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Cyclopedia Exotica

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"Dhaliwal created a fictitious community facing xenophobia, fetishization, and media misrepresentation. It's resonating with her thousands of Instagram followers."—Robert Ito, The New York Times “The characters in Dhaliwal’s stories sparkle. They’re tenderly rendered and their problems are real... The struggle of the cyclops unfolds in metaphors for race, sexuality, gender, "Dhaliwal created a fictitious community facing xenophobia, fetishization, and media misrepresentation. It's resonating with her thousands of Instagram followers."—Robert Ito, The New York Times “The characters in Dhaliwal’s stories sparkle. They’re tenderly rendered and their problems are real... The struggle of the cyclops unfolds in metaphors for race, sexuality, gender, and disability, tangling with ideas about fetishization, interracial relationships, passing, and representation.“—Carmen Maria Machado, author of In The Dream House Following the critical and popular success of Woman World—the hit Instagram comic which appeared on 25 best of the year lists—Aminder Dhaliwal returns with Cyclopedia Exotica. Also serialized on instagram to her 250,000 followers, this graphic novel showcases Dhaliwal’s quick wit and astute socio-cultural criticism. 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. Whether they’re artists, parents, or yoga students, the cyclops have it tough: they face microaggressions and overt xenophobia on a daily basis. However, they are bent on finding love, cultivating community, and navigating life alongside the two-eyed majority with patience and the occasional bout of rage. Cyclopedia Exotica is a triumph of hilarious candor.


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"Dhaliwal created a fictitious community facing xenophobia, fetishization, and media misrepresentation. It's resonating with her thousands of Instagram followers."—Robert Ito, The New York Times “The characters in Dhaliwal’s stories sparkle. They’re tenderly rendered and their problems are real... The struggle of the cyclops unfolds in metaphors for race, sexuality, gender, "Dhaliwal created a fictitious community facing xenophobia, fetishization, and media misrepresentation. It's resonating with her thousands of Instagram followers."—Robert Ito, The New York Times “The characters in Dhaliwal’s stories sparkle. They’re tenderly rendered and their problems are real... The struggle of the cyclops unfolds in metaphors for race, sexuality, gender, and disability, tangling with ideas about fetishization, interracial relationships, passing, and representation.“—Carmen Maria Machado, author of In The Dream House Following the critical and popular success of Woman World—the hit Instagram comic which appeared on 25 best of the year lists—Aminder Dhaliwal returns with Cyclopedia Exotica. Also serialized on instagram to her 250,000 followers, this graphic novel showcases Dhaliwal’s quick wit and astute socio-cultural criticism. 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. Whether they’re artists, parents, or yoga students, the cyclops have it tough: they face microaggressions and overt xenophobia on a daily basis. However, they are bent on finding love, cultivating community, and navigating life alongside the two-eyed majority with patience and the occasional bout of rage. Cyclopedia Exotica is a triumph of hilarious candor.

30 review for Cyclopedia Exotica

  1. 4 out of 5

    Geoff

    I loved this book. Originally a web comic, Dhaliwal has a cartoonish but realistic drawing style that draws you into the story. She juggles a large cast of characters but finds space to individuate them and draw us into, and make us care about, their stories. The conceit of approaching difference through cyclopean characters is interesting and while none of the story lines is particularly groundbreaking, the examination of careers, families, relationships, and how they are all affected by differ I loved this book. Originally a web comic, Dhaliwal has a cartoonish but realistic drawing style that draws you into the story. She juggles a large cast of characters but finds space to individuate them and draw us into, and make us care about, their stories. The conceit of approaching difference through cyclopean characters is interesting and while none of the story lines is particularly groundbreaking, the examination of careers, families, relationships, and how they are all affected by difference is very entertaining and engaging. **Thanks to the artist, publisher, and NetGalley for a free copy in exchange for an honest review.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jarrah

    Woman World was great but this is brilliant. When I first came across Dhaliwal's Instagram comics using cyclopes as a stand-in for humans marginalized on the basis of race, I thought they were funny but didn't totally appreciate their impact. Collected in one volume you become invested in the characters, see clearly how othering works, and get an opportunity to laugh along the way. The collection is bookended with new, gorgeously colored content giving cultural and physiological information on t Woman World was great but this is brilliant. When I first came across Dhaliwal's Instagram comics using cyclopes as a stand-in for humans marginalized on the basis of race, I thought they were funny but didn't totally appreciate their impact. Collected in one volume you become invested in the characters, see clearly how othering works, and get an opportunity to laugh along the way. The collection is bookended with new, gorgeously colored content giving cultural and physiological information on the cyclopes and the world they share with the "two eyes", as well as background on the artist's intent and source mythology. Altogether it's a unique and wonderful experience to read.

