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INTERVIEW: Mariko Tamaki Talks Being Super with Supergirl

by  in CBR Exclusives, Comic News Comment
INTERVIEW: Mariko Tamaki Talks Being Super with Supergirl

With DC Comics’ critically acclaimed prestige format series “Supergirl: Being Super” nearing the conclusion of its four-issue run, Eisner Award-winning writer Mariko Tamaki says she wants to do more with Kara Danvers.

Tamaki, who is also writing Marvel Comics’ “Hulk” featuring Jennifer Walters, is best known for her and her sister’s 2015 original graphic novel “This One Summer,” which won numerous awards, including the aforementioned Eisner. While she has creator-owned projects like the upcoming “Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me” in the works, her transition to superhero comics has been well received by readers. And now that she has set the stage for Kara Zor-El in her current series, Tamaki told CBR she would like to continue telling stories with the character destined to be known as Supergirl.

With “Supergirl: Being Super” #3, illustrated by Joelle Jones, available now, Tamaki also shared her thoughts on the darkness of Batman and John Hughes’ films as well as why it’s the right time for a female-led TV superhero series like “Supergirl” to succeed.

Oh, and who would win a fight between Kara Danvers and Jennifer Walters? Tamaki answers that question too.

CBR: When you are 16-years old, what’s the bigger problem: having a zit or losing your superpowers?

Mariko Tamaki: [Laughs] It depends on the moment that it’s going to explode. That’s your biggest problem. But every other time, it’s probably losing your powers. It’s all sort of the same metaphor for adolescence. I’ve always been fascinated with the fact the adolescent body and brain goes through all of these crazy changes. And I am just grafting that on to the whole superhero scenario.

Superheroes are handy but in the end, it’s more about the things that superheroes don’t affect. They don’t affect being sad. They won’t make you not sad when something horrible happens. They are amazing and exhilarating – to be able to fly is always going to be great – but there are some things that remain true regardless of whether or not you have powers.

I’ve read that John Hughes films are a big influence on your humor. Are you poking fun at your teen and pre-teen leading ladies or is it more a fact that you have to find the humor in some of these traumatic events because if you don’t, you won’t survive?

I think teenagers have their own sense of humor towards certain life situations. It’s always way more fun to write a character that has a sense of humor versus one that does not. That’s the thing that makes everything endurable. If you can have a sense of humor about it, you can survive it. And you know, I have been watching some John Hughes movies recently and some of them are pretty sad. They’re funny and they have some funny characters in them but they are also pretty dramatic.

I have more of an allowance for a good story being a serious story. I used to think that it had to be funny or people wouldn’t read it. Which show you what my own adolescent experience was like. [Laughs] But honestly, I think “Supergirl: Being Super” #2 is one of the heavier things that I have ever written and I think that I have given myself a bit more allowance to do that over the last little bit.

Again, doing my research, I read that you grew up reading more quote/unquote serious comic books in your formative years, titles by folks like Daniel Clowes, Chester Brown and Will Eisner. Did you read many superhero comics growing up in Toronto?

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No, I was more into Archie and Jughead when I was a kid. I did not have a Supergirl to use as my superhero base for reading. I was more into “Trixie Belden”/Judy Blume type of place than superhero stuff. I was always into the movies. But I was never really into the comics when I was a kid.

Were you surprised, after your success with your own books like “Skim” and “The One Summer,” that DC and Marvel would come calling for you to write superhero books?

I saw that there were people who I really admired like Hope Larson and Cecil Castellucci doing superhero comics, and I thought I could probably do that. [Laughs] And I think over the years, the voice of comics has expanded to include a lot of writers that feels much closer to me now that I didn’t admire writers from before. It feels like a doable thing for me. I probably couldn’t have written comics in the 1970s. That was going to be my bag. Once “This One Summer” came out, and I started getting offers, and I thought: “Let’s go for it.” I think there is a space now for different stories and all of these other different areas of the comic book world. You have to trust when somebody asks you to do something that there is a space for you there. I just went with it.

And honestly, after reading “This One Summer,” I don’t know if there is as big of leap – age withstanding – from the voices of Rose and Windy and the voices of Kara and Dolly and Jen that one would expect.

