“Hey, I didn’t come yesterday. I feel really frustrated now.” How do you drop that in a conversation with your friend?
It’s a question writer and illustrator Nurulhuda Izyan has as we talk about how menopause affects libido.
“These kinds of conversations don't fit in a normal day - You need a reason to talk about it. And my book became a perfect reason.”
Released in October 2021, Izyan’s short comic A Drip. A Drop. A Deluge: A Period Tragicomedy features six characters who take readers along the rollercoaster that is the menstruation journey, from menarche to menopause. It is a genuine, unabashed account inspired by very real conversations with women around her.
Frustrated with her first marketing job and left with a stack of name cards she’d never got around to using, Izyan began to draw behind the name cards. Her inspiration was Hugh MacLeod, a cartoonist and creative entrepreneur who built a business based on that very idea - drawing cartoons on the back of business cards.
Izyan began by drawing significant moments of her day every night before bed and resolved to continue it for a year, then in her twenties. A year became a decade as she filled up scraps of paper and notebooks while working as a user-experience designer by day. Eventually, she began sharing her art on her Instagram account under the moniker ‘Andeasyand’.
“It was also during this period that I was so angry and frustrated. I used to write a lot, but I could not find the words to write. So I would just draw. And I think over the years, the words started coming back and that's how comics started to be integrated into my illustration.”
Ironically, the only ‘A’ grade Izyan ever got in school for art was for drawing the iconic green Teletubby hills and the cheerful sun on a paper plate when she was ten. The rest of her assignments, she says matter-of-factly, she was always failing.
Menstruation is a topic that rarely comes up at home (or outside, for that matter). The menstruating woman is often elusive and anything about the experience tends to be conveyed in code words and meaningful glances. The rest is a solitary battle of unwarranted emotion.
Izyan shares the sentiment - It is what had her wanting to share about her experiences with menstruation in the hopes of helping someone else.
“So I’m just like, well, I'm going to put it out there and whatever people say, they can say it to my face. And that's just how it goes.”
In hindsight, she realises she drew a lot about menstruation. Enough that an editor at Difference Engine, her publisher, took note and kickstarted the project to create the comic.
The stories Izyan wrote are inspired by conversations she had with others, including a focus group with the team at Difference Engine. “I suppose they don't talk freely about other aspects of periods…and sometimes there come points where people are surprised by another person's experience.”
I just find that even after producing the book, the story keeps on giving. Some of my friends from school say, "Yeah, we never called it this thing." It's taken a life of its own, so that's fun.
Izyan’s most memorable experience while working on the book is when she decided she wanted to illustrate something she had yet to experience: menopause. She began with interviewing the people close to her, including her mother and aunt.
“One hour later, all the stories start coming out and they’re telling you something like ‘I had a hysterectomy and I think I'm fine, but other people might think I'm crazy.’”
The interviews gave Izyan a look at how varied individuals’ experiences with menstruation were.
“I think it's just a very humbling moment to realise that on the one hand, we're fucked as women. Things are just never the same, you know, you're always evolving. But on the other hand, there's more things to learn. It's something that I never talked to my mom about so that gave me an opportunity.”
To Izyan, her book sprinkled with deadpan humour and painfully relatable situations, is the starting line to pick up the conversation on menstruation.
As with any creative endeavour, there are bound to be speedbumps. Or clots, so to speak. For Izyan, it was finding out about period poverty through her research and feeling that she wouldn’t be able to do justice to the issue.
Period poverty affects an estimated 500 million women across the world and it concerns the inadequate access to menstrual hygiene products and education.
“A lot of the illustrations are based on real stories. And I do not want to just imagine what period poverty looks like, because as a person who's menstruating, I know how the experience differs from woman to woman. I can draw the stereotypical nature of period poverty, but I think it doesn't really impact you.”
At Izyan’s upcoming workshop at Crane where participants get to draw their own period comic, one of her activities will be to ask participants to find the minute that feels flat forever during their menstrual cycle. She points out that one minute differs from woman to woman, and for a woman who cannot afford a pad, how does she decide where a dollar goes?
“And I can imagine, but I will never know the gravity of it. I wish I could illustrate it, but I'm not in a position to do that,” she says.
The other challenge was more personal: Trying to stay out of her own head.
“It’s what happens when you're menstruating, right? You don't interact with the world - It's between you and the walls of the toilet and underwear.”
And while she overcame that in the end, she realised she’d still drawn a great many toilet doors.
Izyan: We should move away from equality to equity, to recognising that every different woman has different needs. The fact that some women want to stay at home and look after their kids, and the ability to make that choice should be celebrated as well. So I think International Women's Day should be a platform to recognize that women should have the power to get what they want.
We need to celebrate the different types of women and the different types of choices they make, instead of in comparison to men. So it's not like, “Oh, okay. Men get 84k a year, then women should get 84k.” In the first place that shouldn't even be a point. If they're doing the same amount of work, they should get the same amount.
I think International Women's Day is recognising what women need, instead of a binary, and also celebrating different forms of women, not just cis women.
Izyan: Your experience matters.
I was telling a friend about an experience and she said I kind of downplay it. That I would say, “Oh, it's just a paragraph. It's just something.”
And she told me, “Do you know that women bring themselves down by using the word ‘just’? It's never ‘just’ something.” It's never ‘just’ me. It's a real, lived experience. It's something concrete, something that took shape.
There's no experience too small; It may help someone, it may help you. It may help someone recognise it if it affects you. My dad used to tell me that if you could think of it, it probably happened. If it affects you, it's probably affecting someone else. So, your experience matters.
Izyan envies the earlier years when she illustrated without caring what others thought. Now, she’s prone to worrying that she’s not skilled enough. When that happens, she gets inspiration from her younger self who couldn’t care less back then, and illustrators like Kindah Khalidy whose works are abstract and fun.
I ask what she’s looking forward to. Nothing is set in stone, but she’s thinking longform and whole stories.
“What would I do if I could do it forever? I’m taking my time, observing how things work, how people illustrate. I think it's a lifetime pursuit of understanding what your style is.”
#BreaktheBias: This International Women’s Week, Crane is proud to support and showcase all the inspiring and enterprising women we work with as members and partners.
Join Izyan at her workshop for a bloody fun session and have a go at writing your own period story - be it a tragedy, comedy, or both!