Graphic Novel Review – Marzi: A Memoir
Marzi is a memoir detailing a few years of Marzena Sowa’s childhood in communist Poland. Her life partner, Sylvain Savoia, was the illustrator. They worked on the novel together after Savoia convinced Marzena to write down stories from her childhood so that they would not be forgotten. The comic was released as a series of short stories for the Franco-Belgian comics magazine Spirou as early as 2004, and stories are still released to this day, to my knowledge. Vertigo released the English translation (originally in French) of over 200 pages of Marzi comics in 2011, and it received the title, Marzi, a memoir.
Presumably taking place in Marzena Sowa’s hometown of Stalowa Wola towards the end of the 80s, Marzi (Sowa’s childhood name) recounts a wide breadth of stories from her childhood. These range from stories about owning pets, to her fears for her father’s long stays at rallys and protests, to her anxiety about pooping around other people, to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The chapters about her experiences range from short to long as well, usually ones that go on about a political intrigue topic will last a while, but other short moments will last around four pages.
Every page has six panels, arranged vertically, two columns and three rows. The biggest flaw of the book, and the reason why it runs middle of the road for me, is because the words and images used in many panels are redundant. Much of the time, the narration that Marzena provides sets the scene well enough to not need the accompanying illustration below it, especially if there isn’t any dialogue added to the space below it. The visuals are extremely simple, and the artistic choices for the adults are based on Marzi’s own pondering on how people change as they get older. But once again, this connection is laid out plain as day in the text of the novel, when more could have been left to the subtext in order to avoid the repetition of images and text.
A constant of the novel that stood out to me was Marzi’s active imagination and pessimistic, anxiety ridden mindset. They are very true to life for at least my own inner dialogue growing up. She quickly identifies the cause of these overactive fears, that being her inability to have much autonomy over her situation. Sowa postulates in an interview with Deborah Vankin, that since her own parents’ were just holding on themselves and had limited choices under Poland’s communism, that she was constantly aware of the hardship around her, but since her parents refused to detail the problems with the politics in detail, she was forced to imagine her own scenarios for what was causing them such problems.
Much of the time I found myself more engaged in the stories that were related to the struggles of the people under communism and its fall in the nation of Poland. The cover for the English release of the Marzi comics emphasizes this part of the novel, what with the soldiers in the background and all, but it has very little to do with the stories. I do enjoy stories where children invent things or come up with new games to play, which takes up a part of this novel, but the subject matter was too varied for me to like it as a cohesive whole as well as I would if it focused more on one or the other. Perhaps reading the stand alone comics in magazine form is the preferable format for the Marzi comics, but those are only available in France and Belgium.