About this project
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.
• We now have a Facebook page — please visit and Like it! Then check Get Notifications, under the Liked button, to stay up to date.
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
No money will not be deducted from your credit card. It will only be deducted if--and after--we cross the trigger threshold that allows the project to go forward.
Acid attacks happen to all sorts of people. Tat Marina's main attackers wanted to spoil her physical beauty, as one of them told Marina in a cruel phone call AFTER the attack. But there have been acid attacks related to all sorts of things, and they have tarnished the lives of men, as well as women, old people and children. Some attacks have had to do with (amorous) jealousy, but others have had to do with material jealousy or debt payments or other things. In many cases, acid is just the cheapest and most readily available weapon.
In Cambodia, attractive girls and women who have no money and little status in society are often in no position to refuse the advances of powerful men. So it can be a curse to draw the interest of a guy you are not interested in, and who you cannot refuse. In Marina's case, this curse ultimately led to the attack by the man's wife.
The "beauty curse" is also a metaphor for Cambodia's immense resources and beautiful nature which have drawn the attention of powerful men -- Cambodians and foreigners -- who have pillaged the country, rarely thinking of sustainability or of the good of the Cambodian people.
Why haven't you posted graphic pictures that will shock people into understanding how bad acid attacks are?
I've given this a lot of thought. The pictures of acid attack victims can be very shocking. While more people should really be shocked by such violence, the whole point of this project is to tell Marina's story without reducing her entire existence down to that attack. Her story is much more than that. And the point of telling it with drawings is to convey her hardships (and overcoming) in a way that allows people to see her as the full (and remarkable) human being that she is. Not just someone who survived horrific burns. Besides, anyone who wants to see graphic pictures can do an Internet image search on "acid attack victim," but be warned...
In many ways. The organization actually asked me to tell Tat Marina's story in a factual illustrated way. I had already done so, with a group of inspired Stanford students, but it was a fictionalized version of her story, melded together with others, and with purely fictional elements added. HRW felt like this very powerful story, which details so many core problems, could have a real impact on Cambodia and that people in many other countries could relate to the underlying problems of corruption and impunity that Marina's story highlights so effectively. Beyond that, HRW will be free to distribute a substantial number of copies of the book in many parts of the world. We have talked of holding events, and perhaps fundraisers, in connection with the formal release of the book, but first we need to complete it.
Yes, she is very supportive. As she told me recently, she wants her life back. And she wants justice. She feels that telling her story is a step toward restoring some of what she lost. She passionately supports this book. And she plans to work on the project.
It depends on where you are and, to some extent, who you know. The easiest thing to do would be to write a check to someone who does have a credit card that can make purchases in the US, and just have them pay for you. In some countries, if you move quickly, we could have you make a check to a Human Rights Watch office and clearly explain that you want the money to go to The Beauty Curse project. If you want one of the "rewards" -- and we hope that you do -- you should give your e-mail address, name and mailing address. If you have unique circumstances and you don't know what to do, just write to us here on Kickstarter.
Just write us a note here and tell us a little about yourself, and we'll figure out something constructive for you to do.
I work for a graphic novel or book publisher and we are interested in distributing a local-language version of The Beauty Curse in our country.
Just write us a message here on Kickstarter and we can have a conversation about what is possible.
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