Jillian Tamaki
 

GGs

Dec 1st, 2014
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Admit it, you couldn’t resist either.

This year, both Mariko and I were nominated for Governor General’s Awards for This One Summer. The GGs are a Canadian literary prize with a lot of pomp and, it must be said, a very hefty cheque attached. Mariko had been nominated in 2008, for Skim, in the category of children’s text. There was some consternation at the time, given the inherent absurdity of separating text and image in a comic. And so while it was a happy honour for us to both be nominated in our “respective” categories this year, the issue of cramming comics into an ill-fitting rubric remained.

Nevertheless. Mariko and I had a blast. Last Monday, we flew into Ottawa for the festivities, which consisted of a Parliamentary visit to both the library and question period (I sat across from Stephen Harper and his very blue eyes), a public reading, an official ceremony at Rideau Hall, and some various mix-n-mingle type events featuring high quality finger foods.

I met Shelagh Rogers who, as a former CBC morning show host, has undoubtedly been a companion to much comic-making.

We managed to ferret out a buttertart.

New fun and inspiring friends. Please check out their work: Jordan Tannahill (playright), Michael Harris (journalist), Marianne Dubuc (French-language author/illustrator), Raziel Reid (author), Arleen Paré (poet). Full list of nominees here.

I’ll leave you with my speech, which I gave in Rideau Hall. Thanks, Mariko. Love u, coz <3

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Your Excellencies, fellow laureates, ladies and gentlemen,

Hi.

Thank you so much.

Thank you to the Canada Council, the panelists who selected our book, our publishers Groundwood and First Second Books, Patsy Aldana, Sheila Barry, Mark Seigel and Calista Brill for helping us to shape it, Julia Kelk for driving us around Georgian Bay in a speedboat, the country of Canada for supporting artists, even the crazy ones, and all the zitty teenagers that work in weird corner stores in Muskoka, Ontario.

The most thanks, however, go to my cousin, Mariko Tamaki, whom I wish could join me on this stage right now.

Imagine a page of comics with all the words stripped from the balloons. You could not truly read the comic. Or at least not get the whole story. The same goes for if you erased the images and were left to read floating scraps of dialogue scattered across the page. In this medium, images and words do not support one another; they are intrinsically linked. The wondrousness of comics is the space and play and discord between the two.

Growing up in Calgary, I did not see much of Mariko, as she lived in Toronto and Calgarians don’t have a lot of time for Toronto. Making books with her has been an enlightening lesson in collaboration but also has had the gratifying side-effect of bringing us close as cousins and friends. I share this prize with her in every way.

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Shortly before I fell into the Eternal Flame and was scarred horribly.

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Parliamentary Library.

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With Sheila Barry, Groundwood Books publisher.

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An original edition of Audubon’s Birds. I flipped out at this point in the tour.

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They made us do this, but I think we liked it.

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Arleen’s tabs are on point.

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How did this get in here

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Life Cycles

Nov 15th, 2013

Got the color proofs in for THIS ONE SUMMER today… in glorious PANTONE! So luxurious.

I finished the art in July and the book is coming out in May. But things are busy again as production wraps up and the promo begins. Things that have been going on, starting with the glamorous:

-picking paper stock and pantone colour

-finishing up the back, spine, flap designs. I have been a pain-in-the-butt about these elements because I’m such a control freak (sorry, dear publisher!)

-planning our launch events at TCAF 2014

Now, the unglamorous:

-the necessary-evil of blurb-gathering, bio-writing (various versions, long and short), synopsis-generating (again, long-and-short versions)

-assembling a list of people who need to get review copies

-figuring out how many events we can cram into next year, ie. as many as possible, but not so many that we will actually physically perish

-a litany of other promotional strategies that is being handled by more capable people than myself

What I’m saying is that at some point a book ceases being one thing and becomes something else. First the book is a bundle of story, characters, themes that you massage for a few years. Then it kind of shifts and becomes a physical object, which needs a cover and paper and glue to hold it together. Then it transitions again to being a product. Products need marketing and promotion. All these various “life cycles” require a lot of care and attention to detail and I think shortchanging any individual stage (creation, production, marketing) can really fail the book as a whole. Fingers crossed!

