Jillian Tamaki


Jan 1st, 2012

Trying to make my studio a more amiable place to work in prep for a very crazy new year. Getting distracted by the stuff I’m supposed to be throwing away. Made this collage.

Sometimes I wish I was a collage artist. It’s so immediate and direct. I was very into this sort of thing when I was a high-school student, when I discovered the Dadaists and this book of Surrealist games.

Hellen Jo Follow-Up

Dec 2nd, 2010

Whoa, I wrote an article! It’s about Hellen Jo and it’s in the latest issue of BUST! Pretty neat. I’ve been a big fan of Hellen’s since I bought a mini-comic (Jin & Jam, which is about bratty teens, God I’m a sucker for comics about bratty teens) of hers at MoCCA last year. Thanks to Lisa Butterworth and Emily Rems for the opportunity to share Hellen’s talents.

The BUST article is a bit of an intro to Hellen’s work… here’s some unused material that may be of interest to us art and comic nerds. So here they are in no particular order:

You’ve done a few works about Korean ghost stories or myths. What’s your favourite?
My favorite Korean ghost is the kwishin; she is the dead woman with white skin, white funeral dress, and long black hair featured in every Korean horror movie ever. She was wronged in life, so she haunts her victims vengefully, by means of various methods. Sometimes she sits on the chests of sleeping persons, and paralyzes them as she slowly drains the life from their bodies (also known as sleep paralysis). Sometimes she sits on the shoulders of her unknowing victims, creating a crushing sense of guilt or a herniated disc. She’s often wailing or sobbing, though her mouth doesn’t move.

Do you think teenagers are inherently bored, regardless if they live in suburbs or cities? That it’s natural to be unimpressed with everything at that age?
I do think teens are inherently bored, mostly because their worlds are so limited, but I also think that they adopt a sort of “uber-cynicism” as a defense mechanism. Nerds and geeks are embarrassingly enthusiastic and overeager, and the cool kids don’t ever give a shit ’bout nothin’.

Why are people SO EXCITED about Hellen Jo, even those she’s still in school?
Because they must be confusing me with some other person! Also, people are always mystified and charmed by bad students, no matter what they’re achievements. I dropped out of school to make comics, and I re-entered college life reluctantly to make better comics.

What is the best burrito in San Francisco?
My favorite burrito is the chorizo or al pastor super burrito at El Farolito (the one on 24th & Alabama, not 24th & Mission).

Is the writing in your work as important as the drawing?
Absolutely. In comics, writing a coherent narrative is the challenge. The drawings are very important as well, and both serve the other, but in the end, I know that a poorly drawn, well-written comic will be more moving than a beautifully drawn, badly written comic.

I hate questions about “influences”, but let’s try this: I find some things are “conscious” influences, for example, buying a artist monograph or watching a lot of French New Wave films because they speak to you in an artistic way. But some influences are “subconscious”, like your favourite picturebook you studied for hours as a child, or a piece of art that was in your childhood home. Do you agree? What are your “conscious” and “subconscious” influences?

I’ve always believed that everything you consume or absorb or witness in life, whether you liked it, hated it, or had no opinion about it, influences your creative output in some way. As much as I can control the quality and content of my work, I can’t completely filter what I see or hear, nor can I really control how those things will affect me. I definitely agree with you that there are “conscious” and “subconscious” influences, and I’ve had many of both. As far as “conscious” influences go, the most obvious ones are my favorite comic book creators, including Taiyo Matsumoto, Xaime Hernandez, Julie Doucet, Charles Burns, Dan Clowes, Junji Ito, Suehiro Maruo… the list goes on and on. All of these cartoonists deal in some way in their writing and art with the horror of coming-of-age, which is my primary motivation. Similarly, coming-of-age horror films fit that niche nicely for me, of which my favorites are Tale of Two Sisters, Let the Right One In, and the Whispering Corridors.

In terms of “subconscious” influences, I’d say the most important one was probably the Japanese girls’ comic, Candy Candy. As a comic, I can’t really say much about it, because I owned a Korean version when I was too young to be able to read it, but the drawings! I’d always liked drawing when I was a kid, but I think Candy Candy was the first book I’d seen where I thought the images were absolutely beautiful. The characters had large sparking eyes, they were constantly surrounded by furious floral windstorms, and everyone wore a tuxedo or frilly lace dress at all times. I stared at those drawings for hours, and I think I was eventually convinced that the only good art was pretty art. I don’t believe that now, but it has definitely affected my preferences in comics and the style in which I draw.

