« Continue Browsing

e-mail article Print     e-mail article E-mail

Paulette Tobin, Forum Communications Co., Published August 30 2012

Author defies stereotypes in graphic novel ‘Femme Schism’

GRAND FORKS – Artist Tiffany Pascal stands in her artist’s cubicle at Hughes Fine Arts Center on the University of North Dakota campus, surveying the pencils, watercolor palette and graphic drawings and paintings that have led her to self-publish her first graphic novel, “Femme Schism.”

One of her images in particular seems to stand out. It’s a watercolor comic book-style painting of a pretty young girl wearing a wide-brimmed hat, standing legs akimbo in a flirty skirt.

“You think I am sexually desirable right now because I look naïve, timid and cutesy … like a little girl,” the caption on the comic says. “That’s f—-ed up.”

Pascal, 24, earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree at the University of Tennessee-Chattanooga and is currently a Masters of Fine Arts candidate at UND. Specializing in drawing and time-based media, her current work is a fusion of comic art traditions and postmodern theory exploring themes of gender injustice, assimilation and freedom.

Through Kickstarter, a grant organization for artists, musicians, filmmakers and designers, she received donations from people all over the world to help her self-publish “Femme Schism,” an action/adventure comedy about an indigenous woman who is forced to shack up with a zealous white Christian missionary.

The heroine of “Femme Schism,” Loto, is a strong, fierce, articulate indigenous woman who was inspired by one of Pascal’s friends from UND, a woman from the Turtle Mountain Chippewa. Historically comic books have portrayed indigenous people in stereotypes; for instance, they grunt a lot and speak in metaphors, Pascal said.

“My friend, she’s very witty,” Pascal said. “She’s very spunky – sarcastic, kind of – but not in a way that’s at your expense. She’s just one of those people when you are around her, you have a good time.”

Pascal said she knew very little about indigenous cultures before coming to North Dakota and had her own stereotypes. But she doesn’t claim to know or understand everything about indigenous people now. She created her own indigenous culture for “Femme Schism.”

“I didn’t want to create more stereotypes by re-creating an actual present-day culture,” she said.

In “Femme Schism,” Loto undergoes a gradual change without realizing it. For instance, she has conflicts with the missionary, who becomes her friend, because of the crimes his society perpetuated against indigenous people. Pascal’s graphic novel also refers loosely to the “unusual relationship” some women have with religions because of their negative teachings about women.

“Most of us are raised into a religion,” said Pascal, who grew up in Chatanooga in the Baptist and Methodist faiths. “We don’t question these things, whether it’s misogyny or social stratification. But Loto comes from this very egalitarian society and is forced to study these ideas that totally conflict with hers.”

For a comic book, this is not your standard Archie and Veronica, or even Superman. Still, Pascal sees comic books as a perfectly good vehicle for tackling heavy issues.

“I feel graphic novels and comics are very accessible,” she said. “For me personally, I love the creativity of comics and I love to study gender and sexuality.”

Paulette Tobin writes for the Grand Forks Herald.