Comic artist Miila Westin: I wanted to tell stories of courageous women during the time of the pandemic

Comic artist Miila Westin: I wanted to tell stories of courageous women during the time of the pandemic

Comic Artist Miila Westin’s online comic journal Keep in Touch portrays the thoughts, experiences, and feelings of her female friends amidst the global pandemic.

How did you get the idea for a comic book diary?

My project is a digital work, taking the form of a comic diary. Through the visual narrative, I explore and document the thoughts and coping mechanisms of different women across the globe during the epidemic. Perceptions, fears, and uncertainties of the women provided the basis for this work.

How important do you think it is to bring forth people’s experiences amongst a global crisis?

With a diary, I could have easily shared my experiences, but I wanted to make this project broader than just my personal diary. I have been following my friends’ experiences throughout this spring and decided to include their voices in the project.

What has been surprising about the project?

The surprises have had to do with the development of the situation in different countries. My friend, who is in Indonesia, described the situation as surprisingly good and told me that the local authorities had got the situation under control, as opposed to what we feared.

How do you stay in contact with the people in your comic? Could you describe the process?

We have conversations regularly, mostly by Whatsapp messages. The talks are slightly edited to fit the narrative, but I try to preserve the original tone of voice.

Characters include, for example, a pregnant Australian woman, a German-Romanian girl who travelled in Guatemala during the coronavirus crisis with her baby, and me and my Dutch friends trying to return to Europe at the last minute from another side of the world.

The experiences and speculations portrayed in the comic are all based on real-life events, but they also include an understanding of privilege and safety. Even during a global crisis, we have been in many ways privileged, held afloat by social security and financial support.

According to the United Nations, the socio-economic effects of the pandemic will hit women the hardest, further exacerbating gender inequality. What are your thoughts on this? 

I feel like the pandemic has created a global atmosphere of fear, which is why I want to bring the theme of courage to the discussion. I selected these women for my story because of the certain boldness behind their choices. The women are all independent adventurers, who dare to go backpacking with a one-year-old child or move to a foreign country to work.

During the past few years, there have been many books about brave female role models. My comic takes part in this discussion. I believe that every story is going to shape the idea women have of the choices they have.

Have there been any similarities in the experiences of the women in your story?

There are some similarities in their experiences, but also a lot of differences. Something they all have in common is that they all took the situation rather calmly. One of them was even happy to be able to take a step back from the business of her everyday life. Some view the situation from a political point of view, and some contemplate the change in people’s spirits. One of them gave birth to a healthy child, while another lost her grandmother. I think many people from all over the world can relate to their experiences.

What has been the most interesting aspect of this project?

The conversations and sharing of experiences have been most enjoyable. It has been a bit challenging to transform the discussions into a consistent project and I also had to learn some technical things. The most difficult part is now completed, and most of the texts have been edited to fit the comic format. For the rest of the summer, I am going to draw a lot!

Read the Keep in Touch – Comic Journal here.

Text: Vera Mietola – Institut Finlandais    Photo: Reetta Somppi

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