What are your upcoming projects?
I’m currently working on Jin & Jam #2, which I hope to finish this fall, and I’m developing a single issue, watercolored horror comic for next year, to be published by Koyama Press. I also plan to post several of my old zine comics and the entire issue of Jin & Jam #1 on Jordan Crane’s new comic website, What Things Do.

A Certain Fancy

Sep 20th, 2010

“He was a hard-working, capable man who did not drink and was not without a certain fancy and feeling for the form, but was nevertheless an atrocious tailor. His work was ruined by hesitation. The idea that his cut was not fashionable enough made him alter everything half a dozen times, walk all the way to town simply to study the dandies, and in the end dress us in suits that even a caricaturist would have called outré and grotesque.” -Anton Chekov, The Privy Councilor, 1886

SDCC 2010 Con Report

Jul 30th, 2010

So I’m just getting back into the swing of things after our epic California trip. Here is a con report!

(You can also read it LARGER.)

There are a few other things to mention:

1. I rebuilt my portfolio site. www.jilliantamaki.com was hacked very badly and removing the hack proved more irritating than scrapping the thing and starting anew. I pared it down and added annotations to some of the pieces. I’ll be polishing it up over the next few weeks, but I really, really needed The Internet to stop thinking I was running some kind of sex-aid pharmacy. Although I AM Canadian…

2. I am part of a new anthology: Marvel Strange Tales II. Yes, I am now a Marvel Artist. How effing cool is THAT?! I made a short comic about Dazzler. So much fun. Can’t wait to share more of this project.

3. Indoor Voice. Did I mention that I already? Well, I added some pictures!

Links to some of the pertinent people in the above comic:
Peter Birkemoe (The Beguiling)
Chris Butcher
James Sturm
Gabrielle Bell
Vanessa Davis, whose book “Make Me A Woman” is terrific
Trevor Alixopulos
Mimi Pond
Angie Wang
Hellen Jo
Sam Weber, of course
Heidi MacDonald
Hope Larson
Bryan Lee O’Malley
Eric Nakamura, of Giant Robot


Jul 29th, 2010

INDOOR VOICE! It’s here! A box came today!

It never gets old opening a box of your own books.

So it should be trickling into stores soon (or order online here). Let me tell you about the book:

I consider Indoor Voice to be a companion piece to the book I did in 2006, Gilded Lilies. It is not a narrative story (like Skim), but rather a collection of short comics, sketchbook stuff, etc. It’s inspired, in fact, by the spirit of this very blog. (There are some “reprints” of blog material, but much of it is new.) It can be hard to sum up a book like this, but I had some practice talking about it at Comic-con: I think this book is a snapshot of a year or two in a creative life and is probably best enjoyed by others who live or aspire to a creative life as well.

Making “art” (in the loosest, purest sense of word) for a living is tough. I see students, often in the 2nd semester of 4th year, come to a sinking realization that Illustration is sometimes not fun at all. It’s work. Work that is sometimes boring, frustrating, by-committee, and maddeningly collaborative. Some people are great at viewing illustration as just a profession, a job, filling a need, rendering a service. No problem with that at all. Part of me views it that way too (it’s part of “being a professional”). But I do sincerely believe that without personal work and comics, I might go nuts. For the most part, there is little Sense of Play in commercial illustration (there are a few glorious exceptions to this rule). And the Sense of Play is really what nourishes creativity and, ultimately, good work (paid or otherwise). Sometimes, I think, it’s actually more important than rigorous practice.

So. Here you go. A little glimpse into Play.

Tiny Paper Quilts

May 11th, 2010

I’ve always liked playing with colour via clippings. When I was cutting these little squares out, I suddenly remembered making a crazy rainbow collage on my parents’ dining room table for my Foundation entrance portfolio. I think I’ve always been interested in colour relationships, although I don’t consider myself particularly strong in that area.

I was interested to read Josef Albers say that learning color theory via colored paper is more useful given they are fixed and not infinitely adjustable, as paint is.

I had a student ask why someone would physically silkscreen something when the same effect could be achieved quicker, with a lot less mess, on the computer. A fair enough question. Maybe she’s too young yet to be jaded by the tyranny of Photoshop colour sliders.

Artist as Author: Parsons Symposium

Mar 25th, 2010

I think I’m going to try to check this out this weekend. I caught a bit of the last Parsons symposium and there were some good speakers. Others were a bit dry (such is the risk at any conference-type thing).

