Jillian Tamaki

Your Dreams My Nightmares Podcast

Dec 15th, 2011

Yesterday I was on my husband Sam’s radio show, Your Dreams My Nightmares. We spoke about confidence, lesbians, and our future baby (amongst other things). Here’s the podcast:

Your Dreams My Nightmares – Jillian Tamaki by Your Dreams My Nightmares

Afterwards, Sam bemoaned asking so much about Art School in the interview. So, if you never want to hear about Art School again, I’m sorry. If you’re a current student, you’re welcome.

Here’s the show’s webpage, in case you’d like to link/reblog/retumbl/rewhatever.

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.

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.