Woman World is graphic novel from a very talented and funny new voice, Toronto-based author Aminder Dhaliwal, who is also a director at Disney TV Animination. Dhaliwal's web comic version of Woman World has earned a devoted audience of more than 120,000. Her novel takes her story into comic strips for print that examines notions of femininity and popular cultural icons. She serialized Woman World biweekly on Instagram, which was nominated for an Ignatz Award for outstanding online comic.
Dhaliwal will be speaking at the Toronto Reference Library on Nov. 22 at 7 p.m. She sat down for an interview in anticipation of this event.
Why did you decide to create this world in which the men have gone extinct?
I was in a creative down spiral at the end of 2016 when I wasn't really making anything. I wasn't enjoying art so I started sticking to a schedule and forced myself to draw daily to get back in the rhythm.
In early 2017, I went to the Women's March, and I saw a lot of "[The] Future is Female" signs and kind of came up with the idea then and there. I posted the first comic in March, after having gone back and forth in my head about whether I should even post it because I could sense the kind of reaction it might get from some people. I eventually posted it on International Women's Day and after that I feel like I found my passion again.
Woman World began as a series of comics on Instagram, a medium that encourages briefer engagement with the work, because you swipe between frames. On paper, you can't control the timing of your jokes. What was your experience of transitioning between these two mediums?
I was so confident going into it and then instantly realized how hard it was going to be. Almost all my comics are even-numbered and a third of them are seven or nine panels, which are much more awkward to lay out.
I took each comic and put it out on a spread, and I would try and see where I expected people to add some extra timing in their swipes. I would add in dead space where they would have paused longer. There are a few comics where I had to put the punchline on the next page rather than on a two-page spread. There's something lovely and melancholy to the bigger pages. In a couple rain comics, one of the rain pages is a double spread and it adds this open feeling.
I think that for people who don't read graphic novels often, there's a fear of not reading them correctly.
I am notoriously bad at reading just the words in graphic novels. I'll get so enveloped in the story. Even when I started, I had the assumption that most people were like that, so I didn’t want to put in too much effort into the artwork.
There's a photo of you in the book with Post-it notes of some of your drawings scattered out in front of you on the floor. I'm wondering if you can tell me a bit more about your creative process; do you start with a joke and then work on illustrations?
Coming from storyboarding and animation, I'm used to working on Post-it notes. There's a lovely temporary feeling, and they’re easy to discard and start again, versus putting up a blank, 8.5 x 11 piece of paper, which feels more intimidating. I usually have a joke in mind, something pretty vague, some sort of punchline, and then I’ll take one Post-it note and I’ll try and write an entire joke on that. I’ll have 10 tiny images on one Post-it note and I’ll probably redo that a couple times. I’ll draw out each panel from that, and then I’ll rearrange them. By the end, I had realized that I spent so much time just doing the lettering that I also ended up making a font with my handwriting.
It sounds like I've figured something out but sometimes I also just use my sketchbook or a napkin at a restaurant, which actually does happen. I think it's something artists intend to say they do but it really does happen.
(Laughs). Is there a particular reason you chose to draw the majority of the graphic novel in black and white?
By nature of being a storyboarder, I actually don't work in colour. Everything I do for television is black and white. The only time I will use colour is for emphasis or clarity. I knew I could have added colour from the beginning but I just struggled with trying to imagine what the world would look like.
When you shared the first comic on Instagram, you prefaced it as a sci-fi comedy. Is that the tone you always had in mind?
Funny enough, the one thing I always knew was tonally what I wanted to go for, which was very light-hearted, kind of heartwarming, and that spice of life daily comic kind of feel.
It's still hard for me to define exactly what I'm going for, but I think it's "last man on earth" stuff. Most of the comics were a reflection of where I was at. A lot of the characters are actually facets of my personality, and if I ever felt insecure, there’s a very specific character I used who’s called Yumi, and her entire narrative is about being insecure.
There are so many funny relics in this world. Emiko finds a men's shirt and questions the stiff neck shields, and the fact that the buttons are on the wrong side. High heels are described as "construction boots to create small holes."
(Laughs). Yeah, so much of the humour is not only based off womankind but also mankind. I think there's so much to explore in both of those camps about the kind of stereotypes we fall into. I didn't know for sure that I wanted to use Paul Blart but that was a character where I didn’t want to do someone who was very traditionally masculine. I wanted to find a new voice for masculine.
The younger generation in Woman World hasn't actually met men. Emiko, a younger girl particularly fascinated by Paul Blart, is always asking the grandmother, Ulaana, questions about them and whether they will come back.
I think of it as our relationship with dinosaurs; we have 65 million years apart. Seventy years is what we say in the book. There's this interesting kind of obsession we have over the past and different times, so I can imagine that eventually when they start making movies, it would be something like Jurassic Park, but about men.
Women's relationships in the novel display open communication, and there's a lot of dialogue concerning what it means to love and be loved, and feel unrequited love. What are some elements from our world that you wanted to preserve in Woman World?
With a lot of female characters, it is often about women not getting along with other women. I've found women to be very empathetic and supportive and I wanted to make sure that the women in my book were what it's been like for me to be surrounded by women.
We still have problems but that is much rarer than the supportive community that I feel most of the time, so I knew that I wanted to focus on the more realistic side of a group of women hanging out.
Who are some women graphic novelists that you are looking to right now or have looked to in the past for inspiration?
Well, first, Megan Dong. She had her book come out in September as well and she's someone who I've admired from afar. I actually got to work with her in animation and I think she’s one of the loveliest people I've ever met and I adore all her work.
Drawn & Quarterly has always had a fantastic roster of female comic artists. Jillian Tamaki's work was a huge influence in the style of comics I like to draw. One of the earliest comics I remember reading, which had a big effect on me and my sense of humour, was Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. That is one of the examples for me that hits both of my worlds as well, where I was introduced to the comic because I watched the animated film first, which was fantastic. She was just hilarious even though she was talking about these big life changing events.
You said that the characters were all facets of you while you were creating Woman World. Now that the novel is out in the world, which character most accurately represents you?
Hmm. This is really hard. (Laughs). After the book coming out, I think I have a little more Gaia within me. She kind of represents lack of shame. I'm more willing to try things and make mistakes because it feels like I've gotten to where I am by doing that. I had comics before which didn’t go anywhere so I've towed that line of failure plenty of times. I'll throw something up and if it doesn't work, it doesn't work. I'm a little more shameless now.
Woman World is published by Drawn & Quarterly. Aminder Dhaliwal will be speaking at the Toronto Reference Library tonight at 7pm. Details can be found here.
Alexandra Valahu is a freelance radio producer and writer based in Vancouver, B.C.
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