  3. 5 out of 5

    CaseyTheCanadianLesbrarian

    This collection of graphic short stories about an interconnected group of people was compulsively readable and very interesting. Dhaliwal uses the concept of Cyclops--people with one eye, as well as other physical differences--to investigate difference and marginalization in all their difficulties and joy. Pressure to assimilate, internalized hate, commodification, community and belonging, what support from a privileged partner looks like, storytelling, exoticization, and more! There were many m This collection of graphic short stories about an interconnected group of people was compulsively readable and very interesting. Dhaliwal uses the concept of Cyclops--people with one eye, as well as other physical differences--to investigate difference and marginalization in all their difficulties and joy. Pressure to assimilate, internalized hate, commodification, community and belonging, what support from a privileged partner looks like, storytelling, exoticization, and more! There were many moments where I, as a bi woman, cringed in recognition. And the cool thing is that someone with a completely difference marginalized identity could cringe in recognition at the same moment, because the idea's been translated to a science fictional context.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Maia

    I got to read this book early to give it a back cover blurb! I really liked the book, I had already read portions of on insta but the new material really fleshes out the story and brings it all together. The lives of ten characters in the same city intertwine as each grapples with living in an otherized body. Their physical differences are fetishized, marketed to, discriminated against, and misunderstood, as bodies are in our own world. What to do when people see your single eye but not yourself I got to read this book early to give it a back cover blurb! I really liked the book, I had already read portions of on insta but the new material really fleshes out the story and brings it all together. The lives of ten characters in the same city intertwine as each grapples with living in an otherized body. Their physical differences are fetishized, marketed to, discriminated against, and misunderstood, as bodies are in our own world. What to do when people see your single eye but not yourself? Rage about it, laugh about it, make art about it and work to change the world for the better. Dhaliwal is such a deft and clever storyteller! This book made me giggle and made me think, and it fueled my own determination to continue pushing for real social change.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Brandon Forsyth

    An incredibly smart satire that delivers on the promise of Dhaliwal’s earlier WOMAN WORLD. I love the way the book relentlessly jumps around to explore different facets of the concept, although some may find the lack of a true narrative centre off-putting. The art is incredibly charming and I love the way colour is interspersed throughout. This is technically the second time I’ve read this, and I feel confident saying this is a book that will stay with me. 4.5 stars rounded up.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sundry

    Admiration abounds! This is one of my favorite reads in a long time, all genres and formats included. I wasn't sure whether it was a collection of stories or a novel at first, but it all weaves together beautifully as the narrative processes. The appendix kind of blew me away. Wonderfully inclusive and fluid. We don't need to know every little identifier to know we like someone. Listen. Admiration abounds! This is one of my favorite reads in a long time, all genres and formats included. I wasn't sure whether it was a collection of stories or a novel at first, but it all weaves together beautifully as the narrative processes. The appendix kind of blew me away. Wonderfully inclusive and fluid. We don't need to know every little identifier to know we like someone. Listen.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Thea

    I’ve read this as a webcomic before, but it’s still amazing on the second read. The cover is beautiful and it deals with so many real-life themes in both serious and humorous ways

