Mariko and Jillian Tamaki Tell the Story of "This One Summer"

Mariko and Jillian Tamaki made a splash in 2008 with their book "Skim," the story of a would-be goth girl sent to a private boarding school. Since then, the multiple-award winning duo have focused mainly on their solo work, Mariko writing the novel "(You) Set Me on Fire," the graphic novel "Emiko Superstar" and the recent film "Happy 16th Birthday, Kevin," while Jillian has gained a reputation as a premier illustrator, her work appearing everywhere from "The New Yorker" to The Folio Society and winning awards from the Society of Illustrators.

Now, the pair have collaborated once again, releasing "This One Summer" this week through First Second Books. A coming of age story, the graphic novel tells the tale of two young women and their families and the interconnected stories of various people in a small, lakefront town.

CBR News: As a way of setting up the book, who are Rose and Windy, the two main characters? Though I suppose I should first ask first if you truly think of them as the main characters?

Mariko Tamaki: I do think of them as the main characters. You mostly see the world from their POV. I guess I think of them as just your typical kids at a cottage.

Where did the idea for "This One Summer" originate?

Mariko: The inspiration was a summer cottage up in Northern Ontario. I believe I was sitting at my desk at my old office job when I got the idea, if that's what you're asking.

Throughout the book, the characters and their stories interact and weave in and out of each other. I'm curious how you construct a book structured like this, and how much did you have it planned out from the beginning?

Mariko: I write a lot of things that never end up in print. I write a lot of outlines and draw out a lot of diagrams and do a lot of free writing for each character, to figure out back story. It helps that as part of the process for selling a book like this you have to write out a pretty in-depth outline. Typically, too, I start with on person's story -- in this case, it was Rose -- and then I let myself, in the early stages of writing, take all the tangents that come up as far as I feel they can go. It's a very loose, exploratory process. Then I edit. A lot.

You are both very busy people, Mariko, and you haven't worked together since "Skim." Did you want Jillian on this book from the start?

Mariko: Jillian came to me and asked if I wanted to do another book together. I thought it was a lovely idea.

What do you like about working together?

Mariko: Who wouldn't want to work with a Tamaki? Tamakis are great to work with.

Jillian Tamaki: Working with Mariko challenges me in good ways because she creates work that's different from mine in a lot of ways. I always learn a lot from interpreting her stories. I'm always surprised how much motion is in them, even though the characters are often not communicating in healthy ways.

How do you work together? Is there a script? Is it detailed? Do the two of you interact a lot and go back and forth?

Mariko: There is a script -- it looks like a TV or theater script. Jillian takes a look and starts laying it out. Then we usually do a little back and forth editing and clarifying.

Jillian: That's about it!

How much detail is there in the script, or does that come from Jillian?

Mariko: I generally put very little physical description in the script. I leave that stuff to Jillian. I typically set the scene and describe some of the things that I think would be present. Mostly, my focus is on narration and dialogue.

We did a lot more back and forth on this book than on "Skim," in part because it's a much more complicated story. We took a lot of things out and added in some other scenes to fill in the gaps. It was a lot of conversations, figuring things out as we went along.

How did working on this book differ from working on "Skim?" Whether the result of the editor or just knowing how each other works and works well having done this before?

Mariko: In terms of our publishers (both First Second and Groundwood Books) the editorial process was pretty similar to what we had with "Skim." I think having done "Skim," we were both pretty pleased with how that set up work, so we stuck to it. I did a script, much more of a theatre script than a comic script, and handed it to Jillian. Then we had some back and forth from there.

I don't know how else to describe it, but when you look back on childhood memories, there are days and weeks which pass in a blur and moments that stand out. How conscious of this were you when creating "This One Summer?"

Jillian: I was trying to capture the sensory feeling of summer. The smells, the sun on your skin, warm breeze, being on the beach and stuff. But also the emotional landscape of that time, which, especially in Canada, has a sense of fleetingness. Summers typically become nostalgia fodder, and I think the main character is subconsciously aware of that fact.

There are a lot of times when the book feels almost stream of consciousness.

Mariko: Well, summer is very stream of consciousness.

Did you have a model for Awago Beach, the setting of the book?

Mariko: Yes, we had a few. We did a cottage tour up in Ontario with some friends, and it was the best research trip I've ever been on.

Jillian: I had never been to Muskoka, where the story is set, so it was fascinating and very important to go see the place and experience it first hand. That was the main inspiration behind the book -- trying to capture the place.

Why did you want the book to look like it does? The paper color and the color give it a very unique appearance.

Jillian: I thought it would be cool. A little thing that's unusual, a little warm and tinged.

Is there a particular scene or moment in the book that you're especially fond of?

Mariko: I love the final scene of Rose and Windy standing in the water. It's such a feminist moment. It makes me feel really proud.

"This One Summer" is available now.

Bettie Page: Unbound #3

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