Think comics and the first image that hits your head is that of a muscular superhero saving the world and charming the beautiful ladies? Wrong! Kripa Joshi, a comic artist from Nepal who currently lives in the UK, is breaking this stereotype one comic a time. Kripa’s character Miss Moti is a fat South Asian woman who can do anything she wants to and is an icon of body positivity.
Kripa currently lives in the UK but when she goes home to Nepal, they are a house with five generations! Her daughter Ria who is the youngest at two years and her great-grandmother (Ria’s great-great-granny) is now 101!
During her final year in BFA, she made the “Sofa so Good’ series of painting which depicted people as different kind of sofas and chairs. Some paintings also dealt with the issue of body image and being overweight. She further pursued an MFA in Illustration from School of Visual Art in New York and that is where her comic journey began and Miss Moti was born.
After the birth of her daughter she had to leave working outside and now works from home primarily on Miss Moti and some children book illustrations. She has also started conducting workshops. She did an illustration workshop in Nepal last year and will be conducting a comic workshop in the UK in September.
I caught Kripa candid on creating a fat South Asian character in the comic world, her personal body image and depression issues and how it shaped Miss Moti and most importantly why Miss Moti is so lovable!
1. How did Miss Moti’s journey start? How did you come up with the name?
Miss Moti came out of my struggle with body image issues like being overweight. I wanted to create a positive character that could achieve and accomplish things regardless of her size. I was inspired by my mother who, despite her weight, has never let it hold her back from doing anything. She is very active and full of energy.
When I was doing my BFA I had made a few paintings about being overweight. But the idea of creating a comic happened when I went to the School of Visual Arts in New York for my MFA. The school and teachers were very open-minded about all forms of art, whether it was paintings or books. There I was introduced to a whole new world of comics and graphic novels. I realised the scope of comics and the kind of stories one could tell through that medium.
We also had a course on History of Comics, where we learnt about Windsor McCay and his Little Nemo stories. In it, a little boy falls asleep and has these wonderful adventures in Slumberland, only to wake up at the end and the reader is left to wonder whether it was all just a dream or not. This play between the dream and reality inspired my Miss Moti stories. There are generally always little elements in her stories that make you think that maybe events are not just in the imagination.
Stylistically, my work was initially inspired by the Maithali or Madhubani folk art from Nepal/India but it has changed over time.
I came up with the name Miss Moti because a friend of mine used to call me Moti. I wanted to change this negative connotation into a positive one. I liked the fact the Moti could mean a plump woman, but if you pronounced the “T” differently it could also mean a pearl. So the name, and her logo, suggests that Miss Moti might look plump and ordinary, but on the inside, she could be extraordinary and a gem of a person.
2. How has your personal life contributed to Miss Moti’s fantasies and adventures?
My personal life does contribute to the stories. First of all, the character herself is inspired by my mother and the challenges I face. I find it difficult to climb stairs and often have dreams about flying or jumping through clouds which is probably what inspired the Miss Moti and Cotton Candy. For anthologies the theme given to us inspires the stories.
The Motivation Monday project that I am currently working on is more influenced by my personal life. It was started at the beginning of this year as a way for me to get back into making Miss Moti after a two year break since the birth of my daughter. It was also to motivate me after suffering from postnatal depression. On a weekly basis I choose motivational quotes to illustrate, and sometimes they are related to what is happening in my day to day life… it could be someone’s birthday, a friend feeling anxious, a family in difficult times or a national event. I try and find something positive to say. For example, when there was a report of rise in hate crimes in the UK following the Brexit vote, I illustrated the quote by W. Somerset Maugham which said “The essence of the beautiful is unity in variety”.
3. Is Miss Moti the first comic ever tackling body image issues? How did your depression and your depression support group shape Miss Moti?
I am not sure if it is the first comic ever. I am sure there are others before it. But I didn’t have anything like this when I was growing up and people have echoed this similar sentiment online. If Miss Moti can be a positive influence for some youngsters growing up, that would be wonderful.
I know recently Katie Green has written a thick graphic novel about struggling with anorexia called Lighter than my Shadow. Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol also talks about a teenage girl struggling to accept herself for who she is. I also came across a pinup girl from the 1950’s called Hilda who reminds me of Miss Moti, but I discovered her only afterwards.
Initially when I suffered from postnatal depression I was unable to create any Miss Moti work. I remember telling my family that Miss Moti was a positive character and I didn’t feel positive at that point in my life to represent her. However, at the start of this year I challenged myself to restart Miss Moti, but I had to fit that around taking care of my daughter, so I started Motivational Mondays. My sister had given me an idea for a weekly illustration a year ago, but it took a bit longer to start because in between my daughter and I were caught in the devastating earthquake that struck Nepal.
4. Please walk us through the process of making a Miss Moti comic.
When I first started I used to draw the outlines on paper and then colour on the computer. Now with my Wacom tablet, I do most of the work on the computer except the initial planning stage. If it is Motivation Monday, I first start with finding a quote after which I think about what the image could look like to represent that quote. Then I plan a rough layout and look up reference images. I work on different layers on Photoshop, so separate layers would have the line work, colours, details, textures and so on. The more complicated the artwork, the more layers there will be. This enables me to correct one aspect of the image without affecting the others.
If I am working on an anthology the theme is generally provided and then it is a question of finding the story. For a comic, it takes more planning because you not only have to tell a story but also design the whole page and factor in the page turns as well.