Yeah, I think that’s right. I wrote “Tomb Raider” for a bit and that was my chance to write the bad guys. Now I know how to do the conversation when all of the bad guys are around the table and they are planning to destroy the world. I’ve practiced my hand at that. [Laughs] I know those voices well so I am always expanding my repertoire to do different types of characters.

“Supergirl: Being Super” has been solicited as a four-issue series and the third issue is already out this week and it’s fantastic but I feel like there is so much story left to tell. Are there plans for a second series of “Supergirl: Being Super”?

I had this white light moment recently about what the next four issues could be. And I have started having casual conversations with people who could essentially green light another four issues. I would love to do another four. Setting up something is really fun but it’s really great once you have all of these characters set up, to just do something with them. I loved writing this series and I would totally do more.

Kara Danvers, the once and future Supergirl, is obviously in the zeitgeist right now more than ever in part because of your series and the popular TV series starring Melissa Benoist too. Why do you think Kara Zor-El works as a superhero?

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There is something nice about the space of having somebody who is coming into superheroism. It’s a slightly new story. Although, I think any superhero has a possibility to be something that is newly inspiring. I don’t know how many years ago it has been now but there was a period when everybody was into the darkness of Batman and everybody was super-down with that and maybe there is something about this current age and this current political world that people feel like somebody who is maybe not in the immediately obvious dominant position, who is going to be a superhero, is something that’s interesting. I think you can give credit to the television show for featuring a character that is ready-made for a certain age but is also inspiring to people of all ages. It’s an interesting for a female superhero. Look at “Ms. Marvel” and “Batgirl” that are maybe getting more attention than they did before. Honestly, I don’t know why these things happen. I just appreciate that they are happening.

Is there added pressure writing a character with a pre-existing history versus ones that you have created yourself?

I think you can give yourself a week to worry about it and then you have to stop worrying about it. [Laughs] Definitely when I took on this project, I thought about the fact that Supergirl had a big audience and she was very popular character, especially with the television show, there was going to be a certain amount of attention and a certain amount of expectation. You can know all that and it really doesn’t help you write anything so you have to forget that and just write the thing that you were going to write. I think if you are writing into an expectation, it’s never going to work. You have to just do the thing you were going to do.

I’ll be honest, I would have read this book no matter who was drawing it because I wanted to read your Supergirl but man, is Joelle Jones killing it, right?

I’m a very lucky person when I think about the artists that I’ve got to work with. Joelle’s work is so lush and she has a really great instinct for drawing really strong women and look out from the page in a way that is very strong and also very vulnerable too. And I think there is so much narrative in her illustrations. There is just so much detail. The first time I saw the first issue, I was completely blown away. Look at the kitchen. There is so much stuff in that kitchen. [Laughs] You look at it and you already know so much about those characters. And it’s really nice because I have a very loose approach to writing comics. I don’t give a ton of visual direction and I like working with people that like working like that. It’s very descriptive in terms of the sequence of events but in terms, what you’re seeing, Joelle has done some really incredible interpretations of Kara’s dreams and all that other stuff – it’s all pure Joelle. It’s a weird thing to be a part of a creative project where you get to be surprised by what you see when you see the finished product. I really like that part of it.

Who wins in a fight Jennifer Walters or Kara Danvers?

I think it depends on the time of day and what’s going on. Whoever wins would have to come with some context like who had the crappier day. [Laughs] I think they are pretty evenly matched. Kara has laser eyes, which, in a pinch, is very helpful but the Hulk is the Hulk though. I would never write that battle. I would leave that to someone else.

So you haven’t pitched a Marvel/DC crossover event?

No, that’s funny. [Laughs] Somebody else will though. That would be interesting.

While “This One Summer ” is still collecting awards and accolades can you please give us an update on your next creator-owned project?

Yes, I am currently working on a comic with an artist named Rosemary Valero O’Connell, which is a lesbian love story called “Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me.” That’s coming out from First Second in, I believe, 2018.

“Supergirl: Being Super: #3 is on sale Wednesday.

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