  8. 5 out of 5

    Anne-Marie

    A worthy follow-up to Woman World! I've been following this comic in its serialized form on Instagram and it was such a joy to read it compiled into a fuller narrative arc along with bonus "encyclopedia" content of the characters and world (in full colour!). Cyclopedia Exotica can function as a standalone story about cyclopes and two-eyes, or it can function as an allegory for our current society and how it prizes cis hetero whiteness (and proximity to whiteness) and the experiences of people of c A worthy follow-up to Woman World! I've been following this comic in its serialized form on Instagram and it was such a joy to read it compiled into a fuller narrative arc along with bonus "encyclopedia" content of the characters and world (in full colour!). Cyclopedia Exotica can function as a standalone story about cyclopes and two-eyes, or it can function as an allegory for our current society and how it prizes cis hetero whiteness (and proximity to whiteness) and the experiences of people of colour and other marginalized groups. Many of the topics and comics have an obvious parallel to our real world, while others have more subtle references threaded throughout. As one of the characters mentions, the overarching theme is everyone has stories told about them and their own stories they tell, and everyone has nuances and personal lived experiences separate from other people with similar backgrounds. I really enjoyed all the characters and storylines that Dhaliwal created (and particularly appreciated the Author's Inspiration sections at the end) and was rooting for all of them. Many of the comics made me laugh and I enjoyed the variety of facial expressions she incorporated too. My one main critique is that it ends rather abruptly with the Suzy's One Eye children's story and a very short voice-over epilogue. I would've appreciated a slightly more drawn out conclusion to some of the storylines but I also recognize that the book works more of a compilation of moments (comics) with an loose/overarching narrative structure. Highly worth the read and I'm excited for whatever the author's next project is!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    What a joy this book was! I loved everything about it - the many storylines explored, the single page/panel jokes, the social commentary, the physical humor (there was one page with Arj in particular that I thought was a hilarious masterpiece), the anatomy (especially the pregnancy dynamics!) - I could go on! Dhaliwal's cartoon expressions are amazing and sheer joy to see. I have to add that I wasn't that into Woman World (I liked the idea more than the book itself), FWIW. What a joy this book was! I loved everything about it - the many storylines explored, the single page/panel jokes, the social commentary, the physical humor (there was one page with Arj in particular that I thought was a hilarious masterpiece), the anatomy (especially the pregnancy dynamics!) - I could go on! Dhaliwal's cartoon expressions are amazing and sheer joy to see. I have to add that I wasn't that into Woman World (I liked the idea more than the book itself), FWIW.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Tansy Roberts

    Just brilliant. The tone of this clever graphic novel is very much Alison Bechdel style 'slice of life with heavy sarcasm' but the genius of it is the worldbuilding: a version of our reality where the Cyclops, a human variant, lives alongside two-eyed people as a marginalised minority. Through various members of the cyclops community we read stories of parenthood, sexuality, art and identity. One of the all-time great examples of 'drip-feed world-building,' this masterwork shows you a whole world Just brilliant. The tone of this clever graphic novel is very much Alison Bechdel style 'slice of life with heavy sarcasm' but the genius of it is the worldbuilding: a version of our reality where the Cyclops, a human variant, lives alongside two-eyed people as a marginalised minority. Through various members of the cyclops community we read stories of parenthood, sexuality, art and identity. One of the all-time great examples of 'drip-feed world-building,' this masterwork shows you a whole world in tiny thoughtful vignettes. Originally a popular web comic... and I'd never heard of it until my teenage son nudged it in my direction. Why yes, this *is* my sort of book!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Mariko

    I’ve been a fan of Aminder’s for a long time since I first discovered her work on Instagram. I knew I had to get this book as soon as I heard about it. The Cyclopedia Exotica series is one that has always stuck to me and as a queer Asian woman and is deeply relatable. Would highly recommend to anyone looking for a quick read with insightful social commentary and laugh-out-loud moments.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Naviya Singla

    - cool worldbuilding, love the way the characters' anxieties come through and how they're all connected - the appendix at the back!! - cool worldbuilding, love the way the characters' anxieties come through and how they're all connected - the appendix at the back!!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jaclyn

    Just like a little cute short book, I loved it!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Marcela

    Oh, I LOVED this.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Kiran

    I thoroughly enjoyed this! A triumph!

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kirsti

    Science fiction graphic novel with a lot of social commentary. Funny and thought provoking.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sara Grimes

    I loved reading these on her Instagram and I loved reading them all again in her book

  18. 5 out of 5

    Meg Setzer

    This book meant so much to me. I was in it with the characters and why they felt marginalized and like they were always fighting against a society that didn’t want them. Each characters arc is so moving and unique to actual experiences in life. I want more like this!

