Mariko and Jillian Tamaki answer your frequently asked questions

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.

: 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.

JT: Yup.

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.

Deborah Ellis AMA Round-up


On Friday, September 19th, Deborah Ellis hosted a Reddit AMA (ask me anything) session. We want to thank everyone who participated for the wonderful, thought-provoking and even controversial questions centered around feminism, ideology and Deborah’s fantastic novels. For those of you who missed it, we’ve rounded up some key questions from the discussion:

Q.  In your opinion what’s the most progressive welcoming, women equal country based on opportunity and general equality?

A. I’ve heard that Iceland is very good. Women all over the world have talents to bring forward, and the more chances they get, the better their countries become.

Q. I teach The Breadwinner series to my 8th graders, and fell in love with your book Kids of Kabul last year as a read aloud. That book really showed my students how lucky they are just because of where they are from, and that they can do so much to help other kids in this world. What is the biggest thing you have taken away from your experiences with children in Afghanistan? Do you believe that there is hope to return the country to the way is was 60 years ago?

A. There is always hope. If we get off the backs of the young Afghan people by ceasing military interventions and give them the resources they need to rebuild their country.

Q. What does feminism mean to you?

A. Opportunities for women and for everyone to live the life that they want to live.

Q. When writing The Cat at the Wall, did you travel to the West Bank to talk with people about their experiences?

A. Yes, I traveled to many places in the West Bank including Bethlehem, Hebron and Ramallah. I met with young people of all ages in different circumstances. They told me about dealing with the Israeli military and wishing they could make friends with Israeli kids.

Q. Do you have a specific process that you follow for writing a novel?

A. I usually start with a question that I want to answer. What if something happens? Then I try to answer it. For example, what would is it like for children growing up under the Taliban? I wanted to try to understand that, so that’s why I wrote The Breadwinner.

Q. Any movie or book in the world, which one do you wish that you’d written?

A. wish I had written From Anna by Jean Little. It’s a book about a family escaping WWII, but it’s also the story of a little girl trying to figure out who she is. It’s written with simplicity and dignity.

Q. Deborah…you have gifted readers with your amazing insightful stories. The latest one that I have recommended and sold is Moon at Nine. What inspired you as a writer to record the real stories of young people seeking some kind of justice to their predicaments?

A. The book Moon at Nine is about two teenage girls who fall in love in 1988 Iran. It’s based on a true story. I met the woman whose story it was, and she asked me to write it for her because she still has family back in Iran. She couldn’t write it herself because it would put them in danger. I’m drawn to stories of courage because they inspire us to have courage in our own lives.

Q. You seem to travel a great deal. When did you decide to venture beyond Canada and write about the world beyond North America?

A. When the Taliban took over in Afghanistan, I wanted to find out more about what those women were going through and how we could be useful back in Canada. So I spent time in the Afghan refugee camps in Pakistan meeting with people and hearing their stories. That was the first time I’d ever done anything like that.

Q. What does it feel like to fight for the oppressed and weak? Also, do you think that human’s can ever control their vices like greed, power, and jealousy which lead to evil actions.

A. I’m honoured to be able to meet so many courageous people around the world. About vices, there is a difference between being human and all the things and go with it and making it legal to drop bombs on people in other countries.

20662575Deborah Ellis, best known for her Breadwinner series, has donated more than $1 million in royalties to Canadian Women for Women in Afghanistan and Street Kids International. She has won many awards, including the Governor General’s Award and Sweden’s Peter Pan Prize.


Her new novel The Cat at the Wall centers around Clare, a young girl who finds she has been reincarnated as a cat on the West Bank.




Ask Deborah Ellis Anything! Reddit AMA


With her new book The Cat at the Wall in bookstores now, Deborah Ellis is ready to tell all in her upcoming Reddit AMA (ask me anything) this Friday, September 19th, at 1pm EST.

20662575 The Cat at the Wall follows Clare, an ordinary girl faced with the extraordinary reality of being reincarnated as a cat. She finds herself on the West Bank in a house inhabited by two Israeli soldiers and a small Palestinian boy hiding beneath the floorboards. Like all of Deborah Ellis’ work The Cat at the Wall will spark discussion. It will also inspire readers to imagine the power even simple acts can have.

In a recent interview for the New York Times’ Sunday Book Review, Malala Yousafzai named The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis as a book she wished all girls would read. Malala said, “I think it’s important for girls everywhere to learn how women are treated in some societies. But even though Parvana is treated as lesser than boys and men, she never feels that way. She believes in herself and is stronger to fight against hunger, fear and war. Girls like her are an inspiration.” Yousafzai’s interview is an inspiring read in itself and brings to light the importance of writers like Ellis, who are unafraid to tackle tough subjects and bring them to the attention of young readers.

978-1-55498-120-5_lIn her recent nonfiction work Looks Like Daylight: Voices of Indigenous Kids, Ellis collected interviews with Indigenous children aged nine to eighteen from across North America and brought their compelling stories into the spotlight. In this book, like her previously acclaimed collections of interviews with Afghan, Iraqi, North American, Israeli, and Palestinian children, Ellis gives children a voice to talk about their cultural identity. It is no surprise that Looks Like Daylight has been announced as a finalist for the 2014 Norma Fleck Award for Canadian Children’s Non-Fiction.

She continues to post gripping interviews on her personal blog with children whose stories she wants to tell. Her piece for The Guardian entitled “How War Changes People” explores identity as a human right, and describes how war has affected children she has met in war-torn nations. In this essay, Deborah asks, “How do we create an identity for ourselves, and communicate it to others, when all we have known gets stripped away? How do we find the core of who we are in times like this without completely losing our minds?”


Deborah Ellis wants to answer any creative, honest, and provocative questions you might have. On Friday, September 19th, sign up for an account on and participate in the AMA session.

DEBORAH ELLIS REDDIT AMA – Friday, September 19th, at 1pm EST

Deb Ellis AMA (dragged)

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