Think of comic book heroines and you’d be forgiven for thinking first of characters like Wonder Woman, Black Widow and Catwoman. These cartoon superwomen are badass, but they’re also the stuff of stereotypical male fantasies, drawn in skin-tight costumes and hyper-sexualised poses. (If you don’t believe us on the poses, check out the Hawkeye Initiative, who draw male characters in ‘superheroine’ poses to show just how ridiculous it looks.)
But a brand new comic book has a very different star at its heart. Priya’s Mirror tells the story of Priya, the world’s first female Indian superhero and rape survivor, who joins forces with a group of acid attack survivors to fight against gender-based violence.
Inspired by ancient mythological tales, Priya’s Mirror is the second book in the Priya’s Shakti comic series, and tells the stories of acid attack survivors from Delhi, New York City and Bogota.
The book, which can be downloaded from iTunes, for Android and via the project’s website, uses augmented reality technology to meld animation, videos and real-life stories into a groundbreaking interactive comic.
In it, Priya – a mortal woman who survived a brutal gang-rape and assumed the powers of Parvati, the Hindu goddess of fertility, love and devotion – teams up with acid attack survivors, in order to fight against a tyrannical demon-king.
Thousands of women across Asia, South America and Africa are scarred for life in acid attacks every year.
The perpetrators are almost always men seeking revenge, the BBC reports – often because they feel they have been romantically rejected.
Ram Devineni, one of the comic’s co-creators, says that Priya’s Mirror is aimed at teenage boys. “It’s a perfect way to educate them on issues of gender violence, to tell them how devastating this liquid weapon is,” he tells the BBC.
Fashion designer Monica Singh is just one of the real women whose story of surviving an acid attack has been woven into Priya’s Mirror. Singh, who is also a Women’s Global Youth Champion for the UN, was one of several Indian women to walk at New York Fashion Week this autumn.
“As one of the characters in Priya’s Mirror and through my own endeavours, I hope to inspire other women who have gone through similar violent attacks to find courage and confidence,” she says.
Natalia Ponce de Leon’s story also features in the comic. In 2014, the activist had a litre of pure sulfuric acid thrown over her face and body by a man she had never spoken to in the lobby of her mother’s apartment building in Bogota, Colombia.
“Priya’s Mirror not only portrays the courage and beauty of us acid attack survivors, but it also serves as a highly creative tool to educate younger generations about gender equality,” she says.
The first comic in the Priya’s Shakti series was launched in 2014 as a response to the gang rape and torture on a Delhi bus of 23-year-old Jyoti Singh, who later died as a result of her injuries. It has had over 500,000 downloads around the world to date, and was honoured by UN Women as a “gender equality champion”.
Paromita Vohra, who co-created Priya’s Mirror with Devineni and artist Dan Goldman, says that the comic aims to challenge attitudes towards acid attack survivors, as well as patriarchal beliefs.
“The language of crime is always the same,” she tells the BBC. “You read about the victim and the perpetrator, but we need to think of these people are more than victims, their indomitable characters, their courage, their beauty and struggle to remake their lives.”
The men who commit acid attacks are also hurt by the sexist attitudes they espouse, Vohra adds.
“When a woman spurns a man, his ego is hurt and when that ego is put through the acid of patriarchal thinking, it corrodes society. So he's a villain, but he's a victim too,” she says. “And we have to start looking at villains and victims differently if we want to be able to change the patriarchal mindsets."