This comic by two Mumbai- based artists is an accessible, beautifully illustrated primer to contemporary feminism
Illustrated almost entirely in pink and blue, the minimalist comic strips explore concepts like intersectionality
Ilustrator and comics creator Pia Alizé Hazarika was at a party in Delhi, a little over three years ago, when someone ended a discussion by calling her a “bad feminist". Rattled, Hazarika spent the rest of the night wondering what makes you a good feminist. That encounter inspired her to create Custom Cuts, a series of 30 weekly webcomic strips written in collaboration with artist and writer Malathi Jogi.
Illustrated almost entirely in pink and blue, the minimalist comic strips, which they posted on the blogging platform Tumblr, served as an easy-to-read primer on feminism and intersectionality. They have now been collected and published—with a few updates to reflect the impact of the recent #MeToo wave—by Canadian publishing collective Ad Astra Comix as a 30-page print comic titled Feminist AF: A Primer For Everyone.
“It all started with me questioning whether there was actually an overarching rule book or checklist to see who qualified as a good feminist," says Hazarika, when I meet her and Jogi at her apartment in Mumbai. “I made a couple of pages and sent them to Malathi and asked her if she wanted to work on this with me. Because I felt that I might just get very angry doing it by myself, and I needed an outside voice."
Collaborating over a Google Docs Excel sheet, Hazarika and Jogi charted out 30 weeks of comic content, tackling everything from the current schools of feminist thinking, the way the movement was being portrayed in media and pop culture, as well as its misappropriation by brands and celebrities. The year 2017, when the comics first came out, was a time of what Hazarika calls “scorched earth fighting" on social media, as a new wave of vocal feminists inspired by the online #MeToo movement fought seemingly incessant online battles with reactionary men’s rights activists. Law student Raya Sarkar’s crowd-sourced list of alleged sexual harassers in Indian academia, published midway through their 30-week run, had also exposed caste and class divisions within Indian feminism. Custom Cuts became a way for the two artists to navigate this noisy public discourse.
“It was a very messy time, especially on social media, and eventually we came to the conclusion that it’s okay if you’re figuring this out, and here’s a bunch of guidelines to work with," says Jogi, adding that the two had to do a lot of reading for each strip in order to take often complex academic concepts and make them accessible to a general reader. “We took all these terms that were being mangled online and we gave it a little bit of historic context and dwelt on the present meaning the word has taken."
One of the key concepts that anchors the comic is intersectionality—the idea that feminism cannot be separated from caste, class and other oppressive forces that many women have to deal with. Time and again, Hazarika and Jogi make the case for a more inclusive feminist movement that understands and acknowledges the different socioeconomic contexts within which it operates.
“We’re both quite privileged, and we’re very aware of the fact that we’re not necessarily the people to ask about the larger picture of intersectionality," says Hazarika. “But we try to give you an overview, and to nudge you in the direction of so many women of colour across different races or castes whose work is out there. Because, in 2019, if feminism is to work it must be intersectional."
Custom Cuts ended in 2017, but last year the duo was approached by Ad Astra, a collective that Hazarika has worked with before, which wanted to republish them in print comic form. The printing costs were crowd-funded on Indiegogo, and the first batch of pre-orders started arriving in India last week. “The reaction has been great," says Jogi. “A bunch of people came to us saying that my brothers or cousins are having these arguments with me and I’ve been using your book to shut them up. That’s amazing!"
Hazarika and Jogi are now working on volume 2 of Feminist AF. While the first edition largely drew from their own experiences and from a close reading of feminist literature, this time around they want to bring on board a number of other voices from more diverse backgrounds. “The amount of women-generated work coming out of India is fantastic," says Hazarika. “So if this can become the springboard for a larger collaborative project, that would be awesome."
Feminist AF: A Primer For Everyone is available on sale on Adastracomix.com.