed by a keynote address from Waleed El-Ansary, an assistant professor of religious studies.
Persepolis was suggested by a student on the FYRE book selection committee.
"The committee wasn't uniformly familiar with graphic novels, so it was a learning experience for everyone," said Helen Doerpinghaus, vice provost for academic affairs and dean of undergraduate studies. "I have to say that I've never seen so much excitement over a book selected for the First-Year Reading Experience."
"Quite a few graphic novels in the past 20 years or so have been a departure from the superhero genre: we're seeing memoirs, coming-of-age stories, and different approaches to what heroism is."
Andrew Kunka, an associate professor of English at South Carolina Sumter, teaches graphic novels and thinks Persepolis will resonate with Columbia campus freshmen.
"When I've taught Persepolis in freshman English here, I've been surprised by how well students have engaged with the material," Kunka said. "Satrapi makes her childhood growing up in Iran accessible to students in the United States even though it happened before they were born and took place in a very different culture."
Whitted teaches a May Session course entitled Comics in American Culture, which encompasses graphic narratives such as Persepolis.
"Comics are a part of American popular culture. We see them in newspapers, at the checkout counter in the grocery store," she said. "But quite a few graphic novels in the past 20 years or so have been a departure from the superhero genre: we're seeing memoirs, coming-of-age stories, and different approaches to what heroism is. This is its own art form with its own language."
Satrapi's use of black-and-white images to illustrate Persepolis offers an illusion of simplicity and reflects the world of absolutes--strict Islamic law and religion--that she found herself in.
"She is trying to find her way in a world that doesn't want to compromise," Whitted said.
Katie Jones, a rising senior graphic design major, created a poster that was selected to promote this year’s First-Year Reading Experience. “It was difficult designing a poster for an illustrated novel, but I focused on some of the key ideas and incorporated them into a veil,” she said.