Books·How I Wrote It

Aminder Dhaliwal aims to make feminism approachable in Woman World

Aminder Dhaliwal shares how she created her viral webcomic Woman World and turned it into her first book.
Woman World is Aminder Dhaliwal's first graphic novel. (Drawn & Quarterly, Kenneth Hung)

Aminder Dhaliwal was one of thousands who participated in the 2017 Women's March, and she walked away from it with a viral idea. Her comic Woman World takes place after a birth defect has caused men's extinction and natural disasters have decimated the planet, leaving women to continue humankind's existence on their own. Only Grandma can remember the world with men, a time of "that's what she said jokes" and heroic Segway-riding mall cops.

Sweet and satirical, Dhaliwal's comic strip was posted to Instagram on a biweekly basis, where it quickly generated an audience in the hundreds of thousands. Below, Dhaliwal, who also works as a director at Disney TV Animation, talks about what it was like to make the popular webcomic and turn it into her first book.

Reacting to online critics

"[At the Women's March] there was such a large sense of community and joy and comfort. It was just a few months after the 2016 election and I think, regardless of where you stand politically, it was a really tense time. There was just so much happening. It was really hard to turn on the TV. There was so much news always. That day for me was just really comfortable. I walked away feeling excited.

"A whole bunch of us posted pictures of [the march] online and instantly there were all these trolls putting down everyone who went. It was just really sad that that was their reaction to such a nice day. So I thought it would be interesting to create a comic that was the fantasy of online trolls — a version of the world they think someone like me would want to see, which is where all the men have died off and it's just us feminists hanging out. I wanted to show them that that world, if it existed, would be very sweet and men disappearing would never be celebrated."

Turning the tide

"In the first three comics, I watched the trolls' entire emotional arc. At first, they were berating me. Then I continued the comic and started to add a little more explanation of the world, and they came around. Anyone new who would say 'This comic book sucks,' [the original critics] would interrupt and be like, 'Well you have to read it from beginning.' The comic starts with the sentence: 'All the men are extinct.' I knew it meant that men had died off, but some people took it as women had killed men off. That showed me so much about the way they were approaching feminism, the negative space they were approaching it from.

"I hope I made feminism approachable. It's such slice of life book, which to me is feminism. It's something that I just am. It's my everyday life. Sometimes when you bring up the big F word people are cringing or have such a different view of it. I just wanted to take that side away from it. I wanted to make it approachable and fun and slice of life and just a nice easy read. I hope the emotion of the energy and the feeling I had that day of walking through Women's March, I hope that comes through."

Finding your confidence

"I was going through a creative art block [when I created Woman World]. More so than just not wanting to do art work, I had lost what my voice was. I couldn't figure out what made me, me, and stand out from all the other artists and people I follow online. I had a bit of social media paralysis going on. I decided that I would do first a comic called Henry Peter, which is about a boy called Henry Peter who's a wizard that finds out he's a scientist. That was just a quick and easy comic in my sketchbook. I would take photos of them and post them and that got me on track to doing something, posting it and not caring about any reaction. It got me on a schedule and then I made another comic called Mild Inconvenience, which was a parody of Death Note. 

"Woman World definitely helped me find my confidence again. As gross as it sounds, I kind of needed, at that time, the online social media validation from strangers. I needed someone to tell me I was funny because for so long I felt like I wasn't. That can of course go to your head, so I do try to avoid all my comments and not look at the numbers or anything. But I was actually so emotionally low that I just needed a whole bunch of strangers to tell me that my voice was worth something too.

From Instagram to print

"Turning it into a book was amazing. I could never have expected that to happen. It was a lot harder than I thought. I'm so used to Instagram and the scrolling feature, but when you present something in a book it's so different. It was kind of annoying me at first. Every now and again, there was a comic where you could see the punchline and I felt like I had lost this sense of timing. It just didn't play the same note. It was really hard for me switch my brain over to the new layout. There are a couple comics that I had to switch the punchline to the next page and I would put in a larger spread. I did that because I felt like it needed that extra moment to turn the page. It was like a brand new language to me. I also learned that I apparently really didn't know how to use a comma. Through the editorial process, I was like 'There's a comma there?' Or, I'd have them in random places."

Aminder Dhaliwal's comments have been edited for length and clarity.