I applaud Parsons (particularly Steven Guarnaccia and Nora Krug) for trying to speak about bigger topics concerning illustration. Many of these panels, talks, etc., are about self-promotion, getting started in the industry, demos, etc. Information people want to hear, for sure, but in my mind, less inspirational.


The Artist as Author — a symposium on self-illustrated texts in history and contemporary practice.

Saturday, March 27, 2010 from 3 – 8:30pm
The New School, Wollman Hall, 5th Floor, 66 West 12th Street, NYC
Free and open to the public

Patrica Mainardi (CUNY Graduate Center) on Popular Prints and Comics.
Emily Lauer, (MA MPhil CUNY) on William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair illustrations
David Kurnick (Rutgers University) on The Theatrical Impulse and the Illustrated Novel.
Ben Katchor (Parsons The New School) on Picture-recitation.
Jerry Moriarty (School of Visual Arts) presents his latest project: Whatsa Paintoonist?


Thoughts on Context, in which The Author rambles on Sloth, Musical Instruments, and Public Television

Jan 31st, 2010

Gourd Drum (Ipu Hula or Ipu Heke), 19th century, Hawai’i

I’ve been feeling shitty about not going to museums lately. I mean, why exactly does one put up with the crappy things about the City if not to take occasionally take advantage of the wonderful things?

And I missed the MoMA Bauhaus show. Boo.

Anyway. I was thinking I might go somewhere tomorrow. This Met exhibit of Oceanic instruments looks pretty cool. They’re something so beautiful about an object for which you intuitively know its use. Sam and I were talking about this the other day when we observed that he immensely, surprisingly, enjoys kitchen supply stores despite the fact he doesn’t cook.

For many of the instruments, you can listen to curators speak about cultural uses and hear audio of them being played. The site is simplistic, but it offered a glimmer of how museums could harness interactivity to reach many more people and, more importantly, deliver a more thorough understanding of the subjects at hand.

Context is important.

I’m currently working my way through a PBS documentary series called Art: 21, about fine art in the 21st century. 3 or 4 contemporary artists are profiled per episode, and the experience is so RICH. You’re brought into someone’s studio, peeking in on them working, speaking to their family, oftentimes their subjects, hearing memories of their childhood. So much more compelling and accessible to hear it from the artists’ mouth versus reading a curatorial text. You realize how much of creativity is simply exploring things that perplex you or that you’re curious about. Didactics come later. Or, perhaps, full meanings are discovered through the process of creation.

On illustration. Illustration has always been a late adopter, often reinterpreting or refashioning artistic “styles” several decades after they were conceived by the art world, and applying them to commercial purposes. It’s kind of a nostalgic form. No judgment on that (that should go without saying!). And yes, it does go the other way sometimes too (see: pop art). But! I think there’s a valuable lesson illustrators, particularly students of illustration, can learn from Fine Art… that work should come from a place of exploration and introspection. To copy a “style” is simply a superficial appropriation of someone else’s context. Someone else’s life experience, interests, travels, tics. It’s just surface. There’s nothing underneath.

Flute (Pūtōrino), ca. 1800–1820

Aotearoa (New Zealand), Bay of Plenty region, Māori people


Jan 26th, 2010

I was dutifully doing work when I started watching a documentary on the Shakers. Then I had to draw a picture of the Shakers because I’m a sucker for the costume of religious fundamentalists.

Watching a movie about Shakers while filling in virtual shapes with virtual paintbrushes, and streaming said movie over a worldwide network of fiber optic cables and pulleys. Unpack that for a while.


Nov 1st, 2009

The Marathon snakes a block away from my house in Greenpoint. I always like watching a bit of the NYC Marathon, even though it can be a bit of an inconvenience should you happen to have business on the other side of the street.

Today I was lucky enough to be there just as the elite women’s pack was running past. I got a little teary-eyed, actually. It’s not every day you see someone performing at that level, the culmination of years of training, sacrifices, and regime. You’re watching what this person works towards every single day of their life.

An artist does not perform in this way. Accepting an award is not the same thing. The breakthroughs and struggles are usually experienced alone. But the idea of regime is not dissimilar. Building your skill as an artist is not too very different from an athlete conditioning herself DAILY to perform when it counts.

Sometimes it seems students expect to improve by simply being enrolled in an art institution or completing projects. It’s like expecting to win a marathon simply by owning running shoes or doing a lap or two a few times a week (which, by the way, is pretty reflective of my own running routine). Be prepared to sweat, struggle, and make sacrifices to improve, if that’s truly what you want.