Talk to My Back by Yamada Murasaki

Talk to My Back collects a bunch of short comics drawn by Yamada Murasaki from 1981 to 1984 that were originally published in the Japanese alternative comics magazine, Garo. These are an unusually domestic set of mostly minimalistic pieces, centered on a young mother’s perspective as she tries to find her way, raising two daughters with a seemingly not very involved husband. The stories often focus on a very small, very normal incident, and often end right when you think things are going to get interesting. In that sense, I would say, most of the stories collected here have a vague and poetic feeling, more than a concrete arc… though a couple stories are a little more direct, and almost didactic. The kids slowly get older, the main character thinks about getting a job outside the home, the husband drifts further away, she takes a job for a couple of years, while still managing the household, her kid’s mini-problems, loses her job, decides to stay home, decides to start her own business.

Overall, I found the stories collected in the book to make for a refreshing and enjoyable read. I can’t imagine there were many comics being published in the 1980s that examined the homeworker’s complicated perspective so deeply. Even today, it’s not a very explored topic, is it?

At times, the art in these comics is great, but at other times, I found it a little too sketchy / minimal to grab me – the art occasionally seems to have the slightness of a rushed phone doodle sketch. I mostly found the uneven quality to the art fairly easy to overlook, due to the uniqueness of the subject matter, and simply pleasure of reading most of the short stories. The translation seemed to flow a lot better than your typical Ryan Holmberg translation. Holmberg also has another longish essay in the back of the book, I assume to provide some background material on the stories and on Yamada Murasaki, but I’m ashamed to admit, I never can make it past the first couple paragraphs of any of his essays before I start to fall asleep.

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