In Take It as a Compliment (2015), a series of 20 traumatic experiences related to sexual violence are illustrated with Maria Stoian’s artwork. The author does not need to exaggerate anything because the reality is already shocking enough to horrify the readers. Recent surges of social movements attest to the fact that people have started listening to the voices of the weak. The society has finally come to admit that those experiences depicted in the book are not fiction, but daily life.
Maria Stoian, then a university student and now a professional graphic designer, had never written a book before Take It as a Compliment. While searching for a topic for her graduation piece, however, Stoian found that sexual violence stories were everywhere; from her friends, neighbors, and strangers who sent their stories to her by email. In 2015, when Stoian began working on the book, all she wanted were two things: to help heal the wounds of the victims and to instigate discussion on sexual violence. As a graphic designer who expresses herself through her drawings, the way Stoian fought against the inhumane threat to the weak was to depict the reality as it is.
In this sense, Take It as a Compliment is different from other works of literature that rely on sophisticated storytelling techniques, exaggerated plot or turns of phrase. Stoian tells that her work is based on real life, the “daily” stories of the people around us. The cases include a diverse range of figures and situations, with the victims both women and men, the young and the old, with terrible violence taking place in the middle of the street, in offices, in schools, in strangers’ houses, and at home.
From the title, many readers may recall countless memories of when they were powerless in the face of fear, worry, and shame. In fact, sexual violence leaves a huge scar on its victims because they often blame themselves. After accusations are made in real lives, the wrongdoers are often the ones raising their voices and the innocent victims are rendered mute. While severe punishment is handed down to assailants in some other countries, Korea still lacks protection for sexual violence victims. When discussing victims, the dominant topics are what they were wearing and whether they were walking late at night alone; in this sense, “take it as a compliment” is a saying that Koreans hear regularly.
A significant characteristic of the book is that Stoian uses vibrant colors that resemble those in children’s books. The people drawn by Stoian often have cute rounded faces and are colored in vivid tones. Still, what they are feeling and doing is generally dark, given that they are a mix of assailants and victims. The illustrations successfully maximize the horror of sexual violence by opting not to resort to a monochromatic palette. The diverse range of colors shows that sexual violence is not a rare and unseen crime, but rather a daily occurrence.
When the book was first published, victims of sexual violence needed the courage to talk about their nightmares, and it was not possible without the utmost privacy. The shame was that of the victim, not the assailant. The book in 2015 seemed to be just a collection of stories that would not be able to change anything. However, #MeToo or Time’s Up movements started with the recognition of what was happening. Thanks to people who have been talking about violence and those who have been listening to wounded people, society can no longer ignore the pain. In this sense, Stoian’s book is an invaluable beginning to the end of sexual violence.
Title: Take It as a Compliment
Illustrator: Maria Stoian
Published: 2015 (2017 in Korea)
Publisher: Jessica Kingsley Publishers (Book Recipe in Korea)