As Mariko and Jillian Tamaki toured North America with their new graphic novel, This One Summer, they found that there were a few questions that came up from fans and interviewers again and again. Maybe you have some of these questions too.
What is the process of creating your books? How is the work divided?
Mariko Tamaki: Comics have this kind of unique way of unfolding that’s very different from prose. With comics, your focus is on script and narration. My goal, for my side of things, is to keep things very loose, knowing that the majority of what’s happening on the page, what the reader will see, is illustration. It’s a funny way to piece together a story, with these bits and pieces. I try to imagine it as this thing that’s happening, like I’m a fly on the wall watching these conversations unfold. The narrator is sort of a version of me, watching the story unfold as “I” the character is inside it. I like the idea that it’s a limited perspective, and my goal with is always to play with that. With what characters know and don’t know at any given moment. Once that’s done, I hand what is essentially a theater script (narration, dialogue, basic setting for scenes) over to Jillian, and it’s her job to interpret and fill out the whole thing. Which is, I know, a ton of work. A. Ton. So I try to be as helpful as possible. And I wait for what is inevitable, which is change. Because once you add visuals, the whole thing is naturally going to start moving around. It’s funny because the conversations we had after I’d handed over the script were so great. It’s like you’re talking about this fictional family that’s kind of YOUR family and you’re like, “What’s up with Alice?” In a way I felt like, “How can we help Alice?” was one of the conversations we kept having, which I think lends hugely the to the final story.
Jillian Tamaki: People are often very fascinated by the collaborative aspect of our books and often remark that it seems like the books are made by one person. This is a huge compliment. I try to always honour the spirit of Mariko’s work (or anyone’s work, really), while also taking some ownership of the characters and story for myself.
What is the starting point for you when you create a character?
MT: I try to think of something they would say all the time. I feel like if I can get a kind of verbal hook on someone, I can figure them out.
JT: I think of a character I can draw from multiple angles. Very pragmatic.
Why did you choose blue ink for This One Summer?
JT: First and foremost, I thought it would look cool. It is a slight reference to vintage manga and risograph, visually. But I think it also has an undefinable melancholy and nostalgia that adds a meaningful layer to the artwork.
Is the story autobiographical? What did you draw from your own life to create the story?
MT: After Skim came out, there were a lot of people who inferred that because there were many similarities between myself and the main character that the story was not fictional. Which, by the way, it IS (fiction). After that I really tried to push myself to go outside of what was immediately ME when writing TOS. That said, I mean, your memories of being a kid are an invaluable resource. You need memory to write. But it’s also about what you’re observing in your current life. A lot of the kid stuff in TOS is from the kids I met later in life, who I find fascinating. KIDDING! (Not kidding.)
What is the most challenging part of making a comic?
MT: I think editing is a bit of a strange process for making comics. It’s really this thing that you have to have a massive amount of trust from your publisher, that they would see what is essentially a skeleton and trust you to go off and make a whole person.
JT: Aside from the same old issues anyone would have making a book? The labour. The tedium. It is not a particularly lucrative endeavour if you break it down dollars per hour. A challenge of being a cartoonist is often one of economics.
What was your reaction to This One Summer being named a Caldecott Honor Book?
MT: Being an artist is a largely thankless task that, at the same time, is fuelled by the reactions of readers, viewers, and so on. So of course it’s good to know that some readers of note (librarians) liked your work enough to give it an honor. It means, to some respect, that you’re on the right path or at least you’re doing something right. I think the trick is not to be persuaded by that to either only do the things you’re getting recognition for or to do the things you think will get recognition. So it’s awesome but it’s not something I want to lean on or wear on my lapel every day.
JT: I agree!
Did you write This One Summer with any audience in mind?
MT: I knew that TOS was being published by a YA publisher. And I knew that it was going to be about, in part, younger people. But I don’t think I tried to make it for anyone, aside from myself and for Jillian. Beyond that, I think it’s a guessing game. And who wants to guess?
JT: I try to make books that adults would appreciate, even if it’s technically going to be defined as a YA book. I’m actually less concerned about what a kid would like.
How do you feel about This One Summer being called a children’s book?
MT: Well. It’s not a children’s book. It’s a book for readers, I would guess, about 12 and older. I would like to think that this is not a controversial matter, although I know for some people it is, because readers, as I know them, self select. If you are a young reader, either this book is going to be given to you by a teacher or a librarian, or a parent, or you’re going to find it somewhere and look at it and decide if you want to read it. I can’t imagine a child is going to be into a comic like TOS. That said, since we’ve gotten some recognition from librarians and I’ve read a few more articles, I kind of like the idea that it’s a book you could read as a kid, that has a place in young adult literature because it’s not explicitly for young readers but about them. Beyond that, you know, it’s about stuff I thought of when I was a kid, so why not?
Is this a feminist book?
MT: Yes. Because it was written by feminists.
What is your advice for people who are starting out in this industry? Who want to make comics?
MT: Just start making them.
JT: The bar for making comics is incredibly low. You need a pencil and some copy paper and you’re ready to go. You don’t even need to photocopy anymore, just post them on tumblr or twitter or instagram or whatever platform is popular when you’re reading this.
Will you make another book together?
MT: Sure, if the right project comes up. I like to think our work is evolving, so it would have to be part of that continuum.
What are your upcoming projects?
MT: I’ve got a prose YA book, Saving Montgomery Sole, coming out with Roaring Brook/Penguin Canada in Winter 2016.
JT: My webcomic, SuperMutant Magic Academy, will be collected into a book and published by Drawn and Quarterly in April 2015. I will also have a small book called SexCoven, published by Youth in Decline, coming out in the Spring.