Tag Archive for jillian tamaki

2014 Comics Superlatives

As I started rounding up the comics I liked this year, I saw a pattern, so I made a joke:

And then I just decided to go with it.
This is not a definitive list but these are all comics, creators, events and projects from 2014 I want to recognize. I think we can all agree that 2014 was a pretty remarkable year for comics.

Library Con at Petworth Neighborhood Library & Comics by Women

library-conYesterday, I was a speaker at Library Con at the Petworth Neighborhood Library. It was a small, mostly family-oriented event but well-organized and fun. I am always going to be a fan of events that make comics — of all genres and styles — more accessible to more people.

I first saw Jacob Mazer of Animal Kingdom Publishing discuss his work and the anthology of comics, prose, poetry and criticism he edits. It’s still a young publication, but I definitely think there’s room in the world for more things like this, allowing comics to reach audiences they may not otherwise. Not everything in the second issue is to my tastes, but there is some thought-provoking work in it.

Then I saw Gareth Hinds, whose adaptation of Romeo and Juliet came out last year. He talked about always loving to draw as a child and comics ended up coming naturally to him. He worked in video games for a long time before quitting to create graphic novels full-time. He broke down his process for each book and I was interested to hear he changes techniques and styles for each specific book. He also spoke about the challenges of adapting classic literature.

After that, it was my turn. I talked about comics by women (what else?) and I think it went well for it being such a big topic. My concept was not to give history but offer up titles that people can buy right now. I had a good discussion with the attendees too.

You can download my PowerPoint presentation or a PDF of it, but I’ve also created a list of the creators and titles I discussed below (with links to their websites where appropriate).

I have reviewed some of these books and written more about some of these creators. You should be able to find what you need through the tags.


 lumberjanesMainstream: Superheroes

Mainstream: Sci-fi/Fantasy

Children and Young Adult Comics



  • Kyoko Okazaki: Pink, Helter Skelter
  • Moto Hagio: A Drunken Dream, The Heart of Thomas
  • Takako Shimura: Wandering Son
  • Moyoco Anno: In Clothes Called Fat, Insufficient Direction

UK, Europe and Around the World

  • Mary Talbot: The Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes, Sally Heathcoate: Suffragette
  • Isabel Greenberg: Encyclopedia of Early Earth
  • Julie Maroh: Blue is the Warmest Color
  • Marguerite Abouet: Aya series
  • Rutu Modan: Exit Wounds, The Property

strong-femaleOnline comics

Minicomics & cutting-edge creators

Through the WoodsPublishers, groups and events

Top Picks of Comics by Women for 2014

Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki at Politics and Prose

Mariko Tamaki, left, and Jillian Tamaki at Politics and Prose on May 17, 2014

Mariko Tamaki, left, and Jillian Tamaki at Politics and Prose on May 17, 2014

Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s discussion of their new graphic novel, This One Summer (First Second/Groundwood Books, 2014) at Politics and Prose on May 17 was introduced by what seemed like an unlikely choice: A young man named Frans. In his metal T-shirt and camouflage pants with long hair and a beard, he didn’t seem like someone who would be too into a young adult graphic novel about two girls created by two women. But that was the point: Frans told us that while he came into comics through ’90s titles like Cyberforce, he found a lot to connect with in This One Summer.

If that’s not an endorsement, I don’t know what is.

For about an hour, the Tamaki cousins discussed their book and their work overall in an intimate chat, taking questions from the audience of a few dozen. The two had a playful, easy chemistry with each other, which showed why they are such effortless collaborators.

Many questions focused on their creative process. Mariko said she gives Jillian a script that’s written in a play format, but mostly trusts what Jillian will do with it. And the idea of “trust” was a big theme in how they work with each other. Jillian said she felt entitled to ignore some of Mariko’s dialogue and direction, and Mariko was OK with that, saying that most of those things were for her own understanding.

As opposed to their first collaborative graphic novel, Skim, this story was more complicated so there was more back and forth and more editing (and many Skype conversations). Both spoke of the strengths comics as an artform has — Mariko said that part of writing comics is writing very sparsely and letting the visual elements do much of the work.

Many people had questions about the editing process for this book and comics in general. The Tamakis did a lot of their own editing, but they did work with their publishers. They both said they were fortunate to have publishers who understand what they’re doing and because they did Skim, both publishers knew what sort of subject matter to expect.

That led to a question if they were ever forced to make changes. Mariko said they never felt forced to make any changes and Jillian said she didn’t know why anyone would be surprised by what they were creating. Mariko said that the things that define “young adult” literature have changed and Jillian added most kids aren’t going to pick up a book unless it has edgier elements in it.

When asked about writing about female protagonists, Jillian shrugged it off. She said she only wants to make books she wants to read and she doesn’t understand the trends. She’s more interested in realism and didn’t think, at the time, that Skim was really a YA book. Mariko commented that the subtitled on the mini-comic version of Skim was “This is the diary of Skim Takota. So fuck off” and she wasn’t interested in writing to market. She said she can’t write a dystopian adventure story and her characters would be “the first two characters to be killed off in the Hunger Games.

