Reclaim Your Body `a la Miss Moti!
Ever read a comic and thought that the female characters weren’t diverse enough? Meet Miss Moti, the comic-strip protagonist who’s South Asian, plus-sized, and unabashedly proud of her body and of herself. Born out of creator Kripa Joshi’s MFA thesis in 2007 (which was initially a series of paintings to do with body image issues), the Miss Moti comics are about the various adventures of it’s unlikely protagonist, whose active imagination often blurs the lines between fantasy and reality. Kripa Joshi tells us about her inspiration behind creating this comic, and how Miss Moti has helped her deal with her own body shame issues:-
The word “moti” (fat) is often used for body-shaming, so what made you decide to use this epithet to create a character?
A friend of mine used to call me “moti” when I was in college, although in an endearing sort of way. However, the word “moti” has obviously been used negatively also. When I was making this comic, the reason why I used it because of the play on the word – when you write it in English, you can pronounce it as both “moti” (fat) or “moti”(pearl). So, more than her being ‘fat’, Miss Moti is a gem of a person – an extraordinary woman who has an extraordinary imagination.
So you have reclaimed the word “moti” from it’s negative connotations?
I think “moti” is a descriptive word – it’s supposed to describe your body, but not pass judgement on it. The negative connotation depends on how people use it, and the intention behind what they use it for. I have used it to describe my character, and to imply that she is a “moti”(pearl) alongside being “moti” (fat) – so that’s how I’ve reclaimed it.
How much of this comic is autobiographical and how do you draw from experiences around you?
I won’t say that it’s autobiographical, but Miss Moti represents everything I’d like to be. I’m not as positive or as life-affirming as she is, but I want to be. She came out of my own struggles with weight and depression, and the reason I made her was because I wanted to see a fat character who wasn’t caricatured or depressed. She is my aspiration, but there are real-life instances that I have used.
Miss Moti’s body-positivity forms a large aspect of her character, but it is not exclusively about her weight– Was it a challenge to achieve that?
I don’t think it was a challenge at all. Actually, I didn’t even think about this while I was creating her, but realized this about Miss Moti only later on. The main characteristic of a character does not have to be that they are fat. Their body shape or their skin colour is just incidental and it’s not the what defines their personality, or who they are, and it’s the same for Miss Moti. She is somebody who is positive, she’s somebody who tries to see the best in situations, she’s somebody who’s kind. And, she happens to be fat.
Tell us a little bit about your artistic influences and why did you choose not to use words in the comic?
In terms of the illustrations, I draw from the stylistic forms of the Madhubani and Maithili paintings of North India and the Terai region of Nepal. I do tend to like folk art a lot, and the simplicity and the decorative elements of it. This is where the bold black lines and the flat image profile of the comics is inspired from. But the comic evolved slowly into a unique style of it’s own once I continued to work on it.
As for the lack of words, I think it comes from when I was studying the history of comics, and the work of Winsor McCay. McCay’s “Little Nemo in Slumberland” stories were all about a boy who falls asleep and has these adventures, and when he wakes up, you don’t know whether he was dreaming or whether all of it was real. The color combinations and the artistic styles of the illustrations were so detailed, that you did not actually have to read a word to be able to understand what was going on. That’s why I made Miss Moti wordless.
When I made the first two comics, it seemed like the story that was playing out was more inside Miss Moti, so I felt that keeping it without words would help people put their own ideas and own feelings into what is happening rather than me explicitly stating that “this is what she’s thinking” or “this is what she’s saying”.
Where do you plan to take Miss Moti next?
I’m in the process of making a proposal for a Miss Moti book I’ve had in mind for a long time. It’s a five part story which includes “Miss Moti and the Cotton Candy” “Miss Moti and the Big Apple”. They are all individual stories but they are meant to have an underlying arc, and talk about Miss Moti’s journey. This has been in the works for a long time and I’m hoping to now get it compiled and get it published.
This interview was originally published on YouthKiAwaaz