When you look around, it seems like there is evidence of prejudice in just about every direction, so much so, that we often become numb to it. It is a special work that can get us to look at discrimination and prejudice through a new lens, and to do it with humor and charm too. Cyclopedia Exotica is just that type of book.
Serialized on her Instagram feed, Aminder Dhaliwal collects her comics into a book about the daily issues and trials of a group of cyclopes living among us ‘two-eyes’ in modern times. At times wry, sad, heartbreaking and heartwarming, Dhaliwal unearths our prejudices and looks at them in unique ways as her characters confront what it is like to live with one eye. Tim and Pari are a mixed human and cyclops couple who will soon have twins and are confronted with what it will be like to raise them. Will she go back to work? Will the kids be cyclops or human? Pol is prematurely bald cyclops who is struggling with dating apps and preconceived notions about what a date with a ‘cyclops’ is like. Bron takes the plunge on the experimental eye surgery to look more like a ‘two eyes’ but when the surgery fails, he is left with one human eye and an eye patch, a consistent reminder of his self-hatred. Jian and Grae are sibling artists who explore what it is like to live as a cyclops, but when one of them ‘sells out’ to go work in Hollywood, they both have to grapple with who they are alone. Arj is a clumsy, sweet and anxious character who tends to overthink things. All of their lives intertwine as they intersect each other’s comics throughout the book and it forms a rich tapestry by the end of the story. Like most good comic strips, the individual strips form a more cohesive whole.
Dhaliwal has worked as an animator and her characters here are simply drawn. Most pages are in black and white but she occasionally uses color to make something distinct or to draw attention to it. Her characters are expressive and she effectively uses perspective to enliven some panels when needed. There are lots of puns and jokes about ‘eyes’ and some of them are poignant while some are just bad puns. The majority of the time, the humor is effective and helps illuminate what are some fairly dark issues (depression, body image, self-hatred).
Most libraries with adult graphic novels will want to get this book. It’s well done and will have appeal far outside of the core graphic novel audience. There is some nudity and adult themes in general, so this title belongs in collections for adults. It would do well in a college library as well.
Cyclopedia Exotica Vol.
By Aminder Dhaliwal
Drawn & Quarterly, 2021
Publisher Age Rating: 16+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)