Both talked about the hard realities of doing what they do. As much as Jillian loves making comics, it’s subsidized by the other things she does — teaching, illustration work and more. Because of that, she said “I should just make the comics I want to make.” Mariko laughed about having to teach a class about working as a writer and said it should’ve been a class on “Working four jobs.” But both felt their other jobs is what gives them material and depth and keeps them motivated. Jillian said she creates comics for comics audiences primarily, since they’re the ones who know the medium. If others like it, then that’s just a bonus.

They joked about the differences between U.S. and Canadian literature — mostly that Canada isn’t into that whole “hero” thing but instead, just surviving, and they liked that Canadian literature is full of “cranky, frustrated women.”

When asked about how she’s able to convey such subtle emotions, Jillian offered this advice: “If you want to learn how to draw, make a comic.” She’s someone who’s still learning and growing as an artist, despite her years of experience. Mariko offered her praise, saying that in anyone else’s hands, the moments Jillian draws would be melodramatic.

As a perfect summary to the talk, as the two discussed their expectations for This One Summer going forward, Mariko said simply “What I wanted this book to be, it already is.”

But if the reaction from everyone — including Frans — is any indication, it’s going to be much more than that.

(Also on Saturday was the Gaitherburg Book Festival. I have a few photos and few thought on Tumblr.)

Spotlight on Jillian Tamaki at Comic-con

When I repacked my stuff today, I forgot to pack a pen. I have at least seven pens in my possession while I’m here, but did any of them make it into my backpack this morning? Nope. So I wasn’t able to take notes during this, so it’ll be from my memory (and I’ve seem to already forgotten a lot of it. Sigh.)

Comic book people probably are most familiar with Jillian Tamaki because of the graphic novel Skim that she did with her cousin Mariko Tamaki, but she’s an accomplished illustrator and comic creator on her own too. She has a recent collection out from Drawn and Quarterly called Inside Voice.

She started her talk with a slideshow of a lot of her illustrations. She talked about what she likes to do (more interpretive illustrations for science articles) and what she doesn’t (images of celebrities, mostly because she doesn’t think she’s great at likenesses). It was a fun glimpse into her process and I love people who are able to be creative for their job.

She then talked about comics and showed how she put together Skim. Mariko had given her a script but didn’t break it down panel by panel, so she had a lot of freedom to do what she wanted. She sketched it out in thumbnail form first and even put together a little book of her thumbnails to check on transitions and things like that. Since it was a pretty intense process and she didn’t have long to do it, she made jokes about being “unwashed” for a couple of weeks.

After her slideshow, Eric Nakamura of Giant Robot asked questions. She said it wasn’t bad collaborating with her cousin because they didn’t actually know each other very well at the point they started (they do now, however). She said Inside Voice was sort of born out of her sketch blog, which she started as a creative outlet. While she loves illustrating and feels like she can put a lot of herself in it, it’s to some art director’s whims. It allows her to do what she wants.

Both she and Nakamura discussed the process of getting started for young illustrators (basically, work for free. OK, that wasn’t so much the point, but they both agreed that sometimes it’s good to be out there even if you’re not getting paid). Tamaki also said she sees a disconnect between the illustration world and the comics world. When she goes to illustration cons, they know her for that and don’t know she does comics. At events like Comic-Con, it’s the other way around.

She was delightful and said many other things that have fallen out of my brain. So yes, I should go try to find a pen somewhere so this doesn’t happen again.

Review: Skim

skim“Being sixteen is officially the worst thing I’ve ever been.”

I was not fond of Mariko Tamaki‘s story for Emiko Superstar for the Minx line. It just struck me as false — oooh! Secret suburban lesbians! Roughly sketched performance artists! It felt like an adult’s conception of what a teen girl would find “edgy.” Some of the emotions were there but it didn’t strike me as being genuine.

But I still decided to give Skim a try, though. And I’m glad I did.

This is probably one of the most realistic portrayals of what it’s like to be a teenage girl anywhere — film, prose, comics, anywhere.

Kim, called Skim by her friends (because, as she puts it, she’s not) is a slightly overweight, half-Asian Canadian teenager attending an all-girls Catholic school. She and her best friend Lisa are studying Wicca. She is, for the most part, a non-distinct teenage girl. She’s not a cheerleader. She’s not popular. She’s not entirely an outcast — she’s just sort of there. She’s both too smart for her own good and innocently naive.

After a classmate’s ex-boyfriend kills himself, the school is covered in a veneer of sensitivity as Kim also develops a questionable relationship with drama teacher Ms. Archer. In someone else’s hands, this could cross into the territory of melodrama, but in Mariko Tamaki presents these events as just being a part of Kim’s life. The highs and lows are just matter of fact. Both the pain and the joy here are very real.

Jillian Tamaki‘s art is one part ukiyo-e and one part hyper-real caricature. It follows the shifts of Kim’s story from dreaminess to unfortunate reality. The changes are done subtly but beautifully and illustrates the forever-fluctuating life of a teenage girl.

I don’t really want to talk too much about the story, because for me, part of the joy is the way it unfolds. On the other hand, what happens isn’t as important as who it is happening to. While Kim isn’t always likable — she can certainly be bratty and selfish — she’s easy to relate to. She shows what it’s like to be a teenage girl.

Why the comics in the Minx line (even Mariko Tamaki’s one) couldn’t be more like this, I don’t know. I’d put this in the hands of any teenage girl I’d meet, or in the hands of anyone who wanted to know what it’s like. This is probably the best — or at the very least, the most surprising — graphic novel I’ve read this year.