She doesn’t want to get married.
She wants her darker skin to be celebrated, not medicated.
She wants to escape the memories of abuse at the hands of her uncle and break the cycle for her own daughter.
She wants a job and doesn’t understand why it’s so hard for the men who might hire her to look her in the eye instead of her breasts.
None of these stories are my stories. My story is one of comfort and privilege, ensconced in my male, white, Canadian body. These are the stories of 14 ordinary women from India, women who had the courage to show up at a comic-drawing workshop put on by an Indian artist, Priya Kuriyan, and two German artists, Ludmilla Bartscht and Larissa Bertonasco. Drawing the Line: Indian Women Fight Back! is the product of this creative awakening. As these three explain in their afterword, no one knew quite what to expect. Bartscht and Bertonasco went to India with all these pre-conceptions about what the women would and would not be comfortable drawing and telling. Kuriyan had no idea if she would get along with two foreign artists. No one knew if the women, most of whom had never drawn in their life, would open up enough to share themselves.
Well, spoiler alert: it turned out fantastically.
I backed Ad Astra’s Kickstarter for this North American edition. I don’t really know why; I think someone shared it on Twitter, and it seemed like a nice idea, and I could back at a level appropriate for my budget and get a copy of the book—win-win. This is not the type of book I usually read.
And that is exactly why it’s so important that I read it.
I think a lot about the idea of “reading widely”, both what it means and why it is important.
Even when we try not to judge others for what they read, we are often judgmental through how we profess our own reading tastes. “Oh, science fiction? I don’t touch the stuff” is not really much better than just coming out and telling me you think my sci-fi habit is juvenile or silly. And I’m just as guilty of looking down my nose at romance-readers, Western enthusiasts, or hardcore thriller tasters. We’re a judgy species; we like to label and categorize ourselves and others.
I don’t often read graphic novels. Visual storytelling does not fill the space in my soul the same way a page packed with words does.
And I don’t often read the types of stories contained in Drawing the Line—though this, I feel, is more because I have not sought out such stories, nor are they as ubiquitous, rather than a preference on my part.
So it’s important for me, every once in a while, to stretch myself. To read outside of that comfort zone. Sometimes that means trying on a romance or a thriller for size. Sometimes that means picking up an anthology of comics created by women who want to share their voices with the world.
I didn’t understand every nuance of these stories, of course, but in general they are eye-opening glimpses at incidents and ideas I wouldn’t otherwise consider. The whole thing about skin-lightening, for instance. Several women link the lightness of their skin to marriage prospects and family attitudes. Also, I really enjoyed “An Ideal Girl” by Soumya Menon, both in its artistic execution and in the story it tells. Menon’s positive depiction of how the eponymous girl breaks out of the mould of expectations set for her to take agency is quite compelling.
The variety of art styles might be distracting to some, but I kind of like it. I like the idea that in the future I can take this down from the shelf, open it to a story at random, and get something a little different every time.
I don’t know if I would recommend Drawing the Line specifically to everyone, though I’d encourage you to check it out if you get an opportunity. But this is the type of book I’d recommend to everyone, in so far as I think everyone should read more, and read widely.