Guest Review by Erin Partridge
Maria Stoian is an illustrator and comics artist based in Scotland. She has a range of clients from The Nib to the National Library of Scotland. Her work is colorful, bold, and incorporates themes she holds close to her heart: feminism and “the state of the world.” Light figures big in her work, whether streaming in through a window and filling the space with color or illuminating bad behavior on a dark, city street. Her human illustrations span the range between simple, paper-cut like figures to detailed renderings—the human emotion represented in all her images is palpable. Take It As A Compliment won the Gold medal in the ‘Independent Spirit’ category of the Independent Publishers Outstanding Book of the Year Awards in 2016.
Take It As A Compliment brings the reader right into the difficult but important content of the book on the first pages with a powerfully illustrated sexual assault of a 15 year old girl on public transportation. The contrast between the black ink of the scenes with the color-stained hands enacting violence illustrate for the reader how incongruous and disruptive the experience was. Stoian returns to this use of color in other sections, where the color serves as a marker of violence or badge of shame.
In subsequent sections, Stoian illustrates short vignettes depicting experiences of assault and abuse—each one with a different style, but equally powerful messaging. Some of these experiences happen in private and others in very public settings like a bus stop or Times Square. In the written narrative accompanying some of the vignettes, the protagonists share the questions still circulating in their minds such as “is it my fault?” and “why did this happen to me?”—questions many survivors can relate to.
As an art therapist and professor, I am always looking for resources to share with my students to better enable their conversations with clients coping with difficult situations like sexual assault, childhood trauma, and domestic violence. These conversations can be difficult to initiate and graphic novels can enable clients to point to an image or a story as a shared experience. This book will be a valuable asset in my classroom, but should also be on the bookshelves of shelters, therapy centers, student health centers, and gender studies offices. As a teaching tool, this book can be used to prompt discussion about the forms of sexual assault and non-consensual verbal, physical, and emotional situations. One of the strengths of the book is the diversity of experiences and involved parties—there is no one type of person cast as the victim/survivor or as the perpetrator/enactor of violence. Several stories point at systemic factors that are at least partially responsible for the perpetuation of these situations: apathy, gaslighting, and objectification of fellow humans. The book also includes simple, actionable recommendations for survivors and their supporters.
It is not until the reader gets to the last pages that the real impact of the stories becomes clear: each of the vignettes were based on actual interviews with people who submitted their experiences. Maria Stoian treated each of stories with tenderness and empathy, lending a different artistic voice to their unique, painful, and bravely-shared stories.
Erin Partridge, PhD, ATR-BC is a board-certified, registered art therapist and researcher based in California. She is interested in the use of images to express our experiences and the use of images as a form of data.