Jillian Tamaki

The Walrus!

May 31st, 2011

The Walrus, aside from being one of my favourite magazines to read, has been very good to me professionally. It was one of the first magazines I worked for and remains one of those (increasingly rare) editorial outlets that offers bother compelling content and artistic freedom for illustrators. The concept for this Summer Fiction issue (on newsstands June 13) is simple: pretty girls and reading on the beach. Is there anything better?

This image will be available for *purchase* soon. Meanwhile, in the market for a new tote? Of course you are! You don’t have 10,000 already… OK, maybe you do, but do any of them have a sexy underwater reading theme? DIDN’T THINK SO! Only $10, free shipping in Canada, and all proceeds benefit the Walrus Foundation. Buy now!


May 31st, 2011

I’m reading a really great book now, called Galore, by Michael Crummey. It’s a folkloric story that takes place in Newfoundland. Listen, I don’t usually do extracurricular book illustrations, but I love mythological settings with rituals and witches and bad teeth…

OH! And speaking of Newfoundland, if you’re in Toronto you must see the David Blackwood exhibit at the AGO. Even ol’ Skeptical Sam was blown away.

(In case you’re interested: from Publisher’s Weekly: Starred Review. Crummey (River Thieves) returns readers to historic Newfoundland in his mythic and gorgeous latest, set over the course of a century in the life of a hardscrabble fishing community. After a lean early-19th-century winter, a whale beaches itself and everyone in town gathers to help with the slaughter. But when a woman known only as Devine’s Widow—when she’s not called an outright witch—cuts into the belly, the body of an albino man slides out. He eventually revives, turns out to be a mute, and is dubbed Judah by the locals. Judah’s mystery—is his appearance responsible for the great fishing season that follows?—is only one among many in this wild place, where the people are afflicted by ghosts and curses as much as cold and hunger. Crummey’s survey eventually telescopes to the early 20th century, when Judah’s pale great-grandson, Abel, sequesters himself amid medical debris in an old hospital where his opera singer cousin, Esther Newman, has returned and resolved to drink herself to death. But before she does so, she shares with him the family history he never knew. Crummey lovingly carves out the privation and inner intricacies that mark his characters’ lives with folkloric embellishments and the precision of the finest scrimshaw. (Apr.) )

Two Interviews

May 25th, 2011

For some reason people have wanted to ask me questions lately. Firstly, here’s a short Illustration Mundo interview. Secondly, here’s a more in-depth, mostly-comics-related interview originally conducted for the Sequential blog that was in a print handout at TCAF a few weeks ago. The interview, with q’s from Dave Howard, is pasted below.


Did you have any favourite comics growing up?

I read a lot of Archie comics, plus the comics that were in the newspapers. My parents really liked The Far Side, Calvin and Hobbes, and Herman, so we had some of those anthologies in the house too. I copied the “Punk Accountants” Far Side cartoon for my dad’s birthday (he is also an accountant). When I was a teenager, my sister and I liked to cut up Archie comics and make collages with the balloons or sticking them on new images. It’s still a fun thing to do.

Growing up, were comics a kind of guilty pleasure, was it something you embraced openly, or not that important to you.

I didn’t really analyze it. In fact, when we were promoting Skim in 2008, people would ask what comics I read as a kid and I was just like, “eh, I didn’t really read comics”. I had completely forgotten that I read a TON of comics and I really enjoyed them. I just didn’t view them as important or significant at the time.

I’m sure there are many, but are there any particular cartoonists or artists or designers or illustrators or writers or directors you admire, whom you can say had some influence on your work or approach?

I became interested in comics at the very end of my degree at the Alberta College of Art and Design, where I was studying Design and Illustration. I became obsessed with Tomer Hanuka’s work and that included Bipolar, the comic he makes with his cousin Asaf. Later, when I made the conscious effort to educate myself on making comics (2004), I learned the most from Chester Brown, Michel Ragabliati, Julie Doucet, Will Eisner, and Dan Clowes. I got most of those books out of my local library branch.

When you signed on to doing Skim, wat there any prep work you did, any comics-related research or other artists you looked to for inspriation or guidance? Any artists you went to or whom you read when you found yourself in a jam?

I was never “signed” to doing Skim. Skim started off as a 24 page collaboration between myself and my cousin… there was no book deal. It was initially released by a Toronto zine called “Kiss Machine”. But to answer the question… probably, but I can’t remember now. My ignorance and lack of formal training was probably a good thing, actually. I just did the best I could, and approached it with the skills as I had… as a designer and an illustrator. I just read tons, as I mentioned. That was my education.

