Interview with Governor General’s Award Nominee, Mariko Tamaki

This One Summer, Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki, 2014, First Second

Earlier this year the creative team behind the award winning graphic novel, Skim, released a fabulous new slice-of-life comic, This One Summer. Here at Women Write About Comics, this one summerwe’re big fans of This One Summer. In fact it was the inaugural read of our Twitter Comic Club (#WWACComicClub). And we weren’t the only ones who loved it. It received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Booklist, and Quill & Quire, it was awarded the Ignatz for Best Graphic Novel, and was selected as a New York Times Editor’s Choice for 2014. And now it’s been nominated for one of the biggest literary prizes in Canada, the Governor General’s Award.

So I think it goes without saying that we’re very excited to welcome Mariko Tamaki, one half of the creative team behind the This One Summer, to the site.

To start off, congratulations on the Governor General’s nomination. What was your reaction when you heard? Did you do anything to celebrate?

I was super thrilled for Jillian. I think it’s an amazing thing to get two nominations for a work. That makes me so happy. I think I did a little dance, then I had to run to work.

Let’s talk about the reception of This One Summer. It’s a story that has resonated with Canadian (and international) readers of all genders and ages. Were you expecting it to reach such a wide audience?

Mariko Tamaki, 2014I try not to think about audience when I’m working on a story, which can be tricky when you know a work is going to be put out into the world under a header like “Young Adult.” I think, more than anything, TOS is as much about a time and place as it is about being a kid in that time and place. This is really a story about a lot of people, all going through some sort of change. So it makes sense to me that it resonates with more than one group. I’d like to say it resonates with me and so I expect it to resonate with other people, but that doesn’t always work out to be the case.

What was the process of creating this book like? Were you and Jillian able to work in the same space? Or did you have to send stuff back and forth to one another? How long did it all take?

Jillian and I have never lived or worked in the same city. Once we’ve got an outline, I work on and send her a script, which is more of a theatre script than a comic script (mostly dialogue and narration with basic setting and set-up description). From there, Jillian turns the script into a comic. For TOS, there was definitely more back and forth with this book than Skim, and we talked a lot more about character development together. Really, a lot of the editorial process happens between Jillian and myself, as stuff gets cut out and added when the voice of the illustrations moves into play. Jillian is a great editor. (As were our other editors, Mark Siegel, Calista Brill and Shelly Tanaka.) Beyond that, the actual writing process takes about 6 months, we edited for about six months, I’d say, then Jillian worked on the illustrations for about a year.

Do you consciously write stories with certain themes in mind or do they arise organically? For example, at one point, Windy calls out Rose’s slut-shaming. Was that something you set out to touch upon or did it just happen?

This One Summer, Jillian and Mariko Tamaki, 2014, First SecondSome of it is planned stuff I want to address, like Windy’s being adopted. My goal is always to write characters who feel as accurate as possible. The “slut” story is definitely part of that, in my mind. There’s actually a really great Canadian documentary on that, Sluts: A Documentary. A lot of it arises out of me writing dialogue.

This One Summer provides only a short glimpse into the lives of Windy and Rose. Do you ever imagine what the rest of their lives were like for them after the events discussed in the book?

Not really.  Mostly because I’m usually on to the next book.

Skim, Jillian and Mariko Tamaki, 2008, Groundwood BooksPreviously you and your cousin Jillian collaborated on Skim, which was the first comic to be nominated for a Governor General’s award. And now you’ve been nominated again. Do you find all this recognition has changed how you approach new projects (and as a related question – what can you tell us about any new/upcoming projects)?

Being nominated doesn’t really change my intention with upcoming projects. Although the [increased] willingness and interest of publishers in my projects certainly helps make them happen. I am currently working on my next YA book Saving Montgomery Sole, about unsolved mysteries and California. And then I’m on to a new comic, which will be a lez romance. You can check out Jillian’s new comic SuperMutant Magic Academy, released by D&Q, Spring 2015.

Nightmare on Elm Street, 1984, New Line CinemaOne fun question before we go: a great bit of This One Summer is Windy and Rose’s discovery of horror movies. Did you have a similar experience when you were younger? What are some of your favourite horror flicks?

For me, horror movies were sort of a rite of passage.  Like, if you didn’t watch Nightmare on Elm Street, you were basically a baby. So I watched them, and then I didn’t sleep the same way for the next three years.


Christa Seeley

Christa Seeley

Books Editor. Maple Flavoured Darth Vader Fangirl.