The Beauty Curse will be a rigorously journalistic full-length graphic book about an incident that happened in Cambodia 13 years ago.
A pretty young girl's face, head and torso were drenched with several liters of acid in a truly savage assault that changed her life forever. I could post photos of her from soon after the attack, but I'm afraid they might actually drive you away. The skin on her face basically melted and then re-coagulated.
The acid attack on Marina was not the first such case, but it was one of the worst, and it has become the best known in her homeland. There have been hundreds of others since.
Early in my journalistic career, I spent almost four years living in Cambodia where I wrote about human rights for local, regional and international publications. I recognized that Marina's story brought together a wide array of troubling elements about life in her homeland. One of them is about how girls and young women are vulnerable to the untouchable Cambodian elite -- what I call the beauty curse. Another is how those powerful people are immune to any consequences for their own actions, no matter how horrible. Most of all this is a powerful personal story about a girl who nearly anyone might relate to.
I began to tell Marina's story after meeting with her and her brother in 2000, for an article that later appeared in Open City magazine.
Since then, I've often thought about whether there might be a better way to tell her story. I concluded that a sophisticated comic book, or graphic novel, was the answer. Drawings can make this kind of story accessible to a wider audience. During a John S. Knight journalism fellowship at Stanford University, I took part in a test run — a group of students, two professors and I used my article about Marina as the inspiration for the graphic novel Shake Girl, a fictionalized account of the episode.
The Beauty Curse won't be fictionalized. Working with talented artists (including Vrej Kassouny, who produced the draft drawings in the video above), we'll produce a rigorously journalistic graphic book that will tell Marina's remarkable story of survival and overcoming, much of it in her own words.
We're aiming at a broad audience, from graphic novel fans in the US, Europe, Japan and Korea, to very different readers in countries where these attacks are most common, whether in Southeast Asia, Central Asia or the Middle East. We've initiated discussions with various individuals and organizations about how to translate the book into different languages, especially Khmer, the main language in Cambodia. We will add to calls for justice in these cases, and join efforts to change attitudes toward women. The book will also include an addendum with suggestions to readers about practical actions that they can take to end the violence. But first, we have to complete the book.
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• The signed copy of the book ($25 and up) can be shipped outside the US.
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USE OF FUNDING
There are some significant expenses involved, and that's where we need your help. Besides scripting and editing, we need to pay skilled artists to storyboard, draw and color the art itself, and pay for technical help with design and layout. Because this is a true story (with Human Rights Watch's name attached to it) we'll need substantial fact-checking, and because it's a global story there may be some travel costs. We'll try to keep all these costs to a minimum, but we may have to pay for photo reprint rights, and probably for Khmer-language translation. And finally there will be distribution costs such as postage, promotion and web hosting.
Once we cross the funding threshold that allows this project to go forward, we will spend the following six months on additional researching, final interviewing, scripting, editing and drawing. After some final edits and corrections, the book will ship off to the printer by the fall.
Should support for The Beauty Curse surpass the threshold necessary to trigger the project, overage will go toward further improving this book, and then toward funding the early stages of production of an interactive digital version.
Risks and challenges
There will be many challenges in making this book. The main one is to make it as creative as possible while hewing to reality with as much rigor as the best journalism. We aim to make high quality long-form journalism in graphic book form.
There will be other challenges. Production of this book is, in some ways, like making a magazine. It is a broad collaboration by its nature. And yet we want to retain the intimacy of a great comic book with a strong, compelling singular voice at its center.
After that, there are the deadlines, and the give and take on the art, to make sure that it represents the real world. We intend to portray Marina's broader world, and Cambodia, without merely reducing her homeland down to the nightmare that she survived. That is crucial because this is a story of survival in a complex universe where there are joys and horrors, and many moments in between.
But to take on those challenges, we first need to meet our Kickstarter goal. That's where you come in.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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