‘This One Summer': Mariko and Jillian Tamaki bottle up adolescence

Oct. 22, 2013 | 9:58 a.m.

Illustrator Jillian Tamaki and writer Mariko Tamaki remember what it feels like to be on the cusp of growing up, that moment in life where adult problems start to seep into summer days of bicycle-riding and seashell collecting.

The Tamaki cousins open a window to that stage of life in “This One Summer” — initially titled “Awago Beach Babies.” Their much-anticipated graphic novel follows Rose and Windy, two girls whose families have always spent lazy summers swimming and building sand castles together in a sleepy cottage town by the beach. But this summer is different as they become wrapped up in the drama of the town’s teenagers, not to mention their own families. The book is due out in May.

The cousins first collaborated on “Skim,” their 2008 graphic novel about a Wiccan, Gothic, Japanese-Canadian teenager grappling with depression and sexuality after the suicide of one of her classmates. “Skim” was nominated for four Eisner Awards and won the Ignatz Award for outstanding graphic novel, among other accolades.

Hero Complex readers get a first look at the cover for “This One Summer” (check it about above). We caught up with Jillian and Mariko Tamaki to talk about the book.

Hero Complex: What inspired this story? How did “This One Summer” come about?

Mariko Tamaki: My most potent childhood memories involve my summers at the cottage, and it feels like it happened in an instant, like one summer I was making sand castles, the next I was crimping my hair and watching my friends hit on the local boys at the corner store.  So that’s where the setting inspiration came from. In terms of the plot, the spark for what happens in “This One Summer” was a story I heard about a Burger King in Niagara Falls that made girls pregnant. How, I’m not sure, but that’s what I heard. I thought, “There’s a book in that somewhere.” I’m fascinated by the mythologies of where babies come from, the stories we come up with as a way of addressing taboo subjects like sex and pregnancy. The rest of the story really evolved from the process of making the comic with Jillian.

The cover for "Skim," by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki. (Groundwood Books)

The cover for “Skim,” by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki. (Groundwood Books)

HC: Where there any lessons you took away from “Skim” that influenced how you approached “This One Summer”?

Jillian Tamaki: Doing “Skim” taught me pretty much everything I know about doing comics. While I am proud of that book, I wanted to refine and expand on some of the ideas we explored — namely creating a specific sense of place and time. The shorter comic stories and the webcomic that I did after “Skim” also fed into “This One Summer” in terms of pacing and compression. I think I just became a better drawer in the intervening five years, which helps.

HC: You have such a command (verbally and visually) on what it feels like to be young. How do you do that? Is describing adolescence something you have to work on or research? Is it something you just vividly remember?

JT: Well, that’s nice of you to say. I do remember elements of my childhood vividly. In some ways not much has changed since the ’90s, but I wanted to make the kids and teens feel of 2013 — but also feel somewhat timeless. I hope that’s possible. I did do research into some of the current thinking around pre-teen and teenage womanhood. And I tried to eavesdrop on real teenagers, which is not something I’m used to…. I usually avoid groups of teens because first and foremost they are incredibly loud.

HC: What keeps drawing you to characters who are on the cusp of adulthood?

MT: I think part of it is that the experience of being that age still feels very close to me, maybe because it was something I really wrestled through. So in a way I’ve always been fascinated by the mechanics of growing up. Even as a kid, I took detailed notes in my Judy Blume diary.

A page from "This One Summer," by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki. (First Second)

A page from “This One Summer,” by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki. (First Second)

Also, I think the lessons that go with stories about “coming of age” are pretty universal. The question of how you become the person you’re supposed to be is not a neat and tidy question. I think it’s something people struggle with at all ages.

HC: “This One Summer” explores some rather adult themes (like infertility, sexism, unplanned pregnancy, suicide) through the lens of youth. How did you balance the heaviness of these issues with the lightness of childhood?

MT: I tried to connect as much as possible to the details of summer life as opposed to the issues I wanted to tackle. So there are a lot of little moments that are light because there are a lot of light moments that go with the day to day of being at the cottage. Being at the cottage with my family involved a lot of little family jokes. Many of them made it into this book.

HC: The book also feels like a compassionate exploration of what it means to be a girl and a woman. Was this intentional?

JT: Of course. Mariko and I are both proud feminists and presenting real people and stories is very important to us.

HC: I loved the diversity of shapes and sizes and faces and ages among your characters. How do you decide how your characters look?

JT: I think simply representing diversity is very powerful. Not in a PSA-y, overly conscious way, because that is lame.  Also it helps you tell the characters apart.

HC: If you could travel in time and give your younger self advice, what would you tell adolescent you?

MT: Relax.

A page from "This One Summer," by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki. (First Second)

A page from “This One Summer,” by Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki. (First Second)

HC: Can you tell us a little about your collaboration process?

JT: Hm. This one was a little more back-and-forth-y than “Skim” was. We worked on the pitch together — though, mind you, the story is totally sprung forth from Mariko’s brain. We workshopped the script together, then workshopped the sketches before we presented them to the publisher. But there is still a lot of independent labor; I spent a full year working on the final art.

HC: Are there any moments or panels in the book that you’re particularly proud of?

MT: I am exceptionally pleased to have a Rush [the Canadian progressive rock band] scene in this book.

HC: What else are you working on?

MT: I’m currently completing edits on my next YA novel.

JT: My webcomic, SuperMutant Magic Academy, will be published in book form by D&Q in 2015. So I’m working on fleshing out that.

– Noelene Clark | @NoeleneClark | Google+

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