Wash Day Diaries

by Jamila Rowser

Wash Day Diaries by Jamila Rowser and Robyn Smith is a low-key but enrapturing graphic novel about Nisha, Davene, Kim, and Cookie, a group of Black women with deep and caring friendships. Each story lovingly depicts their hair care rituals while also revealing the soulful mundanity of the processes they engage in to care for themselves and others. Wash Day Diaries is as much about the relationship between the beauty rituals of these women and the performance of self care as it is approximately the beauty of friendship between Black women.

Unconditional love is foregrounded in Wash Day Diaries. The interactions between Nisha, Davene, Kim, and Cookie aren’t used as opportunities to lob passive aggressive nonsense at each other, but rather are consistently genuine attempts to supply love and support. Depicting the friendships as a bulwark against the messiness of the external world keeps the temper of Wash Day Diaries low key. Whatever is thrown their way—stalkers, a love triangle, a complicated relationship with a grandmother, or struggles with depression—it’s clear that these women have a strong and loving network that will see them through whatever they might face.

2 page layout of a Black woman with glorious hair, combing out her hair, separating it into sections, and then twisting her hair.

There are five chapters contained within Wash Day Diaries. The first four follow each of the four friends. Kim’s story shows what a wash day looks like for her—she does her hair, stops by her neighborhood bodega, hangs out with her roomie Cookie, and ignores some harassing texts from a fuckboi. Nisha’s story is set in a salon, where she regales her friends via text approximately her new love triangle while she gets her hair braided. Davene’s story is set in her apartment and shows her struggling to take care of herself and her hair as manifestation of depressive symptoms. Cookie’s story is about her visiting a grandmother that she has not seen in a long time because her grandmother once said that Cookie was not her granddaughter. Despite the merciless things her grandmother said in the past, Cookie still prioritizes caring for her grandmother by washing and setting her hair as they attempt to reconcile. The ultimate story is essentially a celebration of friendship and an unapologetic rendition of joy with the four friends hanging out and going to see Kim perform at a club.

The best graphic novels have illustrations as strong as their text and Wash Day Diaries is no exception. The depictions of hair care rituals were especially hypnotic and drew a lucid line from the meditative quality of self care rituals to the meditative nature of the illustrations. I loved how each character had their own color palette that followed them through all the chapters. With a lucid visual vocabulary for each character set, there was an engaging interaction between and within panels by keeping to that character-based color palette. Basically, yay so pretty!

Three friends stand at a bar and order drinks before one of the friends is joined by her new boo

My only point of caution is Davene’s story. Davene struggles with depression and mentions to Cookie that she asked a doctor to prescribe her some medication to help her manage her symptoms. Cookie cautions her against taking any medications, but rather offers her a crystal. There’s so much to be said about the DSM-V, the diagnosis of mental health symptoms, race, the medical field, and the African-American community’s relationship with all of those things, but suffice it to say I was a little disappointed that Davene was not necessarily given the support she needed within her story. At the very least, no one should judge her for seeking medical interventions for her depressive symptoms. It’s not clear provided Davene ends up taking the meds despite Cookie’s statements, but that uncertainty (and also how much Cookie’s opinions track with real people’s opinions about crystals and medication) was really the only occasion that pulled me from the magic of Wash Day Diaries.

Wash Day Diaries is a wonderful read if you are forever thirsting for stories approximately Black women or looking for a reminder that self-care doesn’t have more than spending some time with yourself and people that you love.

Maya

From writer Jamila Rowser and artist Robyn Smith comes a captivating graphic novel love letter to the beauty and endurance of Black women, their friendships, and their hair.

Wash Day Diaries tells the story of four best friends—Kim, Tanisha, Davene, and Cookie—through five connected short story comics that follow these young women through the ups and downs of their daily lives in the Bronx.

The book takes its title from the wash day experience shared by Black women everywhere of setting aside all plans and responsibilities for a full day of washing, conditioning, and nourishing their hair. Each short story uses hair routines as a window into these four characters’ everyday lives and how they care for each other.

Jamila Rowser and Robyn Smith originally kickstarted their critically acclaimed, award-winning slice of life mini comic, Wash Day, inspired by Rowser’s own wash day ritual and their shared desire to see more comics featuring the daily lived experiences of young Black women. Wash Day Diaries includes an updated, full color version of this original comic—which follows Kim, a 26-year-old woman living in the Bronx—as the book’s first chapter and expands into a graphic novel with short stories about these vibrant and relatable new characters.

In expanding the story of Kim and her friends, the authors pay tribute to Black sisterhood through portraits of shared, yet deeply personal experiences of Black hair care. From self-care to spilling the tea at an hours-long salon appointment to healing family rifts, the stories are brought to life through beautifully drawn characters and different color palettes reflecting the temper in each story.

At times touching, quiet, triumphant, and laugh out loud funny, the stories of Wash Day Diaries pay a loving tribute to Black delight and the resilience of Black women.

Graphic Novel, LGBTQIA
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