Becoming Unbecoming

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Selected   —Best Memoirs – OPRAH.COM2016

Selected   —New York Times: Season’s Best Graphic Novels2016

Shortlisted   —British Book Design and Production Awards2016

Selected   —Elle: Favourite Graphic Novel2015

Selected   —Tech Times: Best Comics of 20152015

Selected   —BBC Radio 4 Open Book favourite graphic novels2015

Selected   —Paul Gravett: Top Ten Comics2015

Selected   —Forbidden Planet: Books of the Year2015

Shortlisted   —Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize2015

Selected   —Herald Scotland: Books of the Year2015

Shortlisted   —Broken Frontier Awards: Best Graphic Novel2015

A devastating personal account of gender violence told in graphic-novel form, set against the backdrop of the 1970s Yorkshire Ripper man-hunt.

It’s 1977 and Una is twelve. A serial murderer is at large in West Yorkshire and the police are struggling to solve the case – despite spending more than two million man-hours hunting the killer and interviewing the man himself no less than nine times.

As this national news story unfolds around her, Una finds herself on the receiving end of a series of violent acts for which she feels she is to blame.

Through image and text Becoming Unbecoming explores what it means to grow up in a culture where male violence goes unpunished and unquestioned. With the benefit of hindsight Una explores her experience, wonders if anything has really changed and challenges a global culture that demands that the victims of violence pay its cost.

Sarah Hildebrand, Public Books

17 May 2017
2016 should’ve been a great year for me. In my second year living in New York, I was finally feeling settled in my apartment, social network, and PhD program. By summer, I felt confident in the path of my research and had regained my sense of adventure. I took a part-business, part-pleasure trip to Scotland, presenting at a conference that resulted in negligible damage to my self-esteem—a rarity in academia. Then I spent five days backpacking the Highlands, wild-camping in sheep fields and remembering what it’s like to be alone without being lonely. By the end of the trip, I knew I could thrive at the border of my physical and mental limits. I was ready to get home and get to work. But whatever reserves of joy I built abroad would soon be depleted. Two weeks after my return to the States, I was raped and would spend the remaining months of 2016 wracked and wrecked by guilt and PTSD. I still can’t tell the story. How do you describe something you’re trying so hard to un-imagine? And because I can’t talk about it, I am always carrying its weight inside me. My timeline split in half the moment my body tore open—the crack a chasm between past and present, between the outside world and me. When I first read Becoming Unbecoming, a graphic memoir by a woman under the pseudonym of Una, I was hooked by the very first image. A girl carries a sack-like empty speech bubble up the side of a dark mountain, her torso bending beneath its burden. We cannot see her face, but her hunched position and the downward tilt of her head let us know she suffers under the weight of what’s unsaid. This is an image repeated throughout the narrative, which blends the author’s own experiences of sexual assault with the case of the Yorkshire Ripper, breaking down rape culture in a way that is both personal and political. As a literature student, I’d wanted words to fix me. But it was images that pieced me back together. For months I’d been stumbling under the weight of my own silence. Sometimes it buried me. An alternating lack or intensity of emotion isolated me from everything but my own trauma. Becoming Unbecoming offered me a model to live by, a way to feel less alone without speaking and without turning rape into spectacle. Una’s images of dark forests and of her own body—lying supine, sometimes literally rooted to the earth—captured my own feelings of being both trapped and vulnerable. Throughout the narrative, she breaks down rape culture, the way trauma can wound the body and mind, and the danger of idealizing the “strong survivor.” Although written within the cultural context of the United Kingdom, this last bit appears equally dangerous in the context of the United States, where Americans are expected to bootstrap their way to the top regardless of circumstance. The term “resiliency” has become ubiquitous; but what about those who need help bouncing back? What about those who cannot? When everyone is expected to be resilient, trauma survivors who aren’t become viewed as the cause of their own unhappiness. But any trauma is an interruption in one’s life, and that rupture remains, even if patched over by therapy, medication, or sheer willpower. In Becoming Unbecoming, Una describes the difficulty of telling her own story; how it often amounts to isolating one’s self further, as even the closest of friends and family become uncomfortable around the subject and unsure of how to respond. Struggling to find the “right” emotion that will make her acceptable to others, she draws herself with her head down, hugging her knees—much as I found myself just hours after my own assault—head down, hugging my knees in my apartment, back against the sliver of wall between the radiator and the open deck door. I remember this scene as if I were standing outside myself, bearing witness from across the room. Becoming Unbecoming bore witness to me. Una’s discretion in regards to her own experiences—and even her identity—made me realize that my story is not for someone else’s entertainment, and that even in silence I can find solidarity. She dedicates her book “to all the others.” It’s the first book I ever read that was dedicated to me.
Yet, this is not to say the memoir is without hope. Una’s facsimile never collapses under the weight of silence, but continues to carry it with her and remain mindful of others who have also lost their voices. So maybe, if I wander long enough within my own landscape, I can make a map. Maybe I will pass another traveler.
The roots of Redwood trees interlock with those around them. With the strength of their combined root system, they grow to dwarf the rest of the forest. If the survivors of sexual assault could connect, maybe we could also find a way to thrive. To provide shelter for each other, or perhaps to cast a shadow so long and dark it could no longer be ignored.
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The Best Memoirs of 2016 – OPRAH.COM

