June 6, 2024
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June 6, 2024
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No Laughing Matter: Cartoons About Miscarriage

Chari Pere creates cartooning that’s relatable art.

Chari Pere

Chari Pere has been drawing since she was a year old, and started formal art instruction by the time she was six. She attended the School of Visual Arts for four years, interned at MAD Magazine and graduated as valedictorian with a BFA in cartooning. As a freelancer, her numerous projects include: weekly Parsha comics for the Orthodox Union, co-creating an online comic with author Gretchen Rubin as a supplement to her No. 1 New York Times bestseller “The Happiness Project,” and storyboard artist for Comedy Central, Bud Light and Purina.

After five years in advertising, developing ads for big clients like Red Bull, FIFA and Disney, Pere arrived at her current position as a graphic designer/project manager for Tiny Windows Consulting. She is also a recipient of the prestigious Jewish Writers’ Initiative Digital Storytellers Lab Fellowship. Now she has embarked on her groundbreaking personal animated project, “Unspoken,” the Cartoonmentary series (a term she coined herself) that tackles challenges related to fertility, pregnancy and raising children.

Pere shared her perspective on what inspired her to choose cartooning as her life’s work. “I’ve spent my career using my ‘cartoon powers’ for good,” she said. “I’ve always tried to learn from the negative situations in life, to turn them into something positive to help others. My first freelance job in college was to create coloring books for children with diabetes. [See learning about diabetes.org.]

“I also worked with the organization ‘Bullies 2 Buddies’ to create a graphic novel that tackled bully prevention. [“Super-Dren the De-Victimizer”] Shortly after college, I was hired by author Gretchen Rubin to collaborate on a comic about finding her passion. But what really shaped my path was creating ‘The Unmasked Project for Social Change’ with Inbal Freund in 2009.”

Her first story told of one woman’s 10-year battle to attain a get from her abusive husband. Other stories featured topics about survival or the endeavor to do good. “So when I had my miscarriage 10 years ago, it seemed completely natural for me to share my traumatizing experience through the medium of comics and help others feel less alone,” Pere said. “My first comic, ‘Miscarried,’ was shared by actress Mayim Bialik in May 2017, and it helped expand the project to tell more stories that are now being developed into animated shorts.”

Taking note of the impact of her “Miscarried” comic after being shared by Bialik, Pere said she immediately began receiving messages from women and men from all over the world relating how much her work helped them feel seen. She has since developed two more comics in the series, “Michael’s Miscarriage,” focusing on a husband’s perspective during a miscarriage; and “The Diagnosis,” about a woman who learns that her baby has been diagnosed with Down’s syndrome.

“It’s been my dream for seven years to turn the comics into animated shorts, and thanks to the Digital Storytellers Lab fellowship I can now tell my story in a brand new medium. While some people prefer to absorb content by reading, others like to watch videos. By providing options for both, my project can help truly reach those who need the extra support in the best way that speaks to them.”

The first video in Pere’s “Unspoken” Cartoonmentary series was launched in time for Mother’s Day this year. She received numerous messages from women who had just suffered miscarriages, letting her know how much the video helped take the sting away.

“Knowing that my work helps both women and men feel like less of a failure is extremely rewarding,” said Pare, “and I hope to relate more stories about stillbirth, infertility, postpartum depression and other challenges that women face, and to continue to break the long-standing taboos. The more we talk about these topics, the less scary they become. By normalizing these discussions, we can at least validate, soften and take away some of the emotional pain of miscarriage. We can’t change the physical pain or the broken dreams that fade away/dissolve/evaporate with the potential of a new baby, but we can empower women and men to survive such traumas with strength and dignity.”

Pere also wants to reach out to the men, the fathers or “fathers who would be” who share pregnancy and childbirth loss with their wives.

“A couple of days after Mayim Bialik shared my first comic in 2017, I told my husband that I really should consider telling a story from a husband’s perspective, because as little as women talk about miscarriages, men don’t at all. An hour later, a fan of my comic emailed me and asked if I’ve considered creating a comic from a husband’s perspective, because her husband really struggled during their pregnancy loss.

“I ended up developing her husband’s story into ‘Michael’s Miscarriage,’ which is currently in production as the next ‘Unspoken’ animated short. We hope to release it around Father’s Day, as a way to open up the discussion for those who might be struggling during that time. A pregnancy loss impacts both spouses, but husbands believe they have to stay strong to help their wives who are going through the physical pains of a failed pregnancy. Through my project, I hope to give a voice to a hugely underrepresented group, who are also suffering but may not have ever had an outlet to express it.”

As a fellow of the Digital Storytellers Lab fellowship, Pere has benefitted from her relationship with Sarah Lefton, founder of BimBam. Lefton is the creative director of the fellowship and has provided tremendous creative guidance in bringing Pere’s project to life. Her mentor from the program, Rick Zieff, a voiceover actor, producer and director, has also been a guiding light. Her creative team includes her husband and award-winning voiceover actor Eli Schiff, who not only edits her comics and animated shorts, but is a co-producer and voiceover casting director on the project. Longtime college friend Vincent Scala is a creative consultant on the project. Pere also credits animator Ricardo Calero, who has worked with her in determining the correct style and illustrations needed for him to animate.

One of the most powerful aspects about the fellowship is the mutual access to 14 other fellows for opinions and guidance. “I’m truly grateful to be working with such a wonderful group of friends and mentors to help make the ‘Unspoken’ Cartoonmentary project become a reality,” said Pare. “I’m so excited to see where it goes, how many people it can help, and am thankful for all the positive feedback and support to give this project the momentum to grow and succeed.”

You can find Chari Pere’s cartooning and video shorts on Facebook and Instagram: @charipereart, and visit her website https://www.charipere.com/unspokencartoons

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