What Webcomics Mean to Me

TRIGGER WARNING: This article contains mentions of domestic violence and depression.

I’ve been abused all of my life. That is no exaggeration—growing up, I was abused in multiple ways by both of my parents. When it comes to growing up in an environment steeped in domestic violence, people often assume a step-parent abused a child that isn’t theirs. Sadly, my birth parents abused and violated me in ways I cannot describe without wanting to cry, vomit, and scream. Child Protection Services would come in and out of my house for years. People who grew up in loving environments get very offended that I would even speak ill of my parents, or say I do not care about them, because they cannot imagine someone saying such things of the people who brought them here to this Earth. But my parents could not and will not care for me in the way a parent should love their child. I had to deal with this for years, and I still deal with it (now, from a distance).

When I was a freshman in high school, I went to a private school. My father could not afford to continue paying the bills, so he took me out. I have been to over 10 schools in my life, so this situation was not a make or break for me. What was, however, was my parents’ decision to homeschool me for the rest of my high school career. Homeschool is not a bad option for most people, but I was forced to be at home and to only interact with people my parents approved (who were also abusive). My parents always told me how “bad” I was. I was a “bad” child who needs to listen to them, and I deserve their “punishment.” I was not a bad child, I came to learn as I grew older. They just wanted to find excuses to inflict violence against me. They wanted me at home so they could “watch” me and so I would not do “bad” things. It was during this extremely isolating time in my life that I realized what I wanted to do for the rest of my life: make comics.

Specifically, I wanted to work in the animation/illustration industry and make comics about anything I want. Comics are great! If I could not escape my detrimental physical reality, I could mentally escape through the graphic novels I read at my local library. It was so amazing to experience lives so different from mine in the many colorful pages I found. It was nice to feel a sliver of happiness when all I wanted to do was hide. I decided I wanted to create stories of my own. After all, I had a lot to say, and I wanted to use my art skills to express everything my parents tried to take away from me. That was when I discovered the wonderful world of webcomics, which are great because they’re free, cheap to make, and accessible online. Anyone can make and distribute a webcomic. So I decided to give myself the challenge of starting my own.

I started my own gag comic called ‘Emo Twins’. It was a slice-of-life gag comic about two emo best friends who felt as depressed as I did about life. I was so happy about it because I found it to be very fun to make and show others online. My most famous strip was when my female character, Koko, wore red and talked about how she felt about having her period. That got over 200 notes, which tumblr’s equivalent to ‘likes’ or how much someone loves your post, which made me feel almost like an internet celebrity at the time.

 

I later decided I wanted to make a long-running webcomic that related more to my own life. I started writing and drawing “Johnny’s Teeth”, a comic I currently run now. It took me years to get the story and drawings down, because I dealt with severe depression, and drawing was very hard for me at the time. Four or five years of drawing and writing, and I finally started publishing “Johnny’s Teeth” last year on Webtoon.com. The story is about a guy named John White Teeth, who lives on a Cherokee Reservation. John and I share a few of the same problems: we’re both Multiracial, so we face stigma for that, we both have abusive parents, and we both felt isolated at school. The story starts off introducing all of his issues, and he feels like it’s too much to bear. Suddenly, he quite literally stumbles upon a full-blooded Cherokee praying in the field. That’s when he meets Sam, a Muslim (like me) convert who gives him hope for life by introducing him to Allah (God). I made this comic because I wanted to explore topics that were of personal importance to me. After all, I want to show others that Native Americans (I’m part Cherokee) exist, that Muslims are here, and that, unfortunately, many people face abuse in their own homes. In my life, praying to Allah is what has kept me going. As I write this, it is the Holy Month of Ramadan, and I have been posting drawings featuring John and Sam on the Johnny’s Teeth instagram.

Making comics has kept me going. I want to work in the animation and comics industry professionally, and making what I can with what I have now makes me feel like there is hope for me to get better. It gives me hope when a stranger leaves a comment saying they empathize with the fictional characters I created. It gives me hope to see other Muslims follow Johnny’s Teeth and find themselves represented in two guys from a reservation. It gives me happiness that I made friends through my comic. If there is anything I want readers to take away from my comic, is that things get better, even if it takes years and years. Because they always do.

All artwork included in this article is from Barakah Iqbal.