Tír is an animated graphic novel series following the lives of five women as they struggle to survive on an inhospitable planet. Set in a speculative post-earth future, it explores the cyclical and inescapable nature of human oppression.
Tír was a semifinalist in the 2016 Adobe Design Achievement Awards, and was featured at the summer 2016 Games for Change.
For an in-depth discussion of my thesis project in its entirety, peruse .
Tír is a multiple-perspective narrative analyzing how a speculative dystopian setting can be used to explore diverse perspectives, social structures, and human nature.
Dystopian narrative and the Science Fiction genre has long been used as a platform for social commentary. The veil of fiction allows the writer to address issues of her own world through metaphor, provoking thought through a removal of preconceived context. Our society is riddled with issues — however much we profess to have progressed — and the 2016 election has brought a lot to the forefront of our collective consciousness. Hard-won rights many of us hoped were said and done, like access to abortion [thanks, Roe v. Wade] and finally legalized gay marriage, have become campaign issues up for debate and removal. I don’t know why we are surprised, considering that the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964 but the #BlackLivesMatter movement is still so necessary amidst rampant police brutality and systemic discrimination.
None of the issues we face today are new. The social discrimination, political fear-mongering, and web of structural inequalities have progressed and regressed throughout the centuries of humanity in a cycle of repetition and oppression. Human nature is such that we always find an Other, a group not like ourselves in some way that we can fear, focus on, and oppress in the name of “protection”. Ignorance of another people has generally made this Other designation much easier to place—humans often fear what we do not understand—but in this age of connection and information, there is no excuse for wallowing in such small-minded ignorance and hate. Fear leads to a lashing out, “strike before you can be struck” mentality. The target of this mentality is frequently misplaced, which is quite evident in the raging Islamophobia and Transphobia pushed today.
Once people have an Other to fear, they lash out without further thought or consideration. They are able to remove the humanity of the Other: they are no longer fellow humans with thoughts, emotions, or fears of their own; they are only seen as a faceless and monolithic threat. This dehumanization of the Other has had horrendous consequences before, yet memory has faded and here we are again.
The repetitive nature of oppression persists despite all notions of social progress. Perhaps my simultaneous outrage and resignation to this fact is what prompted my lifelong attachment to the genre of dystopian narrative. Descriptions of futures corrupted and curtailed by inescapable human nature are fascinating in their simultaneous absurdity and horrible possibility. My work attempts to address questions of the nature of humanity and the cyclical nature of oppression. We would like to think that society progresses as time does, yet somehow we keep returning to the same issues of subjugation and domination over and over again. The speculative future I have constructed delves into the archetypal, oft-repeated circumstances involved in bringing about fear and oppression.
Tír explores the interior lives and experiences of individual women as they respond to these exterior conditions of tightening oppression. Each protagonist is of the oppressed group, but experiences it differently. As they interact with each other and with those around them, each of their expressions — of feminism, of action, thought, and word — is rooted in personal experience and perspective. This exploration of varied identities and responses to events reflects the intersectional feminist movement of today in its consideration of the differences in systemic oppression faced by each individual based on their life experience along vectors of privilege such as race, class, sexuality, and gender identity.
I have a lot of feelings on the state of our world, and if you would like to read my more extensive inspiration for Tír, please refer to .
An ePublication, created in Adobe InDesign, allows the story to be downloaded and read at the reader’s leisure. Because Tír is full of imagery and color, the eBooks are best experienced on a hand-held tablet like the iPad – though larger laptop and desktops are also viable platforms. As a personal device, the reading experience on an iPad is an intimate one. Portable and easily held, Tír can be experienced in a multitude of locations: in bed, on the couch, while traveling, sunk into an old leather armchair before the crackling fire of your personal library… just as one would read an analog book.
Tír is serially published; each piece adds to the narrative to form three volumes of three chapters each. Each chapter has five parallel narratives – one from each of the five main characters’ perspectives. Tír joins a long history of serially published fiction. From Charles Dickens and the Wonder Woman comics to modern television shows and procedural podcasts, serial publications break down the overarching narratives into installments in which short interior storylines can stand alone while also furthering the main plot. Serializing the publication of Tír allows the story to expand in length and complexity without overwhelming the readers, which was confirmed through several reader tests.
