If you have had a hard couple of weeks (or, heck, a hard existence period) what with being reminded of the outsized power of old white men, the print version of Aminder Dhaliwal’s Woman World from Drawn & Quarterly is here to help. Imagining a world in which the birth rate disparity between males and females continues to grow until there are no more male babies born, it takes place post-apocalypse but has an oddly sunny view on its state of things. A single elder who remembers the world the way it was survives, available to provide insight (or occasionally misdirection) on what men and culture at large were like. The movie Paul Blart, Mall Cop serves as a touchstone for the early 21st century. It’s a weird premise around which to build a comedy, but it works. It’s also strangely soothing as it presents a world that’s removed the need for rage. Writer Emily Neie referred to it as “pop culture catharsis [narrative] as self care,” and that’s right on. Dhaliwal, who has worked as a storyboard artist and writer on the TV shows Sanjay and Craig and Steven Universe, answered our questions over email, including how her two careers influence one another and why she’s a feminist.
Paste: One of the things I appreciate so much about this book is its lightness. You manage to treat the idea of an all-female world with an admirable degree of levity. Is that studied? Intentional? Are you just not a very serious person at heart?
Aminder Dhaliwal: The entire idea came from trying to express “the feeling” I had while at the 2017 Women’s March. It was a day of love and community and funny signs. Feminism just seemed so approachable. I’ve always wanted to recreate that for the comic. But, also, maybe I’m just not a very serious person at heart.
Paste: I know the Women’s March has received a lot of criticism from the left for being a bunch of bougie white ladies. Is that how it felt when you were there?
Dhaliwal: I can see why and how it ended up with that critique, especially since selective pictures paint it in that light. But, no lie, on the day of the march, when I stepped off of the train into L.A. the first group of people I saw on the platform was a group of Sikh men in bright pink turbans. I can’t respond to the criticism or the effectiveness of the march, but I do know that it made a group of people who up until then had felt helpless, feel motivated to take action—and motivation can be so fickle, you should take it where you can.
Paste: This book is like the other side of the coin to SuperMutant Magic Academy, which is also very funny but has a much darker tone. Yes? No?
Dhaliwal: I adore Jillian Tamaki’s work so any comparison to her is absolutely lovely. I knew from the beginning that I wasn’t going to make a dark comic; there’s plenty of dark post-apocalyptic comics, TV shows and movies. I’d rather focus on the parts where we get to see the community and slice-of-life side of those worlds. I suppose, by nature, that approach ends up being quite utopian. SuperMutant Magic Academy was able to capture the feeling of high school perfectly. I, on the other hand, tried to capture the feeling of women hanging out. I think in both cases, there’s a lot of lighthearted banter with a balance of deeper insights.
Paste: How is creating comics for Instagram different from creating comics for print?
Dhaliwal: I started the comic when Instagram introduced the swipe feature. Coming from animation I’m used to timing my jokes and storytelling; the Instagram swipe feature felt like I got to time my comics. Switching over to print was interesting because I suddenly felt like the punchline was glaringly obvious on the page so there’s a couple of comics that I had to push the punchline to the next page to save it and other comics where I widened the paneling because it felt like the storytelling needed breathing space.
Paste: What did you redraw for the print version and why?
Dhaliwal: I actually redrew a huge portion of the comic, partially because the original Instagram comics were purposefully drawn to eliminate any distractions from telling a basic joke. I wanted to make the writing the most important aspect so I stripped away any semblance of design and worked in a simplified style. The entire point being that if an hour before posting I decided to change the entire comic I could do it without feeling overwhelmed. While revisiting all the Instagram comics, I realized that I would have to redraw a lot of things and add a lot of backgrounds because the pages ended up looking sparse. Also, I got a handle on drawing the characters around 40 comics in, and so a lot of the early comics have some oddly drawn characters I had to touch up.
Paste: How long have you been drawing comics? Did you go to school in comics at all?