  19. 5 out of 5

    Kara

    Man oh man, I loved this book. In this graphic novel, Dhaliwal examines minority experiences using cyclopes, a minority group who live among the majority "two-eyes." She first establishes an "encyclopedia" entry for the race, including their past, anatomy (three uteruses!), culture, entry into popular two-eyed culture, and prejudices against. In light, often funny vignettes with a wide cast of characters both cyclops and two-eyed, she illuminates how microaggressions and both internalized and ex Man oh man, I loved this book. In this graphic novel, Dhaliwal examines minority experiences using cyclopes, a minority group who live among the majority "two-eyes." She first establishes an "encyclopedia" entry for the race, including their past, anatomy (three uteruses!), culture, entry into popular two-eyed culture, and prejudices against. In light, often funny vignettes with a wide cast of characters both cyclops and two-eyed, she illuminates how microaggressions and both internalized and externalized racism can shape a person.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Patricia

    Gotta give props to Dhaliwal for creating a world like this with its parallels to things in real life. Would recommend their other work, woman world, as a good one to start off with.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Liv

    I’ve followed this series on instagram for a couple years now. It’s so creative and fun! I was disappointed when it ended, and excited to hear it was getting published! I loved the way it was laid out for print and all the new inclusions. It’s a really cool story with a lot of complexity and nuance told through a fantastical lens. I really really loved this world. I also loved that it was all interconnected while each were their own separate comics. I much prefer this style to totally random com I’ve followed this series on instagram for a couple years now. It’s so creative and fun! I was disappointed when it ended, and excited to hear it was getting published! I loved the way it was laid out for print and all the new inclusions. It’s a really cool story with a lot of complexity and nuance told through a fantastical lens. I really really loved this world. I also loved that it was all interconnected while each were their own separate comics. I much prefer this style to totally random comics combined into one book. I liked the growth and flow of the cyclopes’ in this book.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jack

    *SOME SPOILERS* From the one-eyed point of view of the Cyclops, Aminder Dhaliwal’s graphic novel “Cyclopedia Exotica” examines topics ranging from relationships and community building to microaggressions and casual bigotry, all planted in a world where Cyclopes and human “Two-Eyes” live among one another — at times in conflict and at others in coexistence. In a New York Times piece discussing her sophomore graphic novel, Dhaliwal said her own experiences as a South Asian woman growing up in Canada *SOME SPOILERS* From the one-eyed point of view of the Cyclops, Aminder Dhaliwal’s graphic novel “Cyclopedia Exotica” examines topics ranging from relationships and community building to microaggressions and casual bigotry, all planted in a world where Cyclopes and human “Two-Eyes” live among one another — at times in conflict and at others in coexistence. In a New York Times piece discussing her sophomore graphic novel, Dhaliwal said her own experiences as a South Asian woman growing up in Canada and England heavily influenced the conflicts Cyclopes face while navigating a predominantly Two-Eyes world. Dhaliwal’s unique perspective allows each page of the graphic novel to give space to often covert and overlooked forms of marginalization while simultaneously providing humorous anecdotes and story arcs that flesh out her characters and show their value beyond their trauma. Dhaliwal’s Cyclopes originate in western Eurasia, where traditional Cyclops societies lived in caves and domesticated ancient sheep prior to integrating into Two-Eyes cities around the world. Aspects of the Cyclops lifestyle in Dhaliwal’s novel are drawn from real mythological depictions, with protagonists bearing shortened names of Cyclopes from ancient Greek and Chinese lore. Many of the cultural differences between Cyclopes and Two-Eyes become focal points of later harassment, like the anti-Cyclops pejorative “sheep tongue” or mantras mocking the solitary Cyclops lifestyle. The graphic novel displays charming character designs and masterful facial expressions, as well as moments of innovation, such as the use of blurred speech bubbles to represent a character’s drunken declaration. The book itself begins in the format of an encyclopedia, offering a methodical recount of Cyclops history. But toward the encyclopedia’s end, one of the novel’s protagonists, Etna, quite literally walks out of the comic’s frame and breaks the fourth wall, speaking directly to the reader instead. In this act of demonstrated autonomy, Dhaliwal gives Cyclopes the room to define their own history and tell their own story — an experience rarely afforded to the marginalized in our own world. Exploring topics such as representation in the media, violence and sexual fetishization, the graphic novel roots the Cyclops experience in forms of discrimination broadly relatable to people of diverse backgrounds. Dhaliwal’s characters receive optical cosmetic treatments that she compares to double eyelid surgeries popular in East Asia, encounter protestors of Cyclops-human relationships akin to the protestors of same-sex or interracial couples and navigate accessibility barriers similar to those encountered by people with disabilities. By placing her characters in a world so fantastical yet familiar, Dhaliwal creates a reality that is uniquely Cyclops and, at the same time, palpably human. Still, there are some moments of Dhaliwal’s novel that fall flat. Most of her comics end with a witty punchline, and at times the satire of the novel muddies its more serious themes. Clumsy Cyclops Arj’s trauma from a childhood bully feels oversimplified, and the humorous tone of flashbacks to his bullying makes it hard to empathize with a pain supposedly fundamental to his later confidence issues. A 17-page section at the very end of the book devoted to Cyclops Bron’s rereading of a misremembered childhood story called “Suzy’s One Eye” contains confusing underlying messages. Since Bron incorrectly recalls a more problematic version of the story, “Cyclopedia Exotica” suggests that “sometimes, there’s a story that we tell ourselves,” which might conflict with reality. But with so much of the Cyclops experience rooted in real-life forms of discrimination, it feels reckless to present the character’s memory as false; it feels like telling a person that their experiences with discrimination are imagined or inside their own head. While this subplot might speak to Bron’s long-held disdain for his own identity — he underwent a botched surgery to make himself look like a Two-Eyes — it is a haphazard route to self-acceptance that, in the end, feels underdeveloped. But where one or two plotlines are flawed, many more depict complicated and meaningful realities of the Cyclops experience. Etna, who did pornographic modeling, is simultaneously heralded as a pioneer of female autonomy and also the origin point of Cyclops fetishization. Vy, who, in her youth, modeled fashion items that allowed Cyclopes to look more like Two-Eyes, grapples with the legacy she left behind in search of socioeconomic security. Pol and Latea navigate dating in a world that only values them at the surface level before finding one another and bonding over their shared dreams of a new home and happy family — dreams that are rarely associated with Cyclopes in the graphic novel’s media. “Cyclopedia Exotica” is Dhaliwal’s second full-length graphic novel following “Woman World,” both created with Canadian cartoon publisher Drawn & Quarterly. The comic was originally serialized on Instagram, with episodic posts showcasing the day-to-day life of each character for Dhaliwal’s more than 245,000 followers. Dhaliwal’s work finds its place in a growing phenomenon: the popularization of Instagram-based web comics. With its large audience and gallery-style interface, the social media platform has become increasingly popular among cartoonists seeking to share their content with the world. Instagram allowed Dhaliwal immediate feedback and the ability to connect with fans in new ways compared to her work in the world of animation, where she had to navigate non-disclosure agreements on television shows like “The Fairly OddParents,” “Sanjay and Craig” and “The Owl House,” according to Dhaliwal’s interview with The New York Times. With the recent rise in anti-Asian violence seen across the nation, Dhaliwal’s story of the othering and perseverance of marginalized communities feels especially timely, considering that “a lot of the microaggression stuff was specifically about Asians,” as Dhaliwal told the Times. By giving a cast of characters the room to grow and explore the world on their own, navigating their identities to various degrees and in different ways, “Cyclopedia Exotica” creates layered stories relatable to readers from a variety of backgrounds. And, in rejecting the very encyclopedic structure assumed by the title, these stories break out of the desensitized world of academia, readily providing “the nuance and the humanity (that) is lost in the encyclopedias,” as writes Dhaliwal.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Whitney