Combining illustration with text has produced a compelling sense of the alien landscape encompassing the story and characters. It allows for that sense of Otherness to pervade the story, highlighting the isolation of the humans trapped inside their glass domes. Style and color easily convey mood and tone without needing the descriptive words that can hang heavy on a scene. While illustrating environment, context, and texture, the use of imagery alongside text also personalizes the characters as distinct and specific people. Their personal quirks and facial expressions are shown, which lends greater personality depth. It also separates them from the reader, disallowing the tendency to put oneself as the center of every story.
The additional element of movement to the traditional graphic novel form draws attention to key points of the narrative and gives emphasis to particular emotions felt by each character. The gifs add life and a greater engagement to the entire narrative, and continuing animation prevents the page from becoming stagnant. And practically, it allows for entire conversations within a confined space without tipping the balance between image and text.
Sound brings in an entirely new dimension to the narrative. With both visual and aural depths, an interesting juxtaposition is formed between outward-facing words and actions visible on the page and the internal thoughts and reactions of the characters known only through the intangibility of sound. The intangible, ephemeral headspace of the characters and reader balance against the concrete, textual and illustrative record of the page.
When I set about building my speculative dystopia, my first inclination was that of most dystopian writers — a future time based on Earth. However, as I narrowed in on the story I wanted to tell, Earth became more and more constraining. I decided that the environment I really needed was an entirely different planet, one not even in our solar system. A new planet would allow for an entirely different mindset from remaining on Earth — hope for the future, less encumbered by the past, more focused on progress and a new start for humanity. But also isolation, and the desperation that comes from knowing there is no going back, and there is nowhere else to go.
The technology and time required to get to this new solar system then needed to be thought out, as both of these concerns would have an impact on the society and the psychological state of the people in it. At just under twelve light years away, the Tau Ceti solar system has the nearest Earth-like planet to us, Tau Ceti E. I wanted to focus on the humans — we don’t need another species to oppress, we have proven time and again that we have no problem oppressing each other. I designed a tightly-controlled station community, in which the pressures are intensified by their isolation and fear of the alien world.
And so Tír was imagined and created — the other planet just within the Tau Ceti’s habitable zone, but a strange and inhospitable one. The refugees escaping Earth had aimed for Tau Ceti E, but along the way their ship gave out and they were forced to land on Tír.
For a detailed look at the planet and constructed biosphere, consult at your leisure.
When I crafted the biographies and personalities of the five main characters of the narrative, I created a group of women that would explore multiple and differing perspectives, and exemplify the diversity and variation of real women. In much of mainstream media, women, especially women of color, are not given representation and I did not want to continue that discriminating tradition. Women come in all ages, sexualities, races, biological sexes, and personality types, and my characters are designed to reflect a slice of that spectrum. Their differences influence the varying ways in which they think about and react to the events in the Tiran biosphere, and together create a more holistic, overarching view of the narrative.
As I created these women, I consulted with potential readers for believability and depth. I organized a focus group around character-building as well. The main characters have evolved throughout the process of creating the world and society, and each one has grown in depth. Pieces of their histories and personalities are inspired by women I know personally, tempered with in-depth research into varying expressions of feminism and personal essays of insightful and eloquent women.
For this, I could basically just send people to Laurie Penny’s article “What to do when you’re not the hero anymore” because it articulates very succinctly what I have been explaining in response. Stories – whether told through text, film, illustrations, or any other medium – have long been focused on white male protagonists. Hollywood has come under fire recently for their lack of diversity — rarely do they feature prominently women or people of color, and even more rarely women of color — but it is hardly a new phenomenon.
It is yet another instance of systemic male privilege. Are other writers asked why their characters are men? Even narratives with a relatively diverse cast somehow always adhere to a sort of ratio — and white men need to be the majority. As Penny describes in her article surrounding the latest Star Wars Episode VII, women, people of color, and the non-heteronormative have always been asked to place themselves in others’ shoes, to imagine themselves as different than they are in order to identify with the protagonist. It has developed a healthy ability for us to think outside ourselves, and it has long been time for men, white men particularly, to do the same. A diversity of narrative that reflects our current society shouldn’t be unusual. As Penny states, up until recently, “what we haven’t been allowed is to see our experience reflected, to see our lives mirrored and magnified and made magical by culture.” So I am telling this story through women’s voices, which have so often been sidelined.