Can I ask about your use of photo-references in the production of Skim – did you take pictures and draw from them, especially in Scarborough [a suburb of Toronto]? Your work is wonderfully flowing, is there any advice you can give about drawing from photo-references?

I mapped out generally what I wanted to do, then traveled to Toronto to shoot specific reference. Most of it is from around the St.Claire-Christie area, where my sister was living at the time and I was staying. That trip was pivotal to my own mindset and I’d never attempt to do a book about a specific place without visiting it. Photo-referencing should support the story and make the details vivid. That said, too-heavy reliance on photo reference is very bad and should be avoided.

On your blog you mention working with students – can you tell us what you are teaching and where you are teaching it? How has the experience been for you, does it interfere at all with your creative process?

I teach 2nd year drawing for illustrators at the School of Visual Arts in New York. It does not interfere with my creative process, in fact I have to admit that, as frustrating as it can sometimes be, it has made me a more critical, thoughtful, and inspired individual. To see people make discoveries about their own process (I try to stress that what one learns in art school is not a technique, but a process) is deeply rewarding. Plus, these are 19 and 20 year old kids… they’re showing you what’s new and cool before it becomes mainstream.

Are there any rituals or habits or processes or other things you go through in order to maintain your inspiration?

I have encountered this question often lately and I’m always a little confounded by it. Most of my creative friends are never at a loss for inspiration…. they are at a loss for time, resources, or struggle with the “business-y” constraints of the job. But if you gifted them a week of free time, they’d be able to fill it easily. It’s like that saying, “only boring people are bored”.

You say you are grateful your foundational year was spent in a Fine Arts environment, and has shaped the way you think about images, make images, and your understanding of Illustration — how is it you think about images, and illustration?

That’s a really huge question. I will only say that I do believe Illustration can be smart and have content, but Illustration is not Fine Art. They are different worlds, with different histories, communities, objectives, and constraints. The exist in the world for different reasons. I was trained as a commercial artist and I’ve long given up feeling conflicted about that. That’s my philosophy and that of my husband, Sam Weber. But we speak often about how that seems to be changing… the nature of Illustration and its place in society. Not even out of art school 10 years and it seems like our outlook is quite curmudgeonly and dinosaur-like.

Is there any advice you can offer other new cartoonists? Any experience you can share for even newly established cartoonists, maybe around contracts or keeping your vision?

I dunno, just make some comics! Seems like the best time ever to be a comics artist… think of all the ways you can get your work seen. If you want to be a cartoonist and are not making comics, you’re just lazy or crippled by fear. Which are two huge problems. As for established cartoonists, who am I to tell them anything? I’ve only been doing this for 6 years!

Your Penguin Classic embroidered book covers are amazing, can I ask how you came about with the job offer, can I ask where the inspiration came from for the concept?

I did some embroidery, because it was simply something I wanted to try, and put it online. I’d worked with Penguin’s Art Director, Paul Buckley, as an illustrator before, and he happened to see my embroidery just as he was pitching the “Threads” project. So it was fortuitous. The inspiration was simply my love for those books, the freedom assigned by the project and the stitching effects I had been experimenting with in the medium. Again, similar to comics… I’m untrained in that medium, but I think that ignorance has been beneficial, in a weird way. You’re a little more fearless if you don’t know you’re committing cardinal sins.

Do you have any favourite contemporary cartoonists, anyone you’ve read recently who you liked?

I’m drawn to comics for different reasons. Visually, I’m excited by weird comics that look strange and unusual. I like Jungyeon Roh, Sakura Maku, Dash Shaw, Brecht Evens, weird manga and stuff. But as I get older, I become less impressed with drawing and am more deeply moved by more straightforward narratives. To be able to tell a compelling story is so much more difficult than being able to draw badass pictures. So I’m in awe of people like Chester Brown, Lynda Barry, Michel Ragabliati, Seth, Hope Larson, or Tatsumi. I still do love me a fucked up art comic though.

Looking at your wonderful petite livre Indoor Voice, it seems lovely and freeing to sketch unabashedly – do you keep a sketchbook with you at all times? Do you sketch often? How vital is it to you?

I don’t sketch every day. But there’s rarely a day where I don’t make something. Right now I’m trying to teach myself how to quilt. But yes, the sketchbook is completely essential. As I tell my students, you rarely will make breakthroughs –lateral steps– on projects.

