My first Mariko Tamaki comic was This One Summer. My niece’s first, was her short in The Secret Loves of Geek Girls. I have friends who came to know her talent through Hulk and X-23. What is remarkable, to me, is not that, wow, people come to know a writer by different things she has written, which is pretty obvious and normal. What strikes me, is that we all fell in love with her work, and how different these comics are. Tamaki has a marvelous range of tone, comfortably masterful in several genres, writing at different audiences, or, if the same audience, different modes that audience might be looking for at distinct times. Even, her superhero work like Hulk (later retitled She-Hulk) and X-23 are not at all the same book, from tone, to setting, to the pacing of individual issues or arcs.
Hulk is incredibly fantastical, but the handling of post trauma frustration, anxiety, and weird calm not only took me back to a time after a sequence of events left me so depressed I did not understand that I was even a little bit upset, and more, it helped me feel, more than a decade after this time had passed, that the me of then was valid.
Most of my pre-Tamaki She-Hulk experience had been rolling my eyes at “smart cheesecake,” or watching John Byrne put her in chains in muck with men stamping on her back, so she could learn some kind of “strength in humility,” the way too many superheroines do in stories of “breaking free” written (and generally drawn) by men. It was a big shift, especially with a character I always wanted to love, but rarely could. I had just been feeling some of that love with her presence in Brittney Williams and Kate Leth’s AKA Hellcat, and Tamaki took that little seed and grew a garden for me.
This One Summer is brilliantly smart. Publicly intimate.
Her Supergirl comic, Being Super, features a pimple that is a) a stock scene in a coming of age story, b) absolutely disgusting, and c) real real real. you could turn the entire miniseries on that scene, and you could champion its writer solely on the ability to take something that should be old hat and make it sing fresh, true, and revelatory.
Mariko Tamaki is a writer who could segue from this to her interview with fluidity and strength. My best option is to say how thankful to her that I am, for taking time to talk with me, and how much I look forward to her next comics and her comics after, and to seeing new comics from her twenty years from now, and as long as she’ll keep writing them.
Travis Hedge Coke: Any new projects we should be looking out for?
Mariko Tamaki: A few. I have a new graphic novel out from First Second in May, 2019, Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me, with Rosemary Valero-O’Connell. I have a new Harley Quinn graphic novel out from DC Comics new imprint, in the fall (maybe winter?). It’s titled Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass, with Steve Pugh. I have a new Lumberjanes book (with Brooklyn Allen) out from Abrams Books now. And I have a few X-23 comics still to come, with Diego Olortegui, which is Marvel, obv. And I’m working on a new YA book.
Hedge Coke: The Cube* loves This One Summer, so we have to ask, what were the biggest influences on making that comic?
Tamaki: I mean, mostly, my summers at the cottage in Ontario, Canada. I was very inspired by my collaboration with Jillian in Skim, our first book, so that was an influence in terms of me realizing what was possible with comics. Also Jeff Lemire and Nate Powell were at the time big inspirations and still are. And I think a lot of my inspiration story wise comes from Canadian writers like Alice Munro and Timothy Findley.
Hedge Coke: With things like Hulk/She-Hulk and trauma, how much research do you do vs anecdotal or gut feeling?
Tamaki: I’ve done a lot of reading on various subjects that connect up with the things I wrote about in She Hulk. I try to make sure I’m always surrounded by a lot of input so it’s not just me and my gut.
Hedge Coke: When you’re working on company-owned comics, do you worry about what others do with the same characters?
Tamaki: Not really. I read so I’ll be informed on what’s happening and what’s been done.
Hedge Coke: What comics are you reading these days? New or old, just what are you into at the moment?
Tamaki: I just went through a big Warren Ellis reading spree. I’m very much enjoying Rainbow Rowell and Kris Anka’s work on Runaways, and Kelly Thompson and Stefano Caselli’s West Coast Avengers. I try to stay on top of what’s happening with Saga and The Wicked and the Divine.
Hedge Coke: Is there anything comics can do, as a medium or as a community, to lessen the ability of abusive people to be abusive in comics?
Tamaki: There’s something both can do, both in terms of representation (which is about more representation) in comics, and support of the comics writing community in public.
Hedge Coke: Do you have any advice for comics readers?
Tamaki: Keep reading (please).
Hedge Coke: What do you think your comics will be like in twenty years? The comics you’re making then?
Tamaki: They might be shorter because I’ll be tired. But maybe I’ll have more time to nap and then they’ll be longer.
*Note: This interview was solicited while I was writing for The Comics Cube, and would not have been possible without the Cube community.
Representation and Relevance: An Interview With Mariko Tamaki
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