Thousand Cranes

Mar 2nd, 2013

I’ve been waiting to post this image for a while, but the pub date got delayed. ‘Glad I finally get to share it. It’s a cover for Yasunari Kawabata’s novella “Thousand Cranes”, which explores a love triangle set against the tradition of tea ceremonies. Oddly enough, I got this job shortly after I made this image about Mishima’s “Confessions of a Mask”, another postwar Japanese novel. They’re such bleak and beautiful books. Also check out “Woman In The Dunes”.

You can see the whole series, and how the covers fit together, on designer John Gall’s website.

Things! New Things!

Feb 14th, 2013

There is a lot happening! Here is a rundown.

1. I am now, improbably, the Chair of the annual show at the Society of Illustrators. John Hendrix passed the reins over in a secret ritual somewhere in the bowels of the Society a few weeks ago. [We had a cordial brunch with the past Chairs in the dining room.]

When I first moved to New York, I didn’t go to the Society much. It seemed like a bit of a closed club to me and I don’t think I was the only one who felt that way. This has dramatically changed with Anelle Miller taking over SOI operations. She has revitalized the place and made it welcoming and open to the future of illustration (while still honouring its past); I think the spirit of the Society now matches the beauty of the physical space. Want to learn more about the Society of Illustrators? Here’s a great behind-the-scenes tour. And here’s an audio interview with Anelle Miller and Exhibition Director Kate Feirtag.

2. On a related note, I am a Special Guest at this year’s MoCCAFest! As many of you know, the Society of Illustrators recently acquired the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art (MoCCA) collection and will now be the sole operators of MoCCAFest here in NYC. This is good news. The Society is well aware of the, ahem, “issues” the festival has had in recent years and is working very, very hard to rectify them. It’s a big job that’ll take a few years. But to be honest, after seeing what Anelle and Kate have done with the Society (see above), MoCCAFest is in very capable hands. I’m looking forward to seeing you in April!

3. My webcomic, SuperMutant Magic Academy, was nominated for a Slate Cartoonist Studio prize! Thanks Slate, Center for Cartoon Studies, and Françoise Mouly!

4. I am on my friend Lisa Hanawalt’s podcast, BABY GENIUSES! Topics discussed: boobs, marriage, Twitter, and The Beatles. We have fun.

5. Ryan Sands is one of those people who seem like they have access to a time machine because it’s kind of unbelievable how much they accomplish in a day. You may know Ryan from his anthology Thickness or his incredible Same Hat blog. Ryan, brave man, is now venturing into publishing by starting his own imprint, which will be no doubt impeccable. One of his first projects is a quarterly zine series called “Frontier”, for which I had the pleasure of designing the logo, thus employing my Graphic Design degree and languishing copy of Adobe Illustrator:

That’s my news! Current status: optimistic. Lots of good people are doing good things that are making the world a little more fun and beautiful.

Milestones

Jan 23rd, 2013

What you see above is exactly half of the finished art for Awago Beach Babies, the graphic novel I am working on with my cousin Mariko. The book is about summertime, vacation, swimming, biking, futzing around in the woods. Just by coincidence, I started the final art on June 21, the Summer Solstice. Well, the summer is long gone and I’m still drawing kids splashing in the lake and townie teens riding BMX bikes. They say today is one of the coldest days of the winter so far.

In other news, Print Magazine has just published an “oral history” of the Pencil Factory, my spiritual studio. I participated in the “discussion”, which you can read here.

I also participated in a real, live discussion with cartoonists Eleanor Davis and Drew Weing on Sam Weber’s podcast, Your Dreams My Nightmares. If you haven’t checked out Sam’s podcast, please do. If you’re an illustrator, designer, or cartoonist, there’s probably someone of interest to you that’s recorded an interview.

On Drawing and Illustration and the Difference Between the Two

Nov 8th, 2012


I’ve been teaching illustration for about 5 years now. I feel really lucky to have seen some of the students I taught/met during my first couple years at Parsons go on to become professional creative people themselves (Katie, Anna, Zack, Roxie, Hannah.)

