There’s a moment in Aminder Dhaliwal’s Woman World that encapsulate the tone and humour of her comics. Yumi, one of the survivors of this new world where men have gone extinct, is consulting the village’s newly arrived doctor. She receives a clear bill of health, but then makes a joke about how the doctor’s test doesn’t catch “bad toughts”. The doctor expresses her concerns quickly: “Yumi is there something you want to talk about? Mental health is something I take seriously, you don’t need the “jokes”. To which Yumi replies: “But without the jokes, people might catch on to my crippling anxieties…. haha just kidding.”. She then leaves the room. I recognized that moment, that diversion from the serious to the comical, that need to make light of your own issues so as to avoid burdening others. Yumi feels the need to insert some levity even as she calls for help. From a reader perspective, this is a dry, dark and deadpan joke that lands well. There’s humour to be mined in the darkest situations, even societal collapse.
Aminder Dhaliwal’s Woman World consists of a relatively dramatic introduction as the civilization slowly crumbles. Men are going extinct, less and less boys are born, no one is quite sure why or how to fix this mass genetic issue. This, coupled with the devastating effects of climate change and wars contribute to the decline of society as we know it and the rise of a world peopled only by women. This introduction is followed by a series of vignettes focusing on the women survivors in a newly reformed village. While the premise sounds depressing and bleak, the book is far from being a dark somber affair. Dhaliwal balances her dark premise with the precise amount of levity and wit to create wonderfully comedic situations. She also manages to squeeze as much humour out of her premise as possible, exploring various avenues in which the disappearance of men would affect society for better or worse.
Consider the moment where Emiko, a young girl who grew in a world without men finds a film, with a man prominently featured in a heroic pose on the cover. She asks her grandmother: “who is this”. Well, it’s a security officer, tasked to keep us safe, so heroic is this man, his name is Paul Blart Mall Cop. Equating Kevin James to the pinnacle of masculinity made me laugh. Another revealing moment is when one of the women from the village considers having a baby. The village chief explains the process, the first step is a three hour ride to the nearest city’s hospital, followed by weeks of procedures, months of health check-up to ensure the safety of the baby and then of the newborn. She’ll receive full support of the village during the pregnancy and afterward. She ultimately decides not to go ahead with the pregnancy. A three-hour bus ride, hard pass. There’s only so much sacrifice one can make for the survival of the human race after all.
Dhaliwal’s art is sparse, letting her characters figure carry the drama and comedy of the book. The humour gets a bit deeper as we proceed through the book, replacing visual gags and references to the modern world by anxiety, confidence-building and longing. Dhaliwal uses colour sporadically after the full-colour segment opening the book. It’s muted and perfectly appropriate for the material. Facial expression are the key to this comic’s success. Each character’s expression allows us to understand them, their pain, their personality and their uncertainty towards this bold new future. This is what struck me the most about the book, how Dhaliwal mines the comedy from the dramatic with minimal effort. Her jokes aren’t always focused on this new world, there are tons of instantly relatable humouristic situation, including relationship troubles or simple misunderstanding between characters. It’s very accessible.
Woman World is a solid entry in Drawn & Quarterly’s catalog. I’m glad I had the chance to discover her work. Dhaliwal’s a superstar.
Philippe Leblanc is a Canadian comics journalist. In his regular life, he improves Canadian medical education, and is the co-host of the Ottawa Comic Book Club. He reads alternative, indie and art comics at night and write about them for the Comics Beat.