Doctor’s office waiting rooms, commercials, dog parks, and dating app screenshots capture the experiences and interior lives of the cyclops community; a largely immigrant population displaying physical differences from the majority.
The current, intense political climate allows us to immediately pair each character’s situation to a very real physical and psychological human experience, which Dhaliwal constantly contrasts with old-world ideas and norms ... The simple, quick line-art style partners really nicely with the colouring by Nikolas Ilic. Prior to publication, the novel was serialized on Instagram. The nature of Instagram’s aesthetic, with its daily panels, as well as the ideas it brings up against fake vs. real life, make the platform a perfect museum for the story. It’s fun to imagine this story coming out as a newspaper comic in earlier times. Reading the comics over breakfast, taking a look into how hypocrisy and prejudice can affect people, would have been a great meditation before the workday started. Today, it’s an all too relevant reminder that we should get to know our neighbours.
As they follow this extended Cyclopes crew, Dhaliwal’s episodic comics, expressive and nimble line drawings that she first serialized on Instagram, entertain with relatable scenarios and clever twists. They also point to deeper meanings of existing outside of a powerful majority and the importance of telling one’s own story. An appendix summarizes characters, their mythological inspirations, and Dhaliwal’s insights into creating them.
Every page of Cyclopedia Exotica resonates with the perspectives of people who live on the margins ... It is an undeniably clever approach, because Dhaliwal’s characters can comment on everything from that position as society’s underdogs; the outliers peeping in at the rest ... Most of the panels come from Dhaliwal’s posts on Instagram, where she has been serialising these episodes for a while. There are some obvious pros and cons to this approach. On the one hand, it compels her to get to the point, as it were, by relying on pithy dialogue to highlight racism or throw daily microaggressions into sharp relief. On the other, this leads to a series of hits and misses, where some panels nail their targets and others clearly belong more in the realm of content meant for an app one scrolls through ... Having said that, the whole clearly is bigger than the sum of its parts, and Dhaliwal does manage to make some strong statements on what life as a second-tier citizen can feel like, from the inadvertent humour to subtle or overt discrimination, and the rank hypocrisy of those who pretend to engage with the other side ... Dhaliwal used her powerful debut, Woman World, to ask some intriguing questions about society and the place of women in it. With Cyclopedia Exotica, she brings her formidable skills as a writer and artist to ask more probing questions. At a time when more and more of us are beginning to evaluate our established values and question long-held belief systems, her work seems more relevant than ever.