    I did, but also didn't understand the metaphor this book was trying to convey. The cyclopes are a minority and experience all the trials and tribulations of what that entails: identity crises, not much (positive) representation in media, people from different backgrounds telling our stories and being in charge of our (health)care. But, every time I thought this book was going to go *there*, it ended on a joke. I did, but also didn't understand the metaphor this book was trying to convey. The cyclopes are a minority and experience all the trials and tribulations of what that entails: identity crises, not much (positive) representation in media, people from different backgrounds telling our stories and being in charge of our (health)care. But, every time I thought this book was going to go *there*, it ended on a joke.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    This book will probably take a couple more reads to fully digest. Cyclopdia Exotica was so many different things: challenging, hilarious, heart tugging, validating and convicting. Dhaliwal creates a mythical minority of Cyclops and uses them as a way to discuss issues around racism, heteronormativity, ableism and more. Although fantasy racism is somewhat of a tired trope (particularly in video games) as way to talk about issues without having to actually talk about them this book uses the mythic This book will probably take a couple more reads to fully digest. Cyclopdia Exotica was so many different things: challenging, hilarious, heart tugging, validating and convicting. Dhaliwal creates a mythical minority of Cyclops and uses them as a way to discuss issues around racism, heteronormativity, ableism and more. Although fantasy racism is somewhat of a tired trope (particularly in video games) as way to talk about issues without having to actually talk about them this book uses the mythical nature of it's made up minority well for the most part. It was interesting thinking through the differences of cyclopean anatomy and how it effects their life and culture (beyond the obvious eye issue male cyclops have a two pronged penis and females have one breast but three vaginas and a dual Uterus. The frustrations the cyclops characters deal with navigating a world that does not take their bodies in to consideration will ring true for a wide variety of people outside our cultures white cis-het male dominated expectation. The author transcends the fantasy racism tropes by giving deeper examination to all of their characters whether one or two eyed and looking at what makes them people instead of simple moralizing. Each of the characters has real emotional depth and a story arch that is more than just the bromides of "just be yourself" (one of the more interesting plot lines interrogates one character's frustration with a popular children's book about accepting cyclop's...and how the book is both harmful and helpful at the same time) One of the challenges of the book is balancing humor and it's serious message. The book is a collection of page long comic vignettes and sometimes the attempt to get a punch line in deflects from the serious message, but it is the blend of humorous observation and serious message that makes the book the joy that it is. One challenge with using a mythological race to discuss so many real world issues is that sometimes how the story lands changes with which issue you identify most with. I was drawn particularly to the character Bron who underwent surgery to try to appear more like a two eyes, but the surgery eventually failed leaving him not fitting in with either two eyed or one eyed culture. Parts of this story really hit home for me as someone who underwent Sexual Orientation Change therapy, but would feel very different if you were reading their story through the lens of being Trans. The authors exploration at the end of the novel about the stories we tell ourselves about the stories we are told is helpful in this regard somewhat. I found myself at times reading a comic and thinking "this is either really insightful or really offensive depending what lens you are reading this through". I definitely recommend the book and look forward to discussing it more with friends who intersect with the story in different ways.

