I often judge a graphic novel from the outset based on the art. It doesn’t matter if I have an interest in the topic, a good illustrative style will capture my attention and lock me in. My wallet will confirm this, many impulse purchases at comic cons and other places are based just on that. If I had seen ‘Becoming Unbecoming’ on a shelf somewhere without knowing much about it, I would have probably passed on it. That would have been a very regrettable decision, and I am happy to report that much like everything in life, you should never rush a judgment on something without knowing what is truly on the inside.
Written and illustrated by Una, ‘Becoming Unbecoming‘ is the interconnected story of the Yorkshire Ripper, a serial killer in England who violently murdered prostitutes in the 1970’s, while a young Una enters puberty and deals with changes in herself and how others perceived her. Specifically, men in her life who sexually violated her, and then cast the blame on her, thus starting a pattern of behavior that led others to slut-shame her for no reason, starting a downward spiral into depression and PTSD.
As much as this book revolves around the epic failure of British police as they failed to do a proper investigation on the Yorkshire Ripper because they refused to believe the female that survived, it paints a bigger picture of the inequalities that women continue to face when it comes to sexual violence against them. It’s this mentality that perpetuates slut-shaming and rape culture, where women are often damned if they do, and more damned if they don’t. Una was one of many who had to live a life like that, unsure what to do with herself in a world where her body was treated as the private playground for a many during her formative years before she knew better.
A large part of this book deals with the modern ramifications of the issues Una had growing up. When it comes to sexual violence against women, not much has changed sadly. Una confronts her struggles of the past and their ongoing effects, as well as the bigger picture of society and their reactions to cases like this. Her personal tale is a story that I hate to say I have heard before from people that I know, and it’s depressing for me to think about that, let alone trying to fathom what happened to the actual victims.
The artwork reminded me of Peter Max and Milton Glaser, except in place of the psychedelic imagery and intense bright color, Una’s world is stark tones of black and white, with pools of grey. Between fragile linework and puddles of inkwash that try to escape the page, the artwork is very fitting to the story. I appreciated the imagery used to show her emotional state, from drawing herself as an insect to illustrate her physical changes, to some very symmetrical layouts that utilize repetition and subtle changes very effectively.
Una’s pages can often become cluttered and wordy, but it’s hard to depict what the author wants to create without turning that way. She balances typography with illustration well, directing your eye through those dense pages and keeping you invested to keep reading, even through some of the more emotionally taxing sections.
‘Becoming Unbecoming‘ is Una’s first foray into the graphic novel world, and is a very strong debut. As shes puts it in the book, her graphic memoirs are not a confessional since she has nothing to confess, and it’s not just a story of a survivor. Many reviews described it as ‘powerful’ and ’empowering’, and it easy to use both of those words to describe this graphic novel.
For me, a good graphic novel is an experience, and ‘Becoming Unbecoming’ can be an uncomfortable experience but a very important one. A theme in the book seems to be that there is not always a happy ending for survivors of sexual violence, and that is repeated with the conclusion of the book which memorializes the victims of the Yorkshire Ripper. After reading the book, you may walk away feeling uneasy, anxious, and other unpleasant emotions – and that is the point. It’s a taste of what many women go through, and for those that have gone through it, I hope you can use this book to remind yourself that even in your lowest of lows, you are not alone.