9 December 2016
No words appear on the opening page of this graphic memoir. Instead, we see the silhouette of a woman climbing a hill that echoes the curve of the earth, toward a single tree at the top. Slung over the woman's shoulder is the outline of an object that could be an oversize duffle—suggestive of heavy emotional baggage. But here's the thing: That oval could also be a thought balloon waiting to be filled. On the following page, the first line of dialogue is written on a cloud: ‘I am Una.’ That simple declaration begins a searing indictment of sexual violence. Growing up in northern England in the '70s, Una saw the police spend years bungling the investigation of a serial killer who preyed mostly on prostitutes. Meanwhile, young Una learned to avert her gaze. ‘Girls had to be sexy, but not too sexy. ... They had to be careful not to let their breasts and thighs alarm people. ... Slut was the worst thing a girl could be.’ As a preteen, she suffered not only sexual abuse but also blistering shame, which made her believe she was damaged. But Una survived, and her book is a roar on behalf of women all over the world. Weaving her story together with headlines about the killer, crime statistics, images of disembodied paper doll clothes and stunningly beautiful drawings of nature, she fills our own thought balloons with more than words can express.
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New York Times: The Season’s Best New Graphic Novels

2 December 2016

BECOMING UNBECOMING, by a cartoonist who identifies herself only as Una, begins by circling around traumatic childhood moments and a menacing time and place: the mid-1970s in Northern England, when Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper, was murdering women, and the author was repeatedly sexually assaulted beginning when she was 10 years old. But Una’s personal experience is less the center of this story than the springboard for an extended examination of what she calls “the four horsemen of gender violence — shame, isolation, disbelief, ridicule.” Sexist assumptions about “loose morals,” she notes, led police to ignore evidence that might have stopped Sutcliffe sooner. In one bravura sequence, she renders 72 police portraits of West Yorkshire women’s attackers from that era in her own hand. In aggregate, they’re unmistakably depictions of Sutcliffe: “just another violent male, staring them in the face.”

Una’s artwork (mostly black and white, with occasional jolts of flat color) rarely bothers with literal representation for more than a few panels at a time. Instead, she underscores her arguments with symbolic imagery: paper dolls, delicate sketches of imaginary insect-women, distorted and half-concealed contours of rapists’ faces. The book concludes with a heartbreaking series of portraits of Sutcliffe’s victims as they might look today if they had survived — all of them more naturalistic than Una’s self-portraits as a blank female form in a plain white frock. “I’m glad to be alive,” she writes, “but I wonder who I would have been, had I not been interrupted so rudely?”

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Broken Frontier

23 November 2015
This is sequential art that is inventive and dexterous in construction and intent… There’s a representational quality to the art and figure work here that strips characters and situations back to their emotional core, allowing readers to connect to and react with them on an intimate level... But the true visual triumph of Becoming Unbecoming is in the metaphorical artistic devices that Una utilises… One of those old standbys of the reviewer’s lexicon is the statement that work will stay with you long after you put it down. But in the case of Becoming Unbecoming’s final section that can be said without even the tiniest hint of hyperbolic posturing; a pensive coda that has an emotional impact no reader will quickly forget… Delicate in construction yet uncompromising in message, Becoming Unbecoming is an astonishing testament to the potency of visual metaphor.
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Broken Frontier: Comic of the Week

30 September 2015
Combining autobiography and social commentary, Una’s Becoming Unbecoming is the latest graphic novel release from Myriad Editions, the Brighton-based publisher whose ever thought-provoking and challenging output continues to underline the unique possibilities of comics as a narrative form. Make no mistake, this is one of the most important comics works of 2015.
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Emerald Street

29 September 2015
Becoming Unbecoming is honest, matter-of-fact and absolutely gut-wrenching… [and] shows what patriarchal violence does, on a nationwide and on a personal level… But this graphic novel also shows what happens when women refuse to be silent. When our voices are heard. When we start to shout back. Read this. Get angry. Start shouting.

Julie Bindel

5 June 2015
This is a beautiful, haunting, take on Peter Sutcliffe's reign of terror, and the women and communities he destroyed. The bare fact is, as Una beautifully explores, that females are living under a reign of patriarchal power that requires us to take the rough with the rough. Except we don't. Una illustrates – through prose and graphics – how this fightback is taking place. Consume this book, and be prepared to join the revolution.