In Monster, Artist Kiko Galpin tells a very personal story about life after sexual assault. Earlier this month, Kiko answered some questions from Grab Back Comics about the process of making this comic and publishing it in Room Magazine. Kiko says, “I wanted to convey the idea that this fear and discomfort doesn’t go away after the initial assault is over and sometimes those feelings only get worse as time goes on.” You can read the full comic here, and it will be included in the Grab Back Comics anthology later this year.
An interview with Kiko Galpin:
Your comic Monster is a very strong and honest story from the perspective of a sexual assault survivor. Please tell me about how you decided to make a comic about this story. What was the process of writing and drawing the story like?
Monster was actually one of those pieces that came to me pretty spontaneously and then had a lot of momentum behind it once I started doing the initial script and sketches. It wasn’t easy subject material to work with or convey but I felt very strongly about the message and story I was creating and that helped a lot at moments during the process when I was feeling vulnerable.
I found myself frustrated that these stories were so common yet so stigmatized.
I’ve always liked to focus my work on issues I’ve felt affected by, and the topic of sexual assault was in my mind as I was sitting down to write a comic. I had been talking to friends and it was difficult to find someone that hadn’t been affected by some sort of assault, whether it was unwanted groping at a club or something closer to what happened in the comic. I found myself frustrated that these stories were so common yet so stigmatized.
Monster was born out of this frustration to explore the stigma that I felt everyone I talked to experienced in some form or another. In all my writing, I want the reader to be able to engage with the characters and that was really what I tried to do in this comic; to have readers contemplate this situation that a lot of people find uncomfortable and ostracizing. I really just wanted people to look at this comic and understand that there’s so much going on below the surface.
How did the comics medium impact the way you tell this story? Were particular aspects easier or more challenging in creating a comic, compared to a narrative piece?
The comics medium had a huge impact on the story. So significantly, in fact, that I don’t know if this piece would convey the same message as strongly in a narrative piece. In my mind, this story needed a visual medium because shame and fear and judgment are all these abstract concepts. And, as people, we all know what those emotions feel like when we experience them, but we don’t necessarily see them in others.
In my mind, this story needed a visual medium because shame and fear and judgment are all these abstract concepts.
I wanted to find a way to capture that stigma that I felt as a survivor and that I’d heard about from others who had gone through similar experiences. And I wanted people to be able to see what those emotions feel like when you’ve had them following you around for weeks or months or years.
Another reason I liked the comics medium for this story is that I felt I could control how much information was given. I feel like, with narrative pieces, there’s an expectation of knowing things about the characters and the story in more depth. With the comics form, I could leave the story more open so that readers could place their own interpretations on what was happening and the characters in the story.
I think most of my challenges in creating this piece were simply due to the fact that I was new to creating comics when I made this piece. This was only the second comics piece I’d worked through from script to inks and I still wasn’t certain of my artistic style or if everything was fitting together in the best way possible. When I first sketched this story, one of the limitations I felt I had was that I was very critical of the art. I wasn’t confident in my drawings or in my portrayal of the situation. This is where peer workshopping was really helpful for me because I found that people really responded to the sketchy designs and, when I was more confident going in to do the inks, the drawing actually became really therapeutic for me and I’m really happy with the style that’s presented.
The story itself is difficult but the comics medium makes it accessible.
I think one of the reasons that people have responded so well to the piece is because of its perceived simplicity. It’s only five pages (one being the final splash page) of drawings and I think that makes people less intimidated to tackle a serious subject like sexual assault. The story itself is difficult but the comics medium makes it accessible.
The image of the dark shadowy figure that follows your character is haunting. Will you tell me about how you chose that image, and what it represents?
The “monster” figure actually came before the idea of making the comic popped into my head. I kept doodling the figure in class without any real context of what it was or why I was drawing it. I think there’s just something about that image of a looming, humanoid darkness that every person has a reaction too. I think we’ve all seen something out of the corner of our eye or in the dark of our room and felt that chill and that was the feeling that I wanted to create with this monster because it was important to me to capture that idea that you just can’t shake this thing off.
I often felt like there was this thing following me around that was physically keeping me from reaching out.
I knew, from the start, that I wanted some personification of the shame and isolation that survivors often feel. In my own experience, I often felt like there was this thing following me around that was physically keeping me from reaching out. I could sit down and logically think through everything and recognize that I shouldn’t be putting blame on myself for what had happened but, even knowing that, there was still this monster that crept into my life and affected how I interacted with others.
I wanted to convey the idea that this fear and discomfort doesn’t go away after the initial assault is over and sometimes those feelings only get worse as time goes on. Not to mention, the perceptions of society weigh on the perceptions of the individual and that can be even more isolating.
I used the image of the monster as this shadowy, dark creature because I wanted everyone to be able to have a visceral reaction to it, even if they’d never been in the situation of the character. I wanted them to be able to feel that weight while they were reading the comic.
Did the process of creating this comic and publishing it change the way you think about the experiences you describe?
The road to publishing this comic was actually quite long. Meghan Bell, Room Magazine’s publisher, was actually one of the first to see Monster in our Graphic Forms workshop at UBC and initially, in November of 2015, asked me to submit it to Room for consideration. At the time, I wasn’t ready to have the comic be publicly attached to my name due to the fact that I hadn’t disclosed to my family members. At the time, I was actually disappointed in myself for not publishing it because that decision seemed to go against all the reasons that I had made the comic in the first place. How could I make a comic with the intention of starting a dialogue when I was still reluctant to start that dialogue in my own life?
The experience of creating the comic did lead me to seek out counseling though. While writing the comic was a therapeutic process, I felt as though I still needed some help to unpack the feelings I had surrounding my own experiences.
Publishing the comic helped me to open a dialogue with family members that I feel like otherwise wouldn’t have happened.
I actually left the comic alone for about a year until Room’s No Comment project came out and that seemed like a good place to fit Monster, so I actually got a second chance to publish it and I’m so grateful that I was able to. Publishing the comic helped me to open a dialogue with family members that I feel like otherwise wouldn’t have happened. It also showed me how important it is to have representations of difficult topics like sexual assault in different forms because narrative pieces might speak to some while comics might speak to someone else.
What has the response to your piece been?
The response to the piece has been overwhelmingly positive. I’m most happy that survivors feel as though I’ve accurately captured the feelings I was trying to convey in the piece. I was most concerned with doing the subject material justice and hopefully motivating readers to empathize with the main character.
I’ve also had a few people approach me and tell me that they showed the comic to someone they knew who was recovering from a sexual assault as a way of trying to recognize and sympathize with their experiences and that really touched me. I’ve felt very supported in the responses I’ve gotten.
Do you have other work that our readers can view online? What are your topics of interests as an artist and writer?
Unfortunately, I don’t currently have any other work online. School has kept me really busy so I’m just now beginning to transition my focus to personal projects.
I think the constant in my work is that I like to discuss larger social issues through more basic human interactions.
I am in the process of writing a script for a comic called Sistah Shark which is through Mana Comics, a Kickstarter-funded independent company based out of Hawaii. It’s a complete departure from the content seen in Monster and will depict the origin story of a crime-fighting heroine as she learns to harness her shapeshifting powers. The Kickstarter campaign will be out for that this summer and I’m having a lot of fun with that.
I have a large range of focuses when it comes to my writing. Superhero comics are initially what drew me into the medium as a kid and I love all the tropes that come with that genre. I think the constant in my work is that I like to discuss larger social issues through more basic human interactions. I always want my readers to be able to put themselves in the shoes of the characters.
Thank you for taking time to write such thoughtful answers! I’m excited to include your comic in the Grab Back anthology!