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EXCLUSIVE PREVIEW: Beloved Graphic Novel on the Multiracial Experience Gets Expanded Edition

"Turning Japanese: Expanded Edition" by Marinaomi.

Whether you’re a casual comics fan or some very entrenched in the professional world of comic artists/writers, you might recognize the name MariNaomi. They went viral in 2013 for going public about being sexually harassed onstage at comic conventions. Later, Scott Lobdell came forward with admission and eventually apologized.

I first learned about MariNaomi when coming across their various databases for marginalized comic creators in college, and now I’ve had the pleasure of reading a special edition of their intimate 2016 graphic novel memoir, Turning Japanese, ahead of its “expanded edition” publication today.

The year is 1995. Fresh out of a long-term relationship, twenty-two-year old MariNaomi finds themself in San Jose, California. Mari, a mixed-race Japanese American, has for many years felt disconnected from the culture of their mother. Immersed in the pan-Asian diaspora of San Jose, Mari searches for cultural and romantic connections. It doesn’t take long for Mari to find new loves, and a new job—at a hostess bar for Japanese expats—in a bid to learn the Japanese language and culture. Turning Japanese moves as Mari does, from San Jose to Tokyo, as they try to get by in an unfamiliar city with rudimentary language skills—all in the hopes of finally connecting with their Japanese relatives without the use of their mother as a translator.

In 2016, graphic artist and cartoonist MariNaomi’s story documented on their active journey to explore the Japanese part of their life and cultural heritage. Now, in 2023, this expanded edition includes more story with an altered ending reflective of the time passed after the first novel and the positive response from readers.

Exclusive: Turning Japanese: Expanded Edition

"Turning Japanese: Expanded Edition" by Marinaomi.
(Oni Press)

I feel like I never shut up about how much I love graphic novel memoirs as a medium for storytelling. Some of the most touching, to me, have been the stories that explore the identities of other multi-ethnic people, like myself.

From Wash Day Diaries (which is more of a slice-of-life than memoir) to I Was Their American Dream, I feel especially drawn to people whose background is similar to mine in a way that they are mixed, but whose blended backgrounds or childhood upbringing was very different. Despite these differences and specificities to their identities—like in the case of MariNaomi’s Southern Californian mixed Asian identity—I find emerging patterns of how we experience the world as women and non-binary people of color.

In the story, MariNaomi dives into the world of hostessing at Japanese bars a handful of times. This part of the story is where MariNaomi is very familiar with the world after traveling to Japan and working at a bar for an extended period of time. Here, they are diving back in armed with some knowledge, but still not satisfied with their experience with learning Japanese or how things were left last time they were a hostess.

"Turning Japanese: Expanded Edition" by Marinaomi page 132.
"Turning Japanese: Expanded Edition" by Marinaomi page 133.
"Turning Japanese: Expanded Edition" by Marinaomi page 134.
"Turning Japanese: Expanded Edition" by Marinaomi page 135.
"Turning Japanese: Expanded Edition" by Marinaomi page 136.
"Turning Japanese: Expanded Edition" by Marinaomi page 137.
"Turning Japanese: Expanded Edition" by Marinaomi page 138.
"Turning Japanese: Expanded Edition" by Marinaomi page 139.

Turning Japanese: Expanded Edition releases today, June 6. Pick this graphic novel up on Bookshop, at your local bookstore, or at your local comic book store to read this updated version to their story.

CORRECTION: 6/7/2023 This story was updated to reflect MariNaomi’s gender identity accurately.

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(featured image: Oni Press)

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(she/her) Award-winning artist and blogger with professional experience and education in graphic design, art history, and museum studies. Starting as an Online Editor for her college paper in October 2017, Alyssa began writing for the first time within two months of working in the newsroom. This resident of the yeeHaw land spends most of her time drawing, reading and playing the same handful of video games—even as the playtime on Steam reaches the quadruple digits. Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3. Still trying to beat Saxon Farm on RCT 3 (so I can 100% the game.)