You have a new project with Mariko Tamaki coming up, is there anything you can tell us about it?

Mariko and I are working on a new graphic novel, Awago Beach Babies. It is no way related to SKIM– sequel, prequel, or otherwise. Mariko is in the writing phase right now and I’m just patiently waiting.

Andys for New York Magazine

May 23rd, 2011

Seriously though, drawing Andy Warhol for New York Magazine? Awesome.

Whenever I draw a portrait of someone, I form a tiny connection to them. For me, celebrities are kind of divided into two camps: I’ve drawn them or I haven’t. I did weekly portraits for the CBC’s Arts page for about 5 years, so that’s a lot of people. The process of researching and studying someone’s face really allows you to reflect on a person and what they have achieved.

The loose idea for this multi-portrait was to portray the different ways he projected himself and was seen by others. I had read a long time ago that Warhol suffered from very low self-esteem as a young person, so I wanted the full-body Andy to be very dashing.

AD Raul Aguila.

NY Times Op-Ed: Palestinian State

May 17th, 2011

I illustrated today’s Op-Ed. I think this is probably the highest profile author I’ve ever been paired with — Mahmoud Abbas. Normally I get a little twitchy when I’m asked to do political images… I think there are people out there that do it much better. I try to go for a more emotional solution than an iconic, powerful one.

AD Aviva Michaelov.

Dads in Best American Comics

May 12th, 2011

I’m very pleased to announce that my short comic “Domestic Men of Mystery” will be included in this year’s Best American Comics! The piece originally ran as Fathers Day “Op-Art” on the Op-Ed page of the New York Times. You can read the comic in it’s entirety here. The book will be available later in the year but you can pre-order on Amazon.

Thanks Alison Bechdel, Jessica Abel and Matt Madden! And thanks again to Aviva Michaelov for originally commissioning the piece.

The Great Night

May 6th, 2011

A piece in this weekend’s New York Times Book Review It accompanies a review of “The Great Night”, by Chris Adrian: a retelling (of sorts) of Shakespeare’s “Midsummer’s Night Dream”. AD Nicholas Blechman.

I have been getting a lot of questions lately about consistency of “style”. Which, of course, I interpret to mean, “your work is inconsistent. I thought that was bad?” Har. Anyway, my personal thoughts on the matter:

– a consistent style is definitely beneficial when you’re just starting out as an illustrator. I would recommend a tight portfolio of about 12 quality images.

– there are other things that define and link your work than surface appearance.

– you’re not a machine and you’re allowed to evolve and change. Illustration is such a fad/trend driven industry; that what is popular today will likely be dated sometime down the road. I actually try to see experimentation and change as an investment in my own longevity. Maybe I’m naive, but that’s what I tell myself.

TCAF Schedule

May 2nd, 2011

Hey all,
The studio will be CLOSED May 5-13. Why? Toronto and TCAF! I made this year’s poster! I will be on a panel with Adrian Tomine and Lorenzo Mattotti (!?)! TCAF is always great! Come visit! (Details below.)

Here is my TCAF schedule:


Signing, Beguiling/D+Q Table: 1:30-3:30

A6: Balancing a Canadian Identity w/ Working in the Mainstream
Panelists: Darwyn Cooke, Ray Fawkes, Kathryn and Stuart Immonen, and Jillian Tamaki
Moderated by Robin McConnell
Location: The Pilot
Time: 3:30 – 4:30

What part does being a Canadian play in a comic creator’s storytelling? With many of the largest comics companies being based in the United States, and publishers and an audience that have a US sensibility, how do Canadian creators retain their sense of self while working on licensed properties, or even graphic novels edited and published by people not from the same country that they are? This panel examines the Canadian identity in terms of the mainstream comics market.

7: Doug Wright Award Ceremony… my book Indoor Voice is nominated!


Saturday, May 8

U2: Illustration
Panelists: Lorenzo Mattotti, Jillian Tamaki, Adrian Tomine
Moderated by Caitlin McGurk
Location: The Pilot
Time: 12:30 – 1:30

Many cartoonists also have a career in illustration. Come listen to four prestigious comics artists and illustrators discuss the difference between creating in a narrative form (comics) and a static one (illustration).

Signing, Beguiling/D+Q Table: 1:30-3:30

So please come visit me if you’re in Toronto. Indoor Voice and Skim will be available. All info here.