The vast majority have not.

For my current class, a senior portfolio class in the Illustration Dept. of the School of Visual Arts, I require my students to build an online portfolio website for their final project. It’s the only group critique we have in the 2nd semester. I visited some of those sites this week and noticed that most haven’t been updated since that day of the final critique last spring.

Why? Why put all that time and money and effort into 4 years of college if you’re not even going to make a run at being a professional illustrator? I suppose there are myriad reasons… the main one being that I just don’t think most human beings find the freelance life to be all that amiable. Talent is important and so very lovely when you have it, but I’ve found it often doesn’t correlate to any real-world post-graduation success. A persistent attitude is just as important.

I actually think that most people don’t realize or think about the difference between Drawing and Illustration. They think they’re the same. They’re not. Drawing is an act, whereas Illustration (as I define it) is a profession. Illustration *can* involve drawing (it can expand beyond drawing too, obviously), but it’s actually the act of thinking and problem solving. I think I’ve mentioned this before but Tim O’Brien once said something to the effect that the sketch-phase of a project IS the Illustration… I couldn’t agree more, despite my work being incredibly different from Tim O’Brien’s.

I wish this delineation between drawing and illustration was made more clear earlier on to young art students. Call me old-fashioned, but I believe illustration is more than a just a “style” and that most students enter such schools with hopes of eventually making their living being an illustrator. For this reason, I try to structure my class around real-life projects, prompts, feedback, and processes. (It’s also the way I myself was trained.) I do recognize that illustration programs are not quite the “trade schools” they used to be, and that they can be fulfilling experiences unto themselves. But again, I think most students enter with reasonable expectations that they will be exposed to realistic representations of Illustration as a JOB.

Illustration is about fitting your conceptual and aesthetic style to a problem. There is a “solving” aspect to it. I find students either revel in this aspect or absolutely hate it. It can represent a brainteasing challenge or be completely oppressive, depending on your point of view. If you want to become a professional illustrator, it helps to be the former. Sometimes you will feel more like the latter! But mostly you need to be open to collaboration and working within constraints. The joy of illustration is striking the delicate balance of solving the problem with artistry.

No real conclusions or grand(er) pronouncements than that. Just something I’ve been thinking about lately…

Anxiety Blog

Sep 15th, 2012

Here’s an illustration I did for the New York Times Anxiety blog a few days ago. The story is about a woman who develops Trichotillomania and OCD as a result of trauma.

I haven’t been taking very many illustration jobs these days because I’m trying to be very diligent with the graphic novel progress. There is just so much to do, it’s almost hard to wrap my head around it all. It’s a very different workflow from my “normal” life as an illustrator, which is usually about lots of smaller, shorter jobs – little nuggets of reward and feelings of accomplishment. There is something monk-like about holing yourself up for a year, chipping away at one thing. Anyway, I’m glad I took this little job… a breath of fresh air for a few days.

Status Update

Aug 14th, 2012

Hello, I hope you’re having a nice summer. Here is what’s going on with me:

♪ My webcomic SuperMutant Magic Academy was nominated for an Ignatz award! You can vote for the awards if you attend SPX next month. Unfortunately I won’t be there though. SPX was the *first comic convention I had ever attended as either an visitor or exhibitor* in 2006, so I have a soft spot for it.

♫ I was in London in early June, during the Queen’s Jubilee.

♪ I was in Oslo where I walked in the woods with famous cartoonists.

♪ Continuing with the famous cartoonist theme: ICON conference, Providence, RI.

♫ I have a new piece in the newest Nobrow collection (7). You can buy it here. [If you're an American, I think you might have to wait a few more days.] Below, the cover (not by me) and my 4 page comic.

♫ ONGOING: I’m plugging away on my giant graphic novel, Awago Beach Babies. Here is a pile of evidence.

♪ Enjoy the dog days ~

Babysitters

Mar 20th, 2012

Here is a job from this weekend’s upcoming New York Times Magazine about the economics of babysitters and nannies.

There was something refreshing about drawing the street clothing. I started taking note of how people ACTUALLY dress… they way they really wear their clothing and not just echoing my own tastes and preferences. See if you can spot the toning shoes.