5. I find the Miss Moti goddesses most fascinating. Please tell us more behind the motive of choosing goddesses.
I am glad you liked it. I was asked by my friend Mike Medaglia to be a part of an anthology called Wu Wei that had the theme of spirituality. And I had the idea of drawing Miss Moti as Hindu goddess. I was interested in goddesses because traditionally they were always depicted as being curvy.
I chose goddess Saraswati and Laxmi because I felt they were important in an artist’s life. First of all Saraswati provides the inspiration and creativity and hopefully Laxmi would follow up to help you gain success and earn a living! Saraswati is supposed to have a book in her hand so I made it a comic book instead and I gave Laxmi a shopping bag full of comics.
6. In some comics, you focus on Miss Moti’s hands, legs or particular expression. I think the effect is brilliant. Can you tell us more?
Thank you. Because Miss Moti is mostly a wordless comic, I sometimes feel it was necessary to bring focus to a particular action. Lack of words enables the viewer to put in their own interpretation and feelings into the comic and it helps to slow down the time.
7. Is Miss Moti a feminist? If yes, where does her feminism come from?
I didn’t consciously set out to make Miss Moti a feminist. But if she becomes a feminist icon I am happy about that. She was created to deal with body image issues more than anything else. But in defying the modern standards of beauty, I think she provides a counter point to the notion that a woman’s worth is in how she looks. Miss Moti does not let anything, including her weight, hold her back in life.
The values that a woman can be who and what she wants to be is deeply instilled in me and I guess Miss Moti reflects this. I grew up in a household with strong women. My great-grandmother was one of the few women to be educated but was not allowed to sit for her graduation exams. She was also widowed at the age of 16 with an 8-month-old son and yet she managed to raise her family and educate her children and grandchildren. She firmly believed in education and ensured that her daughter-in-law (my grandmother) would study alongside her son, something very rare in those days. This enabled my grandmother to study law at Oxford and she returned back to Nepal and dedicated her life to social service. She was also the principal of the first women’s college in Nepal. My mother too studied after her marriage, got a Fulbright scholarship and now works for UNICEF in Nepal. She is a very positive person and my inspiration for Miss Moti. So I didn’t have to look far from home to have role models. It was a very important grounding within a South Asian context where men generally get preferential treatment compared to women.
There has been a lot of advancement for the cause of women, but there is a lot that needs to be done to bring women in an equal footing as men, whether it is for equal pay or judgment standard and expectations. Which is why I think feminism is still important and relevant.
8. You’re also working on an anthology, right? Please tell us more. How has the experience been working with other comics?
Currently I am not working on an anthology, but on Motivation Mondays and a comic called Miss Moti in her Elements. This will bring together Miss Moti and Cotton Candy and Miss Moti and the Big Apple and three more stories into one story arc.
However I have worked in several anthologies over the years and will probably do so again in the future. Miss Moti and her Short stories is a collection of my past contributions to anthologies like Rabid Rabbit, Secret Identities and Strumpet (an all women’s transatlantic comic for which I also co-edited issue three). Then recently, having survived the earthquake in Nepal, I co-edited the HOME anthology with my friend and manga artists Elena Vitagliano to raise money to conduct art therapy sessions for children rendered homeless by the earthquake.
I like working in anthologies because it is a group of people working towards a common goal. When the book is launched you get to meet the other participants and connect. Co-editing is a different experience as there is a lot of things you have behind the scenes and follow up but it is very rewarding. When you co-edit you have to think about everyone else’s work, not just your own.
9. Tell us about the comic scene you work in and how does a fat South Asian woman fare?
I am happy to say I have never faced any barriers or prejudice for being a woman comic artist… in fact it has opened more possibilities! I think my South Asian background makes me different. Generally the comic artists are quite accepting and supportive, specially in the small press and self published field. I have always had a lot of encouragement from them, especially from Paul Gravett who has worked in comics publishing and promotion for more than 20 years.
I have been a participant and co-editor of the Strumpet, women’s only comic anthologies. Recently I was also part of the Comix Creatrix exhibition at the House of Illustration in London and it featured 100 female comic artists. The exhibition emphasised that this was just the tip of the iceberg and that we should no longer question the presence and contribution of women in comics.
Leading from that exhibition I was asked to be a panellist at Bradford Literature Festival. This month I am a part of another exhibition opening at the Lightbox in Woking and will also be conducting their Young Curators workshop.
10. What would you like to say to young women who are suffering from body image issues and depression?
It is understandable that people suffered from body image issues when they are living in a world that places so much importance on appearances. There are a lot of things people could feel insecure about, not just their weight. Even if you are the prefect weight, you might still not like aspects of your body like your feet, or your hair etc. However, if we shift our focus from our outer selves to our inner selves, we can start feeling better. Miss Moti is not advocating that we should be fat and unhealthy; she is advocating that we should not let our insecurities and body image stop us from doing what we want to do in life.
In terms of depression, I think the main thing to realize is that you are not alone. Sometimes the biggest hurdle is to accept that you might be suffering because mental health can still be a taboo subject. Postnatal depression can specially be very difficult because it strikes at a time when you are trying to bond with your new baby and you are supposed to be happy. The anxieties get ramped up and combined with sleep deprivation you could end up feeling like a bad mother. It really helped me to go to a support group because you are in a non-judgmental group with others who are going though the same situation. I am still good friends with many of the women I met there and we continue to help each other whenever we feel low. I didn’t take medication, but a lot of my friends did and it can be a big help. They tell me it enables them to detangle their thoughts and reason with unwarranted thoughts and anxieties.
All images courtesy Kripa Joshi.