Trigger Warning: A phrase or statement posted at the opening of a text or website informing readers about content that depicts or discusses content of a disturbing nature so they can avoid psychological or emotional distress, particularly for victims of similar traumatic incidents.
Hitting newsstands this Wednesday, Bitch Planet #6 opens with a trigger warning cueing readers into a story about the late Meiko Maki and the sexual assault she endured, which led her to Bitch Planet. In the two months since the last issue, Newsarama sat down to talk with this issue's guest artist Taki Soma about this issue along with her thoughts why Bitch Planet continues garnering as much critical acclaim as it is.
Newsarama: Taki, what about Bitch Planet makes it especially compelling for you – as a reader and as a storyteller?
Taki Soma: Well, I see Bitch Planet as this unique entity where the creators have the freedom to express the unnecessary sexism that exist today, but told as a future-tense: as if to add a little bit, well a lot of bit of satire. It's a book that gives a concurring perspective to the people who experience similar situations in their lives as well as giving people a better look at what it's like to be 'that type' of women in our society and how we are treated, and why we may react the way we do.
Nrama: Can you walk us through your involvement with Bitch Planet? How did you get asked to come on for this one-off isssue? Why were you the one to help tell Meiko Maki’s story?
Soma: Honestly, I was at a dinner last summer when Kelly Sue asked me casually what I was working on (I was working on the colors for The United States of Murder Inc.) and I was moaning a little bit that all I see is digital colors because I'm swimming in it. She then asked if I'd rather be drawing more, and of course, I said yes. She offered me an issue right there and then - I was a little bit stunned and beyond excited!!
As for Meiko in particular, she's heard my stories of being yellow in America, the perception people have about me, my skin, my culture before - I think it just clicked right, right?
Nrama: Was there one moment in the first five issues that really seemed to capture the tone of the series for you? What was it and why?
Soma: From the moment I cracked open #1, I knew this was a title to keep up with - look at Valentine's art!! Good lord, I love his style. On top of that, it's Kelly Sue DeConnick. 'Nuff said.
To the point though, this is one of those rare moments where the tone really was there from the first issue - the twist is where it's leading up to, but of course, I will not spoil anything for anyone.
Nrama: Now, Bitch Planet #6 focuses solely on the backstory of the late Meiko Maki, who readers will recall was murdered during a Megaton scrimmage with the guards. Why do we need her story when it’s effectively ended in terms of the “real time” of the greater narrative? Are there elements seeded into this story that will payoff later on in the series?
Soma: The simple answer is “Yes!” And the complicated answer is - death isn't the end of that character, death of a character means something. It affects the story and other surrounding characters; death is part of a plot, lending to the larger picture.
Nrama: Leading into that last question, the story opens not with a more traditional splash page, but instead, a stark black and white trigger warning about the content of this issue as it deals with sexual assault. All too often, sexual assault is treated voyeuristically in mass media (Game of Thrones comes immediately to mind).
How was this hurdle a challenge for you as the artist on this story?
Soma: Too many women face sexual assault; statistically, 1 out of every 4 women are assaulted (from the last time I checked into this status, at least). I am one of them. And the shame the public puts on the victims are appalling - I think it's because it's very uncomfortable to consider - But the more we are open about it, the better for society in my opinion - don't sweep it under the rug, because that dirt is still there being stepped on unless we all take responsibility and acknowledge it, take care of it and help to banish it. But, if used in voyeuristic way like you mentioned, I think we are contributing to the problem, and it only upset and trigger the victims and not furthering the issue - this is not the case with Bitch Planet, I promise you that.
Nrama: In what other ways was this issue challenging for you as an artist either from a narrative or technical perspective?
Soma: Kelly Sue is highly aware and responsible when it comes to trauma, and I commend her for that. We did have a long discussion in regards to how far to push this issue visually. I think I may have went a little too far, leaving the imagination with the worst with my choices. Kelly Sue really talked me off the ledge and we came up with a compromise - thank goodness.
Nrama: Something I was struck by in this story was the way in which you render the theme of female objectification through the depiction of Meiko as an actual violin. What were you hoping to accomplish with these scenes and what inspired this particular approach. It really appears to serve as an example of something that only the comics medium could effectively pull off.
Soma: That is 100% Kelly Sue. Her description on how she visualized it was crystal clear. She has such a way with words, don't you think =) ? I agree, that our medium might be blessed with this edge over all the other, and Kelly Sue takes advantage of all that the comic book has over other mediums.
In many ways, society as a whole attempts to put people, not only females, into categories and in doing that I think she's trying to say that there's a fine line between categorization and objectification; at least, that's what I took away from it and it's a good observation.
Nrama: Now, the younger Meiko finds herself in between a rock and hard place, and as a result, makes some very … difficult choices. Then, in the back matter of the books, Kelly Sue states that “I don’t think Bitch Planet offers a lot of answers…”
Why do you think that is? What sort of questions do you think your story with Meiko raises – or do you want it to raise?
Soma: First and foremost, I think she's right, that Bitch Planet isn't about answers, but about raising the issue, to be heard and to be taken seriously.
From my perspective, I think that sexual assault, as mentioned earlier, is a giant problem no one seems to want to talk about. We're at an infant stage still in dealing with it as a culture - the answer is there, but we're very far still from reaching maturity. We all wish we could just start a marathon, imagine a montage and then find ourselves at the goal. But we've just begun, we're still training for that whole 26.2 miles ahead of us in finding that 'answer'.