I can’t say I envy these elite nannies, who make $200K (plus living expenses) per year. It reminds me of my summer grooming show jumpers as a teenager (the children being 1000lb horses). I just don’t take direction well from the superrich, I guess.

AD Rami Moghadam.

Student Questions

Feb 24th, 2012

This week I had my students submit written questions. The question could be about anything: promotion, business, whatever. Some of the questions were pretty good! I’ve decided to share the answers here on my blog.

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If I have many different styles, how should I promote them?

This is a question I hear often. I suppose it’s because my own portfolio contains a variety of “styles”. I should say that putting together a portfolio is more of an art than a science. My thought is, however, that your portfolio should be more consistent when you are a starting illustrator. But consistency can be more nuanced than “all 12 portfolio pieces should be identical”… consistency across a body of work can be more about a consistent tone, flavour, or conceptual style. Not just aesthetics. But back to the question: I think you should tailor your promotional materials, sending images that are most appropriate for the potential client. But at the same time being open-minded about what is and isn’t appropriate. For example, the NYT Op-Ed runs dioramas, children’s book-style art, photo-illustration, etc. Not just black and white, metaphor-heavy line-art. You can only gauge your portfolio’s effectiveness after probably 6 months of earnest promotion.


Will a variety of styles make my portfolio seem diverse or unfocussed?

It depends, and this is largely a matter of taste. Art, not Science, as I mentioned above. There are two common scenarios: the student is too emotionally attached to certain pieces and is unwilling to cut them from the portfolio (the rendered oil painting of a still-life or whatnot). Or, the student who thinks a piece is WILDLY different from their typical work that is most definitely NOT. So you may have to confer with outside people and get their opinion as to whether a portfolio is diverse or unfocussed. Again, there are things apart from aesthetics and “technique” that can link a body of work.


In a studio, is salary based on years of experience or quality of portfolio?

If you are applying for an entry-level job, you will likely start at the base-starting salary, regardless if your portfolio is “great” or “supergreat”.


How do I determine how much to charge for an illustration?

It is my experience that most illustration jobs come with a budget. So, you don’t really have too much of a say, especially with editorial and publishing jobs. The rate is the rate, roughly. The best-known guide for these things is the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook of Pricing and Ethical Guidelines. I haven’t used it myself, but it is oft cited and at least can give you a place to start (not only for pricing guidelines but invoice templates and familiarizing yourself with contracts). Of course, a spot in an alternative weekly is not going to pay the same rate as a spot in a national magazine. At some point you will have to use your good judgment: weigh how much time/effort/pain it will take, whether it will be a good portfolio piece, etc. Never do things for free (without good reason) or on-spec, of course. Here is the thing: there is no fixed price for ANY of this, and you will often confer with peers and colleagues to determine if a price is fair. But do NOT email professionals asking about this stuff, OK?

How do I determine how much to charge for a piece of original artwork?

That’s entirely up to you, darlin’. What you feel is fair and how badly you need to pay the bills. It may be $25 or $2500.

How do I approach art directors of children’s books?

I have little experience in the kids book realm, so I asked someone who does. John Hendrix, author/illustrator of A Boy Called Dickens and John Brown, is going to help out with the next few questions.

John sez: The following advice is from my limited experience doing 4 picture books, so it is from a single vantage point and probably not universal by any means. That said, from my experience, children’s book art directors are just like editorial art directors, they like finding new artists and love a good promo postcard as much as anyone. While it is wrong to completely reinvent the problem of promoting yourself to a kids book marketplace, it is also wrong to assume that getting hired for a kids book is exactly like getting hired for an editorial spot illustration. Clearly, the stakes are much much higher, for a 36 page kids book, as opposed to a 3″ high black and white illustration that will run one day in The New York Times. So, for that reason, you have to show them more than just pretty pictures. Most art directors will not hire you from postcards for a picture book… you should show them that you can create content. And show them some of your process as well.

Me again: There is some legwork involved in compiling contacts for any facet of the industry. This legwork is not hard or mysterious, but does require some effort. This is called HUSTLING, and if you are unwilling to hustle, well, god help you.

