Guest Post by Kevin Brown.
Cyclopedia Exotica, the latest graphic novel by Aminder Dhaliwal, begins as a series of encyclopedia entries explaining how cyclops (or cyclopes, spelled both ways throughout the work) and Two-Eyes have interacted over time. Dhaliwal imagines a world where cyclops not only exist, but their history has combined with those of the Two-Eyes, referencing mythological works, but planting this relationship directly in the contemporary world.
Dhaliwal uses the cyclops to explore discrimination and self-hatred, but she does so through presenting a variety of cyclops characters in everyday life. Pol just wants to find somebody to love, as he seeks nothing more than a wife, house, kids, and a dog. He finds Latea, a model who spends much of her time on jobs for mundane products, some of which stereotype cyclops in ways she’s not comfortable with. Arj is awkward and clumsy, largely due to an overly developed self-consciousness that comes from childhood bullying. Tim and Pari are college sweethearts who have married and, by the end of the work, have two children. Tim is a Two-Eyes, so they are raising two mixed children, one cyclops and one two-eyed. Bron struggles with self-identity, having had a surgery to have two eyes that leaves him with one eye, but not quite a cyclops.
By rooting her characters in everyday life and desires, Dhaliwal reminds us that people in marginalized groups not only have to deal with micro- and macroaggressions, they do so in the midst of searching for the basic human desires every human seeks. By using the invented group of the cyclops, she moves beyond the typical divides in our society, helping us see those groups on the margins in different ways. She broadens the conversation in helpful ways, while giving us characters we identify with and care about.
Cyclopedia Exotica by Aminder Dhaliwal. Drawn and Quarterly, 2021.
Reviewer bio: Kevin Brown has published three books of poetry: Liturgical Calendar: Poems (Wipf and Stock); A Lexicon of Lost Words (winner of the Violet Reed Haas Prize for Poetry, Snake Nation Press); and Exit Lines (Plain View Press). He also has a memoir, Another Way: Finding Faith, Then Finding It Again, and a book of scholarship, They Love to Tell the Stories: Five Contemporary Novelists Take on the Gospels. You can find out more about him and his work on Twitter at @kevinbrownwrite or at http://kevinbrownwrites.weebly.com/.