Written by Molly Weitzman

See the Bigger Picture Edit

Have you ever heard the saying, “a picture is worth a thousand words?” Well, it’s true. A graphic novel has aspects of graphic design that helps create the mood of the story, deepens the emotion of the character, and makes the story easier to understand. According to Graphic Novel/Comics Terms and Concepts, graphic weight is a term that describes the way some images draw the eye more than others, creating a definite focus using color and shading in various ways. The use of light and dark shades, dark-toned images, or high-contrast images draw the eye more than light or low-contrast images do.

In Persepolis, there is no color, so most of the graphic weight comes from the light and dark contrast. Graphic weight helps convey the mood of the story. In this graphic novel, dark panels occur when something bad is happening and lighter panels for when there is good or happy moments. For example, on page 140, when Marji’s street is bombed, the first two panels on the page show darkness and heaviness because she doesn’t know if her mother is alive.

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Satrapi (140)

The third panel suddenly becomes bright when Marji sees her mother unharmed. The juxtaposition of the dark and light panels make the change in the mood very clear. Not only does the graphic weight affect the mood, but it also reflects the character’s emotion.

Emotions are often conveyed in texts through dialogue, but in a graphic novel, emotion can be deepened by the character’s expressions or body position, which is exactly how people read emotions in real life. Having empathy is being able to connect to the person through shared experiences. These strong emotions coming from the characters and graphics help the reader connect to the character and have empathy, because everybody has experienced anger, sadness, and other emotions before. The message of the story becomes much stronger when you can relate to the character’s emotions and feel what they are feeling. This is prevalent in Persepolis, for example on page 133 when Marji is being chastised by the guardians of the revolution.

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Satrapi (133)

The text, reading, “There was no alternative, I had to lie” makes it seem like the character could be confident, scared, or feeling brave, but the picture helps the reader differentiate between the possible emotions. The character’s face shows clearly the fear that she felt.

In addition to helping the reader understand the mood and emotions, graphics also clarify parts of stories that might otherwise be confusing or overwhelming. Graphics aid the reader and help the reader to comprehend the situation, scene, or even the general plot. In the image, one can see either who is speaking, where the characters are, or what they are talking about.  An example of this is on page 53, when Marji narrates, “The only place I felt safe was in the arms of my friend.”

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Satrapi (53)

In the image, one can see that the friend she is referring to is God, or maybe the safety of her religion. Without the image, it would be quite unclear to whom she is referring as her friend. Seeing that she is in the arms of God gives a much clearer and more powerful message.

Overall, having images accompany a story helps the reader understand the story, connect with the characters, and imagine the mood of the scene.

In addition to strengthening literature, graphics and graphic design play a big part in history and politics as well. From political cartoons to powerful images used during protests, graphics are essential.

Political cartoons are a popular way for citizens to express their political critique. Many cartoons use elements of graphic design but also use graphics as a form of symbolism. These political cartoons usually prompt thought instead of emotion. However, other uses of graphics in history have a way of invoking emotion.

The recent Ferguson protests have adopted the image of two hands raised in the air to accompany their chants of “hands up, don’t shoot.” Protesters have taken to posting images of raised hands on huge canvases for the world to see.


These hands send a powerful message. Seeing the hands reminds us of what is going on, and brings about discussion and emotions surrounding police brutality and the lost lives of the victims. From the real world back to the page, graphics help clarify, strengthen, and empower the words or the event that they accompany.

What do you think? Is a picture really worth a thousand words?