The Next Chapter

Why Vivek Shraya wanted to explore her experience with online harassment with a comic book

The author of Death Threat speaks to Shelagh Rogers about the rise of hate on social media.
Vivek Shraya is the author of Death Threat. (Zachary Ayotte, Arsenal Pulp Press)
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In Death Threat, poet and musician Vivek Shraya collects the transphobic hate mail she received from a stranger in the fall of 2017.

These disturbing letters, along with her responses, are accompanied by illustrations from Toronto artist Ness Lee, culminating in a surreal and satirical comic book about the spread of hatred, violence and dangers of the internet.

Shraya spoke with Shelagh Rogers about the making of Death Threat,.

The nature of today's social media

"One of the reasons why I wanted to make Death Threat is because it's becoming more and more permissible to harass people online. A lot of us deal with being trolled or receiving online harassment and yet we're also expected to be online for our jobs. 

"Back in the day when people trolled online, they would block out their face and name. But now hate has become so permissible online. People are blatantly saying hateful things, without hiding their identity." 

The fantastic Ness Lee

"Ness Lee is a fantastic artist in Toronto. She's done things like creating giant murals all over the city. I remember seeing her work in 2017, around when I recorded my album Part-Time Woman with Queer Songbook Orchestra and I was looking for an artist to do the album artwork.

'When I saw her artwork on Queen St., I reached out to her to work on the album cover art. And when I started thinking about Death Threat as a comic book, she was one of the first people to come to mind because we had just had such a wonderful collaboration.

"I like working with artists who are very talented in their own right. But I also like working with artists that I can challenge a little bit. Ness's work tends to be more black and white so pushing her into that zone of colour, to me, felt like an exciting challenge for both of us."

The audacity of hate

"What disturbed me the most about this [one] person's letter is that they used their full name and address. It was like they were so confident about their feelings of hatred for me — and that I should die — that they didn't seem to care if I reported them to the police. It felt like a completely audacious move.

"I wanted to bring more visibility to the fact that the more hate mail becomes commonplace, the more we need to think about how to manage and address it. And also how to find support —so that people aren't just alone crying in the corner."

Vivek Shraya's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

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