  25. 4 out of 5

    mad mags

    (Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Edelweiss.) CYCLOPEDIA EXOTICA begins as an encyclopedia entry on Cyclops: a totally real subspecies of "archaic humans" that originated in Italy and settled in western Eurasia, only to emerge from an isolated existence in caves and volcanoes ~120 years ago. Their efforts to integrate into "Two-Eyed" societies were often thwarted; Cyclopses were relegated to sheep herding, their traditional vocation, or recruited into circuses. All this (Full disclosure: I received a free e-ARC for review through Edelweiss.) CYCLOPEDIA EXOTICA begins as an encyclopedia entry on Cyclops: a totally real subspecies of "archaic humans" that originated in Italy and settled in western Eurasia, only to emerge from an isolated existence in caves and volcanoes ~120 years ago. Their efforts to integrate into "Two-Eyed" societies were often thwarted; Cyclopses were relegated to sheep herding, their traditional vocation, or recruited into circuses. All this changed with a nudie magazine called Playclops, which in 1978 featured a model named Etna on its cover. At which point Etna comes to life and invites the reader to learn about Cyclops through their own stories. The comic strips in CYCLOPEDIA EXOTICA revolve around a large cast of Cyclops characters, loosely connected Six-Degrees-of-Kevin-Bacon style. There's Pari and Tim, an interspecies couple about to welcome their first child into the world; Latea, an aspiring model and actress; Pol, a romantic whose optimism is slowly but surely being drained by the dating scene; Bron, one of the first Cyclops to undergo experimental two-eye surgery, and who once again lives with one functioning eye; Arj, a vibrating ball of anxiety still haunted by his childhood bully; Grae and Jian, twin sisters in an avant garde artistic partnership; and, of course, former cover model Etna, now an activist, counterbalanced by Vy, who for a time was the face of the "lift and separator" bra, and now teaches media literacy to impressionable young Cyclopses. The characters' life experiences and relationships with one another hint at some of the many topics Dhaliwal explores: fetishization, representation (including #ownvoices), unrealistic (and speciesist) beauty standards, police bias, hate crimes, capitalism, scientific speciesism, microaggressions, maternal mortality, etc. Among my favorite panels are parents-to-be Pari and Tim declaring that they don't care whether their baby has one eyes or two, as long as they're healthy - and a boy (!); and Arj, confronting his childhood bully Eric Wood. CYCLOPEDIA EXOTICA is an insightful, entertaining read, though it gave me all kinds of mixed feelings. Dhaliwal uses a mythical creature to interrogate racism, xenophobia, and misogyny - and, while I think it mostly works, the idea itself makes me uncomfortable: what does it say about the collective we, if we're better able to relate to or sympathize with a fictional creature than, say, Black people or immigrants? I guess you could argue that fantastical setting and comedic setup might lower the audience's guard, making them more susceptible to your message. And yeah, this is probably true, to an extent. But this makes me wonder how many readers will actually connect the dots, especially as Dhaliwal tends to end each strip with a lighthearted joke rather than doubling down on her point. Either way, I enjoyed CYCLOPEDIA EXOTICA (even more so on the second reading), and can't wait to dive into her freshman book, WOMAN WORLD.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Grace Carman

