Author: Fujiwara Maki (translated with essay by Ryan Holmberg)
Publish Date: September 18, 2023
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
Catalog ID: ISBN: 978-1770466623
by Kevin Wolf
In the Afterword (1982) to My Picture Diary—covering most of 1981—Fujiwara Maki, the author, wrote, “The first half of this book is sunny, while the second half is dark—which seems a little wrong to me, though I know it reflects reality. ” Tsuge Yoshiharu, her husband and manga artist, suffers from “anxiety neurosis … it’s when worrying too much becomes pathological. … not only was I in no position to help my husband, I joined him on his downward descent into depression. ” She thought their son, Shōsuke might like My Picture Diary later. Takano Shinzō, a small-press publisher, saw the initially unillustrated diary; and wanted to publish it. For Fujiwara, adding illustrations to the diary made it less repetitious. She thanked Tsuge for allowing this diary to be published, though many might see embarrassing parts; and feels she only discussed his bad side and didn’t provide the good. The black and white illustrations provide more shading and nuance than the spare writing with almost no adjectives or adverbs—often a short paragraph or two. There’s a closing essay by the award-winning translator, Ryan Holmberg which I didn’t read because I didn’t want it to impact my review. I recommend this work for it’s often overlooked, honest portrayal of a manga ka’s spouse—an artist in her own right.
My Picture Diary is presented in a westernized format with dated diary entry on the left page and illustration on the right page with hand drawn borders. Most entries include a caption about the weather (e.g., Cloudy with some rain on January 4, The first nice day in a while on July 23). Each entry is pithy with direct language and usually one to four short paragraphs. There are 87 entries by April 28 and only four more entries—without explanation, but one can speculate that other more important events took over—to close out the year. Fujiwara maintains responsibility for almost all domestic activities, including caring for Shōsuke, washing the clothes, house cleaning, doing food shopping, most of the cooking, getting Shōsuke ready for kindergarten, and trying to squeeze in walks and biking for breaks. Activities with “Daddy,” as she calls Tsuge, are notable for their infrequency; such as periodic biking and walking outings, cooking his dumpling specialty and antique shopping. Tsuge primarily gets excited when there’s a camera found; because he collects them (see photo). He did enjoy one find of dental specimens (display of teeth in molds or real jaws) from a junk shop for 1,000¥.
From The Man without Talent (1998) by Yoshiharu Tsuge; New York Review Comic; translation and essay by Ryan Holmberg; 2019.
From mid-March through most of April the family became ill with fevers and colds. However, Tsuge’s illness became more serious with dizziness, falls, lots of time sleeping, trouble maintaining balance, trips to the hospital—finding nothing—and to psychiatric wards. These are all stated matter-of-factly without additional emotional content. Except at several points Fujiwara loses control and screams at Tsuge or Shōsuke with immediate regret. During one of those arguments, Tsuge hits her several times (March 24) which is the only physical altercation she documents between them; and on that date she didn’t give a weather report, perhaps because the storm was within their apartment and not without. On April 9 (rainy and stormy night), Fujiwara writes (page 146),
“Tomorrow is Shōsuke’s enrollment [into kindergarten] ceremony. There’s lots to prepare, but I haven’t done a thing. With so much on my plate these days, I already start to lose my cool by the time lunch rolls around.
“Today, for example, Shōsuke didn’t listen to some small thing I told him. I suddenly freaked out and threw the tin wastebasket. That surprised Shōsuke. He got really scared. I felt horrible … I’ve become such a witch!”
Accompanied with this illustration (147):
Mostly Fujiwara enjoys her son and tells the reader about how funny he is. Such as April 7 (no weather report) after he’s recovered from his fever and cold, Shōsuke sees his mom “While I was on the toilet, he handed me some toilet paper and said with a serious face, ‘Mommy, remember to wipe your wee-wee with this when you go pee-pee.’ I guess it was his day to do for me what I usually do for him.”
There are other medical events that are mentioned but not detailed. For example, Fujiwara survived uterine cancer—from 2.5 years previous—and thought getting cancer might be because the gods were upset with her for not keeping the bathroom clean. She did extra cleaning before going to the hospital for her standard cancer appointment. She prays to her dead father who died in WWII. On another occasion, “When [Shōsuke, age 4,] sleeps, he snores like an adult. We’ve been going to an ear, nose, and throat specialist since the end of last year; though Fujiwara doesn’t provide any treatments or resolution to Shōsuke’s snoring. On February 4 (clear), Shōsuke has a fever, cold and “tummy hurt all day. Mine did too ” And during dinner that night Fujiwara has another toothache; in such pain she cried and could only tolerate breadcrumbs.
Partial conversation between Shōsuke and Mom (February 17, Clear with occasional clouds, 76):
S: Before I was in your tummy … was I a pebble?
M: Something like that.
S: … Wait … how did my pebble get into your tummy?
M: Daddy gave it to me as a present.
S: Oh … but it must have walked from somewhere.
All the adults, Fujiwara, Tsuge and her mother-in-law smoke, but that’s only noticeable in the illustrations because it’s never mentioned in the diary text. Probably because it was common practice during that time.
Page 47, “stopped at café” Page 51, “Daddy’s three-tatami-wide castle”
I recommend reading this for an honest but brief example of domestic life portrayal in Japan in the early 1980s.