Dhaliwal: I’ve been doing diary comics for a really long time, probably since 2011. I went to school for animation and ended up working in storyboarding which is ultimately sequential art, but unlike comics, there’s a fixed frame size.
Paste: How are your processes with animation different from your comics-making processes?
Dhaliwal: The biggest difference is how collaborative animation is. Animation (commercial, not indie) is a 30- to 40-person effort to create a single product. Comics are much more personal. I assume for anyone switching over from either end is difficult. For me, animation to comics felt like I was a lot more exposed, and I assume for a comics artist going into animation it could like individualism is drowned out.
Paste: Do you think the current large number of good animated shows (and their attendant need for storyboard artists) is creating more good comics?
Dhaliwal: I agree comics are great right now, but, I don’t think it’s for those exact reasons. There’s always been amazing comics, but what’s really changed is the ability to access them. We all have access to this amazing content (online in some form, even if it’s just reviews for traditional print) and that has then elevated the quality level of content even further. There’s also a space for much more diverse voices. It’s exciting.
Paste: Why Paul Blart, Mall Cop?
Dhaliwal: You mean, why not? Originally with Paul Blart I was trying to think of the least likeliest representation of what is considered a “man.” I love the idea that Emiko inaccurately uses PB to typecast an entire gender. I also feel that he’s actually a wonderful example of mankind rather than the iconic superhero or action hero.
Paste: Fair points! Did you consider any other characters for that role?
Dhaliwal: Not really, Paul Blart seemed to hit a bunch of checkboxes a lot of movies couldn’t. It’s an instantly recognizable, funny name! My approach was to think of the funniest visual. Imagine with me: a scenic panning shot, it’s dark and moody. There’s silhouettes of ruins in the distance. An eerie wind rustles the trees ever so slightly. It’s a darkened apocalyptic future world. There’s a quietness, and as the panning shot continues, reveal the skeleton of a 21st-century bus stop, and on it, an instantly recognizable movie poster with frayed edges. It’s Paul Blart, Mall Cop.
Paste: Do you think Woman World is an accurate picture of what the world would be like without men?
Dhaliwal: I’m not sure. It’s quite utopian so I kind of hope it’s not, because I like men and I don’t want to advertise the world would be better without them. I definitely think it’s a more accurate example of female relationships than a lot of other examples that appear in entertainment. TV shows and movies with a large female cast or reality TV shows are usually over-dramatic and pit women against each other, but my entire female existence has been nothing like that. In my opinion, women are incredibly supportive of each other.
Paste: How did you come up with your cast of characters, which is beautifully diverse but never feels preachily so?
Dhaliwal: I gave different aspects of my personality to different characters—so, each character represents a different part of me. Yumi, for example, is the most insecure character, comics featuring her represent how insecure I felt that week. Gaia represents a lack of shame (she’s a nudist, after all) and also my leadership qualities. The artistically diverse choices came from exploratory sketches trying to find different aspects of female beauty. The doctor, for example, is missing both breasts due to a (unmentioned) mastectomy—I thought that was a type of female beauty that is often overlooked.
Paste: Have you always considered yourself a feminist (and why or why not)?
Dhaliwal: Yes, but for a long time I was a “closeted” feminist. When I was a teen I believe in the ideals of feminism but at that time “feminist” was hurled as an insult. In college it was a badge of honor and a huge portion of my identity, but now? Feminist isn’t an insult or badge of honor; it’s just common sense.
Paste: What do you think you’d tell your future grandkids about our world as it exists now?
Dhaliwal: That’s a hard one to answer. I’ll try it out: “Hello, Juniper 3.0, are you finished downloading your history homework from the school cloud into your internal brain storage? Great, so the assignment is what was the world like for your grandparents? Well, it was a polarized time that could have desperately used some empathy. Technology was evolving faster than people’s way of thinking. So while the basic human want to connect became easier, people were almost entirely connecting only with like-minded people rather than expanding their ways of thinking. The upside was: art was great and people had access to more resources and than ever before. Also there was this show called Game of Thrones we were all super into.”