Jillian and Mariko Tamaki Discuss Their Comic Making Practice With BUST

by Emily Rems

When Canadian cousins Jillian and Mariko Tamaki initially teamed up to create YA graphic novels together—first Skim in 2008, followed by New York Times bestseller This One Summer in 2014—they quickly earned a fervent following for the ways Mariko’s writing and Jillian’s illustrations told essential truths about girlhood and growing up. Now the dynamic duo is back with their first comic in a decade, Roaming (out September 12). So we wanted to ask them what their collab looks like day-to-day and find out what keeps them coming back to the drawing board.

Roaming, about a friendship that is tested during a vacation to N.Y.C., is your first collaboration since 2014. What brought you two back for a third book together?

Mariko: Jillian had this short story—or the beginning of one—and it seemed like a good opportunity to do something we’d discussed, which was writing together, passing a script back and forth.

Jillian: We really have no grand, overarching plans for our collaboration, on a project or a career level! In the intervening years, Mariko has gotten busy with editing and mainstream comics, and I’ve been doing picture books and my own comics. I had the very loose premise for Roaming, and once I started poking around the story, it felt like a book Mariko and I would make.

Jillian, do you prefer to draw with a pen or pencil, or do you work electronically? What kind of software do you use?

Jillian: The final art for Roaming was done digitally, with a combo of Photoshop and Procreate on iPad. However, in early stages, I use pencil-on-paper for thumbnailing and ClipStudio for more refined sketches.

How many hours a day do you devote to writing or drawing when you are working together, and do you ever take days off?

Jillian: I work pretty much every day. Maybe I’ll take one day off a week? I become a little obsessed with projects. Maybe it’s not the best career-life balance, but I really love what I do, and like most freelancers, I juggle multiple projects.

Mariko: I try to get in at least three hours of writing a day, minimum. I’m also going back and forth between different projects within the space of a day.

Where are your preferred writing and drawing spaces and what do they look like?

Mariko: I have a very portable office for writing—a laptop, notebooks, and pens—so I can work pretty much anywhere.

Jillian: After 20 years working out of my apartment, I got a studio this year that I share with another person. I love it. It’s just a few desks and chairs, nothing sexy. The best part is being able to close the door on the mess every night. It feels very luxurious.

What do you listen to while working?

Mariko: I have a playlist of movie soundtracks I use for atmosphere. Sometimes I’ll put The Great British Bake Off on in the background because I’ve seen every episode a million times so it’s not distracting.

Jillian: I have a “Work” playlist that’s, like, 15 hours of drone-ambient-techno music