Take It As A Compliment

Maria Stoian is a freelance illustrator, whose debut graphic novel ‘Take it as a Compliment’ won several awards for its exploration of sexual abuse, harassment, and violence against women. She will be appearing at the Dundee Literary Festival on Saturday 22 October at Bonar Hall at noon for an hour-long discussion about graphic storytelling alongside Neil Slorance.

(Ana) When did you first start making comics? Was it something you’ve been doing since you were a child, or did it come about through studying illustration?
(Maria) I actually went through my old childhood sketchbooks when I was visiting home this summer! Turns out I had been making comics when I was in the single-digit age group. Not very much, though. A project here and there in grade school. Mostly I would say it came about through studying illustration. Specifically, it was through stories I wanted to tell – the content dictated the medium.

What materials do you use to make your illustrations and comic work?
I vary my materials. ‘Take it as a Compliment’ was mostly created digitally, with some pencil work, some gouche, and some crayon. These days I’ve rediscovered woodless graphite pencils so I’m mostly using those. For a while, anyway.

As a freelance illustrator do you work for a small number of large clients or do you take small commissions from individuals?
I do and have done work for clients, but these days I’m actually mostly making comics for myself, or submissions to zines and other small publications. I’m lucky to have a part-time job as a graphic designer that allows me to take the time to do what I like on the side.

As for taking commissions from individuals, I’m not sure, it’s not something I’ve ever done! Why do you think comics are a good medium for telling stories, compared to short stories or films?
I’m not sure they’re comparable, they’re all good media. Comics are simply my medium for telling stories. I like comics because they can be absorbing in all their layers of information, but they can also be read quickly. You can go back a few pages and see what you’ve missed. When dealing with the kind of difficult subject matter like with ‘Take it as a Compliment’, I thought the illustrated medium can offer a bit of a buffer. The book is not explicit, though it dealt with some graphic stories. It could have been brutal, but I felt it was enough even in a minimal style.

Can you say a little about ‘Koree’? Why is it important to make resources for younger girls around the topics of sexual health and puberty?
‘Koree’ is the face of an educational website at firstperiod.org, a young girl who guides her audience through lessons on puberty and their periods. There is a lot of cultural shame that comes with having periods, and education is one of the ways to combat that. Having this information online but aimed at youth is also useful for when the discussion is difficult or impossible at home or at school.

Do you ever receive harassment due to your subject matter, particularly in relation to ‘Take It As A Compliment’?
So far, the response has been positive online and in face-to-face interactions! I appreciate that, although I am more than aware that there are spaces online that would have less-than-nice things to say about the book, and me.

What were your intentions with ‘Take It As A Compliment’ and has the work been successful in achieving those ends?
I wanted the book to help the contributors in some way, maybe they would find sharing healing? And I also wanted it to be a discussion for people not directly affected by the issue. It was an attempt to expose a little bit of rape culture, and be a conversation. I can’t say if it’s been wholly successful, but so far, the response has been positive and I appreciate that it’s part of a conversation.

What can people do if they experience or witness sexual harassment or gender-based abuse?
I believe you’ve touched on this in your ‘Active Bystander’ activity book?
The ‘Active Bystander’ activity book isn’t really about giving real advice, it was a piece I made at the same time as ‘Take it as a Compliment’, but with a bit of a different attitude. It’s more…sarcastic? There is a section in ‘Take it as a Compliment’, however, that does have a bit of advice. The gist is, communication is important. Listen, offer support, be aware of the signs of potentially dangerous situations, intervene when necessary, and reach out. There are resources online and trained professionals who work at crisis centres and on helplines that are there for you if you need them.

Words: Ana Hine

Image: Maria Stoian

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