I would start with direct mailers. Make a small little sampler of work (a mini-porfolio) and send to Art Directors via mail with a polite, brief introductory letter. But how to find those names? Annuals, industry-group newsletters, internet research. That’s a start. HUSTLE.

Again, a small piece of advice. Diversify your options. You may not get a children’s book right out of the gate, but maybe you could get some illustrations in the myriad children’s/preteen magazines that are out there. Hm, but what are the names of those magazines? HUSTLE.

Lastly, become involved in the community. If kid’s books are what you want to do, you should be going to book and library conferences and getting involved with the SCBWI. The Internet (and, if you’re a student, your school) is full of people who want to help and share knowledge. Use it.

How do I pitch a children’s book story?

Here’s John again: Pitching a story is super easy: it just involves writing an amazing story, creating some memorable characters, rendering vivid dialogue and personalities and then designing some great comps of how the book will look. Ok, that isn’t easy at all.

From my experience, never send in a book with complete final art in it. It is rare (read: IMPOSSIBLE) to have a book printed as is from the one you labored over in your mom’s basement. Have the manuscript completely finished, and then comp the entire book out… just as if you were going to do a sketch dummy. Design the page breaks, and arrange where the text would go. Then rough out some sketches for the book. Perhaps you do a full character study of the main players, or in a few spreads go with some super tight roughs and then one piece of finished art to show your chops. Bind it together so it look professional. Professional doesn’t mean corporate, by the way. It can be quirky or handmade… just needs to look like the person who made it can be taken seriously. Track down an art director you admire (hint: Look at the list of art directors who show at Society of Illustrators Original Art Show) and give them a call. I’ll admit, not easy, but completely do-able.

Do I need a literary agent?

John: No, you don’t need one. But, they really really help. I did my first two books without an agent, and I read my own contracts and negotiated all on my own. It was fine, but it got so much better when I signed with Writer’s House. My philosophy with agents is let them come to you. Approaching people before you are a proven quantity puts you in the disadvantage. Most book agents take much less of your earnings than a typical advertising or editorial rep might. Agents are like marriages, and you have to talk and get on the same page with things, and you have to trust each other. So, go into a relationship with an agent with a healthy understanding of who they are what their goals are for you.

Jillian: I think having a book agent is very helpful, in terms of helping you penetrate the market and dealing with the contracts, etc. But as John says, it’s likely a matter of having agents approach you. Not the other way around.

When do I send an invoice?

After you have completed the job and the Art Director replies, “We got it! I LOVE IT. My editors LOVE it. You are an unparalleled GENIUS!” I like to send it after you’re given the all-clear and all changes have been made.

Are pieces of original art a good idea for a promo?

Generally I would say don’t bother but it’s up to you. Put your time into improving your work, not making fancy-dancy mailers.

How long does it take for a response from an Art Director after I have sent my portfolio?

The concept of “sending a portfolio” is a bit antiquated. Art Directors are almost looking exclusively at your online portfolio (hence why it must be effective and half-decent). You are more likely to be sending promos to ADs, directing them to an online portfolio, and are not owed a response. You may get a job a few days after a promo is mailed, or a few months. If you get no response from your promo in 4 or 5 months, take a look at your work.


How many of your schoolmates are working creatives right now?

Oy! What a question. Well, two of my classmates were Sam Weber and Thomas Porostocky, so I think we did OK. Let me preface my response by saying my programme was half graphic design, half illustration, so many of my classmates got design jobs which, of course, are more plentiful than illustration jobs. So while I’d guess maybe 80% of them are currently “creatives” in some capacity, of the 15 or so students who did the Illustration focus, only 3 or 4 are working illustrators/cartoonists. Did the others lack talent? No. But I think many were temperamentally unsuited to the business of illustration.

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So those are the questions for this year. As a new grad you will never be fully prepared for every scenario and there are many ways to skin a cat. (Do not skin cats.) Remember the bit about the hustling and use your your brain, peers, and the resources available to you. I am only speaking from my own experience and what has worked for me.

Special thanks to John Hendrix… visit him! Follow him!