Tragicomic menstrual tales from Singapore in new comic book

Designer Nurulhuda Izyan Mohamad Hafiz launched a printed comic based on women's experiences with menstruation and menopause.
Designer Nurulhuda Izyan Mohamad Hafiz launched a printed comic based on women's experiences with menstruation and menopause.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - Six years ago, designer Nurulhuda Izyan Mohamad Hafiz started posting illustrations about menstruation on Instagram.

This month, the 32-year-old launched a printed comic based on women's experiences with menstruation and menopause.

A Drip. A Drop. A Deluge: A Period Tragicomedy is published by Singapore-based independent comics publisher Difference Engine. It features period facts as well as six vignettes covering experiences from the onset of menstruation (menarche) to its cessation (menopause).

The 40-page comic is based on true stories and sold in a bundle which costs $25 before GST. The bundle also contains 10 stickers based on illustrations in the comic, an A6-size limited-edition art print by Izyan and a hard enamel pin to promote period positivity.

To research stories for the comic, Izyan spoke to her mother and aunt, her friends and also the team at Difference Engine.

"The most surprising thing was discovering that other people's problems are different from mine," she says. "There are women who need a heat pack at work (to alleviate cramps). When you're older, other problems kick in. I've been bleeding for 20-plus years and I still don't have it all covered."

The comic was commissioned by the team at Difference Engine for its imprint, DE Shorts, which will showcase stories on a range of social issues. DE Shorts will publish two more comics next year - one on mental health and the other on loss of pregnancy.

Publisher Felicia Low-Jimenez, 43, says: "We hope to continue to explore topics that are lesser- known or talked about in hushed voices, and we want to do our best to showcase lived experiences."

She adds that the team searched for a while for a suitable writer and artist for the comic about periods before asking Izyan, whose pen name is Andeasyand.

A user-experience designer by day, Izyan began doodling and drawing comics in 2015 as a way to start a creative habit and use up old name-cards from a former marketing job.

"I would usually draw something significant that had happened to me that day and when you're going through PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome), that is very significant," she says, laughing.

PMS affects 75 per cent of women, according to HealthExchange.sg, a health and lifestyle resource portal run by SingHealth. Common symptoms include fluid retention, abdominal discomfort and bloating, appetite disturbance, muscle aches, joint pain, headaches, nausea, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, cravings for certain foods and mood swings.

PMS may occur from two weeks before the start of a period to a day before the period, and symptoms usually improve when the period begins.

Izyan says: "I uploaded those drawings to Instagram and since I had menstruation-related drawings every month, it became my period tracker."

The idea of creating a comic around periods excited her. She wants people to speak openly about menstruation and the issues around it. "Periods are talked about from a biological perspective, but not about how periods affect everything else," she says. "Periods affect your hormones and choices. It may affect your self- esteem. As a society, we're still afraid to talk about this."


The 40-page comic is based on true stories and sold in a bundle which costs $25 before GST. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Even advertisements marketing sanitary products for menstruation rarely show period blood on screen.

Izyan and the publisher deliberately printed the comic in blue and red. "We don't want to skirt around the issue. Blood is red, why change that?" the author says.

The stories in the book range from funny - "mian bao" or "packed noodles" was a coy idiom for sanitary napkins used by some of Izyan's friends - to thought-provoking - a map shows how those on their period navigate Singapore based on accessibility to toilets.

A vignette in the comic centres on a woman who increased her exercise regimen to become lean and consequently lost her period for months. This condition, sometimes called athletic amenorrhea, is common among elite female athletes and can lead to irreversible bone loss and osteoporosis, increased musco-skeletal injuries, as well as psychological distress.

When the topic of periods is glossed over, the demands that periods place on those who menstruate are often not considered, Izyan says.

"The problem with not talking about periods is not realising the issues around it, like period poverty and women not being able to afford pads. We have conversations about food security, but not about people who bleed. When you're paying bills and school loans, pads are a significant amount of money."

- Purchase the Deluge Bundle online for $25 (before GST) at this website. The comic is not sold separately.