I had no idea what to expect when I picked up Aminder Dhaliwal’s debut graphic novel WOMAN WORLD; an hour later, I was a fan for life.
Dhaliwal, an animator by day, started Woman World as an webcomic with a straightforward premise: men are extinct…now what?
A large proportion of the strips are episodic, with no overarching through-line — like Peanuts, or more to the point, Sylvia:
As the series progressed, these one-off gags slowly built into a complex, multi-POV tale, one with real tension and payoff, sensitivity and pathos. Taken as a whole, Woman World is a like a Magic Eye painting made up of isolated gags, out of which emerges a fantastic story.
Today, Drawn and Quarterly published Dhaliwal’s second book, CYCLOPEDIA EXOTICA, a volume that manages that same mysterious Magic Eye trick of making a deep and moving story emerge from comic-strip-length gags about a large cast of characters.
The premise of CYCLOPEDIA is a little more complicated than WOMAN WORLD, though; it’s an alternate world in which another race of hominids — cylcopes with one eye and one breast — have existed alongside us “two-eyes.”
The two species haven’t always gotten along, but now, in the early 21st century, we’ve found an uneasy peace, with the minority cyclopes living within two-eye society, facing all the issue of a visible minority: fetishization, discrimination, division and internalized racism.
CYCLOPEDIA’s characters are in interracial marriages and uneasy avant-garde art partnerships; they’ve mutilated themselves with kook “eye separation” surgery and have encouraged others to mutilation by modeling monoboob-separating binders that simulate cleavage.
They’re climbing the corporate ladder and giving birth to multiple babies — cyclops women have three vaginas and two uterii and they gestate multiple foetuses simultaneously, birthing twins separated by a monthslong gap.
And all of this is presented as a series of lighthearted gags, many of which made my literally cry with laughter. It’s an incredibly, admirably sneaky way to tell a profound story about race and gender and class.
If all of that is hard to imaging you should try it for yourself. Drawn and Quarterly have posted an excerpt from the book:
Meanwhile, I will be helping Dhaliwal launch CYCLOPEDIA EXOTICA Wednesday night at an event hosted by Indigo. I hope you can join us!
Cory Doctorow (craphound.com) is a science fiction author, activist, and blogger. He has a podcast, a newsletter, a Twitter feed, a Mastodon feed, and a Tumblr feed. He was born in Canada, became a British citizen and now lives in Burbank, California. His latest nonfiction book is How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism. His latest novel for adults is Attack Surface. His latest short story collection is Radicalized. His latest picture book is Poesy the Monster Slayer. His latest YA novel is Pirate Cinema. His latest graphic novel is In Real Life. His forthcoming books include The Shakedown (with Rebecca Giblin), a book about artistic labor market and excessive buyer power; Red Team Blues, a noir thriller about cryptocurrency, corruption and money-laundering; and The Lost Cause, a utopian post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation with white nationalist militias.