Mariko Tamaki is a Canadian writer. Her works include the graphic novels This One Summer and Skim, both with Jillian Tamaki, and Emiko Superstar, with Steve Rolston. Her first YA novel (You) Set Me on Fire was published by Penguin Canada. She lives in Oakland, California.
We were lucky to be able to do an interview with Mariko! Learn more about Markio Tamaki before you see her at Children’s Day for SOKY Book Fest!!
Q: Tell us about your latest book, Saving Montgomery Sole
A: Saving Montgomery Sole is about a girl named Montgomery Sole, who lives in a small town in California, has two awesome lesbian moms, and a sister who is always losing her socks. Monty is obsessed with unexplained phenomena like ESP and remote viewing, possibly because as a kid with a queer family, she’s always felt a little unexplained. Monty has two best friends, a club, The Mystery Club, whose membership solely consists of those two best friends. And everything is pretty much fine, if really annoying and aggravating, until an Evangelical preacher moves to town and starts preaching about “Family Values.” Then Monty feels like maybe it’s time to summon her powers of the unexplained and fight back. Except, you know, whenever it’s time to fight there’s always that question of “who do I fight?” You know? Who is my enemy?
Q: What’s the book that pushed you to write? What books have you read more than once? Why?
A: Douglas Coupland’s Generation X was the book that first made me think it would be possible to write, because it was the first book that felt like it was a voice I recognized, which made me think that writing a book was something I could do in “my” voice. All the books I read before that sounded like “books” – like nothing that would come out of my brain.
Q: What was it like to get the Caldecott honor for This One Summer?! Did it change the way you view the book at all?
A: Not really. I’ve always loved it.
Q: What are some of your favorite comics or comic artists?
A: Oh gosh. Ok. So. Kate Beaton, Chris Ware, Marjane Satrapi, Matt Foresythe, Jeff Lemire, Noelle Stevenson, Adriane Tomine, Jillian Tamaki, Lisa Hanawalt, Wendy Macnaughton, Michael Deforge, Eleanor Davis, Faith Erin Hicks, Box Brown, Gene Yang.
That is not an exhaustive list.
Q: Who are some authors who have influenced you?
A: I’m Canadian, so I spent a lot of time reading and kind of obsessing over Canadian Lit as a young reader. I went through everything Margaret Laurence, Margaret Atwood, Alice Munro and Timothy Findley ever wrote, and those books definitely haunt my thoughts on a daily basis – in a good way. I feel very lucky to have that kind of narrative complexity in my brain.
More recently I’ve been very influenced by people like David Sedaris, Sherman Alexie and Lorrie Moore, both of whom are masters of deep concise cuts in their works.
Q: Want to talk about banned books for a second? Isn’t that kind of a secret dream of authors – to be on the list? After all, it’s the “you want what you can’t have” maxim in practice – everyone will want to read the book! Right? I just want to hear your thoughts. Should we be reading banned books?
A: It’s nice to be on a list with people like Sherman Alexie and Raina Teglemeier, but I don’t support the idea that a book someone finds offensive or “inappropriate” should be banned. We should not not be reading banned books. We should read things we don’t think we’re going to like and don’t necessarily understand. At the very least, doing those things won’t hurt us. At the best, it will open new doors. We should strive to read those things we find challenging, or at least concede that something we don’t like should be read by other people.
Q: Do your surroundings fuel your creative output? Like, some authors write about Kentucky while they’re in Kentucky, but some say they have to leave a place to write about it. What’s your take?
A: You have to write what’s inspiriting to you. I definitely think your setting is a character, and you should get a long with it, or at least enjoy the parts you don’t get along with.
Q: What are some everyday life things that inspire your work/give you fuel for the literary fire?
A: Conversations. Conversations, the things people say, are so inspiring to me. Like the way people fight or break up or order breakfast, all of that is food for my brain.
Q: On working with a family member…is it super fun? How does it match up to other collaborative projects?
A: I love collaborating. It’s definitely fun to have your collaborator be a relative but I don’t think the fact that we’re related is what makes working with Jillian fun. I think it’s that she’s incredibly talented and funny and smart.
Q: How many projects do you have going at a time?
A: At the moment, 4. Usually, 2.
Q: Why graphic novels?
A: Because they’re amazing.
Q: For the newbies: what’s the difference between a comic and a graphic novel?
A: A comic and a graphic novel are both stories told with words and pictures. A graphic novel is usually a certain length and bound as a book. A comic can be a shorter format, like a 22 pager. Although, really you know, they’re the same thing. If you need to answer for a test, use some version of the first thing I said.
Q: Weirdest thing you’ve seen while at a book event or comic con?
A: One time a kid did ask Jillan and I how tall we were. That was kind of odd.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m working on a new comic with First Second, a new novel, and on the Tomb Raider series (published by Dark Horse – with illustrator Phillip Sevy).
Q: Who are some people we should be reading, say, if we didn’t have any knowledge of graphic novels? Lynda Barry? Robert Kirkman? (did you just cringe?)
A: You should go to your local library or comic book store, and tell the person working there what kind of books you like to read, or what kind of art you like, and go from there. There’s really so much to chose from, I’d say get an expert to help you out. I regularly go to both the above and ask my comic seller and librarian pals to help me find something to read. They’ve never let me down.
Q:What are you currently reading?
A: A few things. I’m reading Oliver Sacks biography, On The Move: A Life, a book of poetry by Sherman Alexie, What I’ve Stolen, What I’ve Earned, and The Witches: Salem, 1692 by Stacy Schiff. Comics wise I just finished Step Aside, Pops by Kate Beaton and I’m waiting for the next Saga.
Q: Favorite food?
A: Dim Sum
Q: Coffee drinker?
A: I just quit coffee two days ago. Stay tuned.
Q: Milk or dark chocolate?
A: Dark but with peanut butter.
Q: Dogs or cats?
Q: Tell us about This One Summer –
A: It started with a book proposal to do a book with Jillian about what it’s like to go to the cottage every summer when you’re a kid. I worked on the script, once the pitch was purchased, for about 6 months.
Jillian worked for much longer, a little over a year and a half.
Jillian and I previously worked together on a comic, Skim, published by Groundwood Books.
(There is tons more on this on Jillian’s FAQ page if you need more).
Q: Talk about the need for diverse books – what are you doing to help this inefficiency? what can we do?
A: We should try and read books that are more than just a reflection of our experience.
Q: Women need heroes! Let’s talk the “challenge of creating diverse heroines that appeal to a new generation of readers” (I stole this from the panel discussion at San Diego comic con)
A: We do need diverse heroes! We need heroes who don’t look like the rest of our heroes! We need fat heroes and short heroes! We need heroes who don’t look like Superman and Batman and all the other –mans. For sure. I love that the Hulk is going to be Asian. I love G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel. Change is good! More change!
Hope you enjoyed hearing all about Mariko! Let us know what you thought by hitting the ‘Contact Us’ button up top! Let us know what author you would want to read about next!
Come back tomorrow!