By Harper Harris
Mariko and Jillian Tamaki‘s This One Summer was one of the most highly acclaimed graphic novels of 2014, popping up on a great number of top ten lists as well as winning an Ignatz Award for Best Graphic Novel. To say it was an attention grabber for the already heralded Canadian creators is an understatement.
Just last week, this tale of two childhood friends on the cusp of adolescence was awarded with the prestigious Caldecott Honor, being the first ever graphic novel to do so, along with the Printz Honor (and joins Gene Luen Yang‘s Boxers & Saints as the only other graphic novel to notch that award as well).
Mariko and Jillian were kind enough to join me for a brief Q&A regarding the recent wins and the creative process on this landmark work.
Where were you each when you learned you won the Caldecott Honor? Who called whom?
Jillian Tamaki: I was in bed.
Mariko Tamaki: I think we eventually texted each other about it.
Is there a sense of accomplishment or “I’ve made it” for winning such a prestigious award? Jillian, how does it compare to your Eisner nominations or the Ignatz award that This One Summer also received?
JT: The feeling is one of gratitude. I’ll never felt like “I’ve made it!” until I’m like a hunched-over old person still making things.
Is it more gratifying to get recognition outside of the world of comics, which you’ve done multiple times at this point?
JT: Both are gratifying. Honours granted by librarians are special to me because it represents a knowledgeable, discerning audience that actually works with young people. Honours granted by comics people are special because it means perhaps I am creating something of value within the medium.
Were you relieved that you both got nominated for this award, rather than one or the other as in some past awards?
MT: When one of us gets nominated, I generally see it as a misconception of how graphic novels work. So, yes.
Do awards matter to you? I hope that’s not a weirdly loaded question.
JT: Um, they are nice, yes. Especially when there is money attached, because comics are not lucrative. But I try to not let outside validation determine the micro and macro decisions I make as a creative person.
MT: I guess awards help sales. There are many awesome comics and books out there that have not been nominated, so we’re in good company either way.
This One Summer ended up on many top ten lists for 2014…how does it feel to have one of the most critically acclaimed OGNs of the year among fans? Is it rewarding to see that fans of more mainstream comics are picking up and really enjoying works like yours?
JT: Of course!
As cousins, were you making comics as kids together? When did you decide to pursue sequential art collaboratively?
MT: We lived in distant cities as kids, so there was little comics making. It wasn’t until we made our first mini comic of Skim back in…2006 (?) that we started working together.
How long has this idea been gestating, and how long did it take to actually script and illustrate This One Summer?
JT: It took probably 3 years in total. It took a year of solid work to do the final artwork.
MT: Roughly 6 months to script. Plus changes.
What was your working process on This One Summer? Especially since I understand you don’t live near each other? Was there an initial script first and then an art stage, or was it done in a more section by section basis?
JT: We Skyped a lot. Mariko scripts the dialogue with occasional actions. I do a sketch version. We edit it together, a lot. Then I do the final art.
Where were your individual high and low points in the creative process of this book? Were there any parts that drove you crazy or were difficult to pull off?
JT: The most difficult part was the editing of the sketch phase. As it is with any book, I’m sure.
When I started reading This One Summer, I almost thought it was autobiographical…do either of your personal experiences play a role in the story? Were any of the designs of the characters based on real people?
MT: Nope. There is an actual cottage area that inspired TOS, up in Georgian Bay, Ontario, which I highly recommend people visit.
What is it about the adolescent stage of life that attracts you?
MT: I think most people spend their whole lives trying to figure out how and what to be. As I understand it, it’s not something that stops with adulthood. I think adolescence is interesting because it’s the start of this process. Everything is just that much more on the surface that it is when you’re an adult.
I love how you use Rose and Windy watching horror movies as a kind of metaphor for seeing the world in a more adult way…are you big classic horror movie fans, or how did that aspect of the story develop?
JT: No, I am a chicken. It was easy for me to draw the freaked-out kids.
Your capturing of the pre-teen voice and body language is wonderful…where do you pull that from? Is it based on your memories, or did you embark on any research?
JT: I am fascinated by the storytelling potential of bodies. We are very attuned to what they are communicating and I like to stretch that to effect. Sometimes I get very hung up on tiny details that I’m sure no one will see, but I think it adds up to an overall sensitivity.
MT: I am a chronic eavesdropper. Although the other day on the subway I was pretty sure some kid called me out for doing it so, I’m going to have to learn to be a little less gleeful listening to teenagers talk.
Rose’s family is fraying apart for much of the book. Why was it important to highlight the onset of familial strife, particularly seen from the eyes of a younger character?
MT: Who doesn’t have a little familial strife in their lives these days? It would seem kind of weird to me not to include it, whether writing about kids or adults.
This One Summer is considered to be all-ages, but there are different elements that clearly resonate with adults, which sort of mirrors how Rose is beginning to see the world as well. Who do you feel is the intended audience for the book? Or do you feel like This One Summer is fairly wide-ranging in its appeal?
JT: I only think of a few ideal readers when I work on the book. Some of those readers are real people, some are imagined. They’re usually not young kids. Some are teenagers. Most are my age.
MT: I think a books audience is self selecting. I don’t see a 10 year old reading this book cover to cover. Beyond that I think the idea is to write about not for.
What made First Second your choice of publisher, and why return to them after Skim, specifically?
JT: Groundwood, which published SKIM, put out TOS in Canada, and they have done a wonderful job. First Second made sense in that they had very strong ties to the American library system, in addition to the Macmillan network. But I think it has been excellent having both publishers, as Groundwood can prioritize the Canadian industry. After all, we are Canadian authors and the content is largely Canadian.
How are your next individual projects coming along? Mariko, I understand you’re working on a new YA novel, and Jillian it sounds like you’ve got some more “irons in the fire” in addition to your work on Adventure Time.
JT: My webcomic “SuperMutant Magic Academy” comes out in book form in April from D&Q. Also in April, Youth in Decline is publishing a short story of mine called SexCoven. It will be part of their “Frontier” series.
MT: My next prose YA book, Saving Montgomery Sole, will be released by Roaring Brook/Penguin Canada in Winter 2016.
This One Summer is available through First Second and on sale at your local book retailer
Correction: the only other graphic novel to be awarded by the Printz committee was American Born Chinese, by the same author (and it was given the medal). Boxer & Saints was a National Book Award finalist, I think.
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