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To This Day: For the Bullied and the Beautiful

by Shane Koyczan

In 2013, B.C. poet, writer, and musician Shane Koyczan collaborated with 86 animators from around the globe to create a seven-minute video for “To This Day,” his spoken-word poem about surviving childhood bullying, which he posted to YouTube. Since its release, the video has surpassed 13.7 million views and launched the To This Day Project, which features a website, a TED talk, an iPad app, and now, a powerful and dynamic illustrated book.

The poem recounts the experiences of three people: Koyczan himself, who relates how, through a series of misunderstandings, he found himself saddled with the nickname “pork chop”; a beloved mom and wife who hasn’t been able to shake feelings of inadequacy since she was first called ugly in Grade 3; and a man who struggles to manage lifelong depression and emotional trauma after being orphaned and surviving a suicide attempt.

Throughout the poem, the titular phrase acts as a cri de coeur for the bullied and the bystanders – a reminder that bullying, so often brushed off as “kids being kids,” has lasting consequences. “To this day he is a stick of TNT lit from both ends”; “To this day kids are still being called names.”

Like the video, the book features artwork by multiple (in this case, 30) illustrators. The jumble of techniques, media, and styles (from Andrea Wan’s whimsical image of tiny, karate-chopping men to Rick Sealock’s nod to drug-fuelled raunch comix to Eric Diotte’s creepy painting of a crying, skeletal child) creates a sense of collective experience while reinforcing and exemplifying the poem’s call for action and healing through creative expression.

Though the print version lacks some of the urgency and potency of Koyczan’s spoken-word performance, To This Day is an intense and beautiful book. The feelings expressed are raw, the images are unflinching in their depictions of suffering, an unpleasant truth is made plain: for many, it doesn’t get better. Instead, life becomes a “balancing act that has less to do with pain and more to do with beauty.”