    Cyclopedia Exotica is at once both a joyful and deeply moving graphic novel. There are so many laughs in here, so much whimsy that propels you through the book. It's totally moreish and I nearly read the whole thing in one go. The central themes, though, are real and meaty. Cyclopes most closely represent racial minorities here, but could easily be interpreted as disabled people in an able-bodied world, or any other minority experience. Dhaliwal explores so many issues relating to cyclops identi Cyclopedia Exotica is at once both a joyful and deeply moving graphic novel. There are so many laughs in here, so much whimsy that propels you through the book. It's totally moreish and I nearly read the whole thing in one go. The central themes, though, are real and meaty. Cyclopes most closely represent racial minorities here, but could easily be interpreted as disabled people in an able-bodied world, or any other minority experience. Dhaliwal explores so many issues relating to cyclops identity, both tangible and internal, that all have their parallels in the real world. Some issues are explored more deeply than others, and I would love to see a second installment where some of the smaller characters and themes get a closer look. Many thanks to the publisher for a digital review copy of this title.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Taylor

    I've followed Dhaliwal on Instagram for years now and thoroughly enjoyed the Cyclopedia Exotica comics posted there, but this book does an amazing job of furthering the narrative created by these punchy strips. I thoroughly enjoy the concept of Etna, a sex worker, being a narrator and what connects all of these stories together, the complex world building that is explored with the intro and outro being more encyclopedia based, and just the way real world prejudices are explored through fantasy a I've followed Dhaliwal on Instagram for years now and thoroughly enjoyed the Cyclopedia Exotica comics posted there, but this book does an amazing job of furthering the narrative created by these punchy strips. I thoroughly enjoy the concept of Etna, a sex worker, being a narrator and what connects all of these stories together, the complex world building that is explored with the intro and outro being more encyclopedia based, and just the way real world prejudices are explored through fantasy and laid out plainly in a way that points out how ridiculous these common concepts and assumptions actually are. This is a beautiful, touching, funny story and I would expect nothing less from an amazing storyteller.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    This was such a lovely graphic novel to read - deeply sweet and heart-warming while also thoughtful and provocative about issues including representation, in/hypervisibility, discrimination, etc. Reminded me a bit of Dykes to Watch Out For, except centered on a group of cyclops friends in a world where cyclopses are often second-tier citizens. I loved the diversity of characters, and the format worked really well, switching between characters without being confusing.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Laura Sackton

    Really enjoyed this slice-of-life comic about cyclopes. Great blend of humor and seriousness. Really appreciated how Dhaliwal uses the idea of cyclopses to explore difference and how "otherness" is perceived in the real world. But at the same time, this book is certainly not pure analogy. Cyclopes have a whole history, culture, etc. It's a really nice mix of fantasy and stories that felt completely relevant, current, etc. Really enjoyed this slice-of-life comic about cyclopes. Great blend of humor and seriousness. Really appreciated how Dhaliwal uses the idea of cyclopses to explore difference and how "otherness" is perceived in the real world. But at the same time, this book is certainly not pure analogy. Cyclopes have a whole history, culture, etc. It's a really nice mix of fantasy and stories that felt completely relevant, current, etc.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Cay

    Thank you NetGalley and Drawn & Quarterly for a free ARC in exchange for an honest reveiw. I've followed Aminder Dhaliwal's work for a while and was excited to hear about this Cyclopedia Exotica collection. Dhaliwal has a great sense of humor and observation which carries over into this work. The art was charming and expressive, and Dhaliwal showcases excellent economy of line. I'm looking forward to future comics! Thank you NetGalley and Drawn & Quarterly for a free ARC in exchange for an honest reveiw. I've followed Aminder Dhaliwal's work for a while and was excited to hear about this Cyclopedia Exotica collection. Dhaliwal has a great sense of humor and observation which carries over into this work. The art was charming and expressive, and Dhaliwal showcases excellent economy of line. I'm looking forward to future comics!

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