Moms by Yeong-shin Ma, published by Drawn and Quarterly, presents a very real perspective of middle-aged women often not seen. The title alone gives the normative view of how they are seen as pink-collar workers and servants of the next generation with lives seemingly on pause to those around them, often their own grown children. However, as Moms shows, these ladies experience excitement, dreams, and struggles that too often are overlooked.
Moms came about as a graphic novel by a sort of experiment by Ma, as discussed in his afterword. Being on his own with all the menial work of keeping a home gave him a new outlook on his mother’s dedication.
Wanting to learn what else he was missing in his understanding about her, he presented her a notebook to write the honest, gory details all about her life that would otherwise go unmentioned. From her pages, and pages of dramatic interactions with friends, ,enemies, competitors, and lovers, Ma molded a story to showcase the drama of women of a certain age.
The central story focuses on Soyeon, a divorcee who works as a cleaner and lives in an apartment with her youngest son. It begins with an abrupt in medias res of her receiving a late-night text and then meeting another woman in the street for an all-out brawl. Much of the early part of the graphic novel then traces her story, showing her choices when she was young and how those could go awry through no fault of her own.
As the story flashes forward again to her fistfight, she thinks, “I wouldn’t be doing this now if I’d gotten my act together in my twenties… But if I straightened up now, would my luck turn around?” Throughout Moms, this idea of looking back or forward to another era of a lifetime shows that we are all living in moments we foolishly try to escape or blame.
Moms often takes asides from Soyeon’s story to peek into the lives of others, usually her friends. Snippets from before, such as commenting on one friend who always makes such glamorous posts on social media, are shown with greater depth, framing those posts as cries for attention and happiness in a life of struggle. Those who are seemingly well off may have finances but lack in love through empty relationships.
One poignant storyline comes from one of Soyeon’s coworker, who rebuffs the advances of a manager from the building they clean and faces retaliations at work. She fights back, ultimately winning her battle and moving to a new position.
Ma’s art in Moms helps bring the realism to life. The crisp line-work and bold inks in a broad range of grayscale combine with rich texturing to create a world that is not at all cartoony yet full of emotions. It highlights the original point of the graphic novel, taking a world that is so recognizable and exploring it to find the life within.