The trauma of an abusive partner manifests as a wolf in That's Him, a picture book by Junyu Lin which explores the mental fallout of domestic violence.
That's Him closes on a sobering note. As its tale of domestic violence and vengeance comes to an end, author and illustrator Junyu Lin reminds the reader that at least one in three women has been coerced into sex or otherwise beaten in her lifetime. The fallout from this is mental and physical, an angle which often goes overlooked.
In her picture book, New York-based Fashion Institute of Technology graduate Junyu details the resulting trauma caused by abusive relationships and how they can push victims to extremes too. "I want people to be aware that it is common and normal for a victim to hide their wounds, to escape from reality," she tells Creative Boom.
She adds: "People should support and encourage those who suffer by standing up and helping them. A victimised woman might make mistakes and become a criminal as well, but that doesn't change the fact that she needs help and support."
Depicting a day in the life of a woman in an abusive relationship, That's Him follows its main character as she pretends everything is okay while trying to maintain a normal life. However, a trip into town and a shift in the office are all haunted by the trauma caused by her husband, who hovers over her day in the form of a hallucinated wolf.
This illusion is a striking and original way of expressing a sensitive topic. Junyu believes a good story should be a "combination of reality and imagination", and That's Him is no exception. Realising her pain in this way makes the woman's fear and anger immediate and relatable. So when the wife returns home at the end of the day and kills her husband in retaliation, her actions are understandable to the reader.
Underlining the urgency of her situation is the title of the book itself. That's Him appears as a caption on almost every page in the form of the woman's inner monologue as she sees visions and reminders of her husband.
"By repeating this single sentence, again and again, I want to show the changing mood of the character: from anxious and scared to resigned and tired. Finally, it ends up in rage and blood," Junyu explains.
"The whole book tells the story from the woman's point of view, and only on the last page, after she killed her husband, does the 'camera' turn to the woman herself. This time, she is not thinking, "That's him." but "And this is me." And readers will realise that to fight for her life, the woman has also turned into a monster."
To visualise her character's descent into a monstrous transformation, Junyu turned to supernatural elements and symbols. "The husband appears mostly as the shape of a wolf-like monster in the story. When the woman decided to kill her husband, her hair curls turned into snakes – a metaphor for Medusa, who is now more often seen as a symbol of feminism and women's independence."
Beautifully realised and carefully handled, That's Him is the latest in Junyu's attempts to create stories about domestic violence. "I grew up witnessing many domestic violence cases in daily life," she reveals. "Especially in my home country of China, there was news almost every day about women being harassed, abused, kidnapped, and even murdered.
"It's a huge societal issue that can't be ignored. And as an artist, I feel obliged to put my effort into this. I wish I could get more and more people to pay attention to this topic."
With that noble aim in mind, Junyu has also turned That's Him into an animation where the panels and plot of the book gradually reveal themselves. Check it out below.