Mariko Tamaki, Toronto-born graphic author and comic book writer, knows what it’s like to be the odd one out. Skim, her best-known and award winning graphic novel, is a window into the experience of being an outsider in high school.
“I was a teenage girl who was queer that went to an all-girls private school. So I’ve been that person and I know that place really well, and I obviously typically want to start writing from a place that feels really familiar,” she explains at WordsFest.
Tamaki thinks telling these kinds of stories about minorities is important. She adds “I certainly think as a queer, Asian, chubby teenager I did not see a lot of queer, Asian chubby teenagers hanging out in my library.” She also wants to see stories of immigration and what it means to be First Nations as a greater part of Canadian literature.
Tamaki’s novels aren’t didactic though. Rather, she writes stories that are meaningful to her. She stresses that, “If it’s an idea that makes me feel good, then I know that I’m on the right track...It has to be that you really love the story of the person.”
Her experience of growing up in Toronto also shaped the stories she tells. It was there that she explored collaborative methods of art, something she continues now. Most of her graphic novels, including Skim and This One Summer are created in partnership with someone else.
“I get a real kick out of creating a story with somebody else and creating a world with somebody else, and conspiring with somebody on the details of what will make that world,” she says.
Tamaki’s novels, which are mostly collaborative works, are mainly about the experiences of teenage girls.
She says, “I think there is something about adolescence that I’ve always found fascinating because it’s a time when you’re deciding who you’re going to be in a much more obvious way.”
“I always say that high school, being a teenager, is almost a form of drag. Really you’re sort of trying on these different personas of femininity or masculinity or whatever it is,” she adds.
Now, though, she’s writing about a whole different set of people – namely Supergirl and the Hulk. For her, comics have more constraints than graphic novels, but she disagrees with the notion “that creativity can only happen when you’re completely untethered and there’s no boundaries”.
In fact, the boundaries involved make her focus on making the best work she can. Tamaki also discusses recent criticism of how female superheroes are portrayed.
“It’s funny because on the one hand, as a feminist I think about it all the time, and on the other and I’m just trying to get work done. I think it’s really important that people speak out…[but] you can’t just listen to a bunch of people. You have to create what makes sense to you,” Tamaki says.
And Tamaki continues to create what makes sense to her; She is currently writing a new Hulk
series for Marvel Comics and Supergirl: Being Super
for DC Comics, as well as the graphic novel, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me
with Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, which tells the story of a messy teenage relationship.