Cyclopedia Exotica by Aminder Dhaliwal and published by Drawn and Quarterly is a compilation of Dhaliwal’s webcomic of the same name serialized on Instagram. Like Dhaliwal’s earlier work Woman World, the comic is at its core science fiction, but its focus on the characters makes the story transcend genre. It has all the charm and draw of a slice-of-life in a modern world; it just happens that that world has a minority population of cyclopes.
Cyclopedia Exotica opens as an actual encyclopedia entry with biological and sociological descriptions of a one-eyed subspecies of human native to the Mediterranean as seen in ancient Greek mythology. This entry depicts a history that has treated cyclopes bitterly as a minority suffering under an unjust portrayal of barbarism and violence. It takes a sudden turn when Etna, the first cyclops to appear on the cover of an adult magazine, comes to life, turns the page, and begins the intertwining narratives of several one-eyed people.
The best part of Cyclopedia Exotica is its rich cast of characters with each cyclopean name pulled from mythology. In addition to Etna, now decades older than her historic photo and using her position to speak up for rights, the stories form up around a loosely connected group seeking out their lives in a world packed with microaggressions and xenophobia. Pari is an expectant mother struggling with her eagerness to stay at home as well as her dedication to her job. Her husband, Tim, has two eyes and knows he cannot understand fully the perspective of someone with such different life experiences, but he tries. Other favorites include jovial Pol whose life is changed by girlfriend Latea, artists Jian and Grae, and clumsy Arj, who is the living embodiment of awkwardness with limited depth perception. An appendix goes into more detail on their creation and Dhaliwal’s efforts as she was creating them.
Through the course of Cyclopedia Exotica, the characters go about their days pursuing goals and facing obstacles invisible to two-eyed individuals. Many of the stories refer to the historical world Dhaliwal has created, such as “corrective” wear designed to make single-breasted cyclops women seem two-breasted, now abhorrently outdated. One cyclops, Bron, discusses his issues with self-image. He was one of the first to undergo a surgical procedure to add a donated eye to be like a Two-Eyes, which his body ultimately rejected so that he now wears an eye-patch and is cyclopean once again. He rants against the childrens-story-within-a-comic, Suzy’s One Eye, the bestselling book with a cyclops main character, written by a two-eyed man.
Cyclopedia Exotica is a masterful portrayal of being a minority in a society that may no longer be actively trying to kill cyclopes, as Odysseus did in days of myth, but certainly does not know how to relate. Dhaliwal’s imagination is perfected with the attention to detail, showing the little things that would be overlooked in a glance at the story-world. The emotional touches with the engaging characters brings the reader along through quick comic stories, always wanting more even after the final page.