This does not mean that my story is aimed at only women. In fact, I hope its audience includes everyone who enjoys dystopia, comic books, and science fiction. Humans are diverse, and our stories should reflect that. Penny eloquently sums up my thoughts on women protagonists for a male reader:
“What does it mean to be a white cis boy reading these books and watching these new shows? The same thing it has meant for everyone else to watch every other show that’s ever been made. It means identifying with people who don’t look like you, talk like you or fuck like you. It’s a challenge, and it’s as radical and useful for white cis boys as it is for the rest of us — because stories are mirrors, but they are also windows. They let you see yourself transfigured, but they also let you live lives you haven’t had the chance to imagine, as many other lives as there are stories yet to be told, without once leaving your chair.”
What exactly makes people initiate and submit to such overbearing controls? After an enlightening discussion with game and narrative designer Nick Fortugno, I realized that the environmental and psychological events that happen along that descent are what most fascinates me, and what would be most interesting for an audience. Throughout history, people have looked back and wondered how we let things get to that point, how humans ended up in such a horrible situation — as with slavery or the Nazi regime. I think it’s a bit of human nature to think that we could do better, that we would never submit or passively stand by while something so horrible grows up around us, that “it couldn’t happen now.”
However, atrocities and oppressions are continually committed against people all around us. The state of Native peoples and reservations within the US. The current 2016 presidential election and its rampant racism, homophobia, sexism, and xenophobia. The violence and misogyny experienced daily by women in games, or just women in the world. The continued police brutality against people of color. And those are just a few in our own “progressed” nation.
Humans are constantly confronted by situations in which the easy way, the way the fear-mongers and the power-hungry manipulate those around them into thinking is the only way, is often chosen in small steps — lots of small steps that suddenly add up to something unrecognizably horrible. And this descent, the factors involved and the human reactions that create the dystopia, is interesting. A lot of stories could be told in this descent. Those that fought it, those affected at each stage, those that went along until they couldn’t; these stories are interesting.
The story became more about human nature, and the cyclical descent into oppression that humans seem unable to break away from, than a straightforward, black-and-white depiction of sexist oppression. The complexity of the narrative and environment dramatically increased, and the characters’ personalities inevitably followed suit. After rolling back the timeline on the Tiran society, suddenly much more evocative storylines presented themselves. The evolution of the mysterious spots outbreak became not only a catalyst for the plot, but a question of human vs. alien and what it means to actually integrate onto a new home planet.
The action and dramatic elements inherent in the narratives of each character vary, and sometimes conflict or camouflage the overarching plot. Part of this is intentional — as each character has her own life and perspective, so isn’t necessarily aware of everything else that is happening within the larger biosphere. However, sometimes the personal struggle of a character can completely overshadow the central storyline to such an extent that the reader becomes unaware of it entirely. When writing AJ’s story, for example, I constantly had to pull back, out of her mindset, in order to see the larger context of her personal struggle. Her character is herself so single-minded, that illustrating her story persistently competed with reference of the overarching plot.Multiple revisions became necessary to maintain an acceptable amount of larger concepts and plot interwoven with AJ’s own interpretation of events.
For multiple perspectives to be effective, they should be somewhat biased in their telling of their environment and the events that transpire in the world. Their alternative points of view and knowledge of different portions are what fit together to complete the picture of an overarching plot. One character doesn’t know the whole of what’s going on in the world, and even with five together the entirety can never be fully known. The truth is variable and affected by the individual. However, context needs to be known for actions to make sense. AJ herself lost context on her quest for Tara’s return, but the reader should not, and this is a constant balancing act for me as the writer and illustrator.
As I continue to produce the narrative of the women on Tír, the series will be published in chapter and volume installments as eBooks and embedded on the Tír website. The “action slice” of the narrative that is currently exhibited constitutes the second chapter of the second volume of the chronicles. After completing the visual and auditory representations of the other characters’ action slice, I will return to the beginning and continue working forward from there. This way, I will have the entire action slice for exhibitions, shareable with anyone who wants a quick intro to the feel and narrative, but also work through the narrative in a logical process, making as the narrative and timeline progress together.