Thursday , May 23 2024
Talk To My Back

Comic Review: ‘Talk to My Back’ by Yamada Murasaki from Drawn+Quarterly

Talk to My Back by Yamada Murasaki and translated by Ryan Holmberg, published by Drawn and Quarterly, is a collection of short comics from one of alt-manga’s most important female artists. Along with Kuniko Tsurita and other artists, Yamada served as a pioneer to help break the gender barrier among manga creators. Mainstream manga at the time focused on darker themes with adventurers, but the alt-manga magazine Garo gave a platform to new voices. While Tsurita’s work moved into the speculative, Yamada’s tales are genuine slices of life. As Ryan Holmberg discusses in the attached essay with a biography of Yamada, much of her work draws straight from her own life raising two daughters while in a hostile relationship in middle class Japan.

Talk To My Back

The stories in Talk to My Back tell the life and times of Chiharu. On the surface, she has it all: a lovely home, two wonderful daughters, and a hardworking husband providing for the family. It is the dream of the middle class, something Yamada saw very suddenly from her own life being raised largely by her grandmother and spending her childhood in poverty. However, the truth of this life is much deeper and full of struggle.

Her home threatens to be her only world to the point she has to make mental adjustments when going out to ride the train by herself. She loves her daughters but at the same time resents how much of her life they require from her. Even worse, as they grow, they need her less and less, creating a lonely void.

Her husband is frequently away from home, claiming to be always at work even though matchboxes from love clubs come home. When he is home, he treats her as a servant, even calling her in from the other room to change the channel for him instead of getting out of bed.

Chiharu’s voice carries the stories of her days in Talk to My Back. During misadventures such as the girls finding a stray dog and suggesting they keep it or Chiharu looking for part-time work when they are old enough to go to school, she reflects on her experience. When the younger girl cannot locate her school notebook yet again, she pictures herself as a monster yelling to keep things clean and so decides not to tell but also not to find it for her.

She apologizes to a neighbor after a spat between their kids escalated to a fight between mothers, commenting, “I thought I’d be done growing up once I became an adult. But I guess it’s time to grow again.” She describes her husband with, “In front of me sits a man who can only see his wife’s health in relation to his own convenience.” And she thinks about modern conveniences minimizing hard labor, which for many women replaces the toil not with happiness but with ennui.

Paired with Yamada’s lifelike stories in Talk to My Back is her hauntingly genuine art, which Holmberg describes as “limpid, minimalist artwork with elegantly flowing lines.” Many of her panels focus on facial expressions and body language, painting a realistic picture of her emotive characters. Fantasy is layered onto reality to highlight her thoughts, displaying the anxieties for a wife as a boulder strapped to her back, weighing her down until she learns to use it as a weapon and crush the causes of those anxieties with their own weakness.

About Jeff Provine

Jeff Provine is a Composition professor, novelist, cartoonist, and traveler of three continents. His latest book is a collection of local ghost legends, Campus Ghosts of Norman, Oklahoma.

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