Interview with Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki

Since it came out about a year ago, Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki’s This One Summer has been one of the most celebrated comics in recent memory.  It’s the first comic book to win the Caldecott Award. As the story of two young girls, not quite children anymore but not yet adults, witnessing supposed grown ups messing up their own lives, This One Summer focuses in on that confusing stage of growing up where nothing makes sense anymore.  It’s that point in growing up where you realize that your parents don’t necessarily know any more than you do.  Set one step away from reality as Rose and Wendy spend their summer vacation in a small cottage town, this book almost painfully brings the lives of these kids, their parents and a group of locals into such sharp focus as we see that life is as confusing to you when you’re a daughter trying to navigate your way through adolescence or a mother trying to protect yourself from pain.  

Jillian and Mariko recently took time to answer a few questions for Panel Patter.

Panel Patter: It's been almost a year since This One Summer has come out. How has the reaction to it surprised you?
Jillian Tamaki: I try not to predict or anticipate any specific reaction. I just hope people like the book and think it's a good effort. That's all I can do.

Mariko Tamaki: I think the reaction we've had from organizations like the ALA and the Governor General's have been a nice surprise.  It's nice to have your work recognized by a body of people whose focus in on looking at these works in a bigger context.  I've spent quite a bit of time with librarians and teachers this past few months, their positive response to the work has felt really good.
PP: This One Summer is your second book together, after 2008’s Skim. How did you two begin working together on comic books?
JT: Skim was initially a small, 24-page floppy. A friend of Mariko's mentioned publishing a small comic series in conjunction with her magazine, Kiss Machine, and it seemed like a doable activity.
PP: Mariko, what made this story a graphic novel to work on with Jillian on rather than writing it as a novel?
MT: It's hard to say, exactly, what it is that makes a good graphic novel.  Muskoka is a really pretty place so that was something that came to mind.  I think I also thought overall that this would be a good project to collaborate on.
PP: Jillian, what was it about this story that made you want to draw it?
JT: Mariko wrote it and we were going to do another book together. Not very glamorous.

PP: Can you talk about how you work together? Mariko is the writer and Jillian is the artist but how did the collaboration work on this book? How did it change since Skim?
MT: I think this book involved more collaboration in part because it was built less on captions (less on an overall running voiceover).  So there was more work we did figuring out the story together on this book.

PP: None of the characters, no matter how young or old they are, seem to have this life figured out. Both Rose and her mother are as confused about what they're supposed to think and do as the other is. Are the adults in this book any wiser than the kids or are they just older?
JT: I just think that very few people have it 'all figured out'... it's more about how you react and deal with life's slings-and-arrows that make all the difference. It's a coming-of-age story for many ages, maybe.
PP: I loved the way that the horror movies were worked into the story, opening up the girls to new experiences. How is that reflected in the rest of the story?
MT: There's a bit of a parallel between horror movies and the scary unknownness of adulthood in TOS.  Mostly the horror movies are there because when I was a kid it seemed like suddenly we were no longer watching "The Secret of NIMH" and I was expected to watch JAWS.  Which then made swimming in the fresh waters of Georgian Bay totally terrifying.

PP: Do you think it's correct to classify this as a YA book? I'm a long way out of that demographic and I found so much in this book to dig into and identify with. Do you even think in terms of classifications like YA?
JT: What gets classified as YA and what doesn't seems like more of an art than a science to me. PersonallyI don't try to cater to a "young" audience, although I realize that some of the themes I am interested in naturally appeal to people that age.
PP: Jillian, can you talk a bit about your style and influences? The way you move through these intimate personal stories and then open up these large spreads that feel like those those summer moments where time stands still amaze me. There’s a timelessness in the art, where moments are stretched into forever that captures the wonders of summer.
JT: Thanks. I am just concerned with capturing the mood and sensory experience. While also being true to what Mariko intends for the scene and character. I was inspired by the place itself, which is based on Georgian Bay, Ontario.

PP: Mariko, how is writing a comic book like This One Summer different than writing a novel?
MT: It involves considerably less writing.   Also it's a process where the final product is something you create with someone else.
PP: For both of you, what is something that the other did in This One Summer that just astonished you? Any particular line of dialogue or panel that just stands out as something wonderful that the other one did.
JT: I liked the Grandma character.
MT: I love the scene at Saint Marie Among the Hurons.
PP: What were the challenges for you while doing this story? What parts of the story pushed you beyond what you were expecting or what you thought you were capable of?
MT: I think this process was mostly challenging because it was a tremendous amount of work on Jillian's part.  I wouldn't say it was any more challenging in terms of the writing.
PP: With the acclaim and the award that This One Summer has gotten, what’s been the best experience you’ve had with it?
JT: I think the best feeling is getting the book in the mail for the first time. It makes your work tangible.

MT: I love doing signings and readings and hearing from people who've read the book.
PP: What’s next for each of you?
JT: Two very different books. Super Mutant Magic Academy, my collected webcomic, will be published in April, as will Sex Coven, a 30-page standalone I'm putting out with Youth in Decline.

MT: I have a YA novel coming out with Roaring Brook/Penguin Canada, Saving Montgomery Sole, about unsolved mysteries, frozen yogurt and California, which will be out in Winter 2016.  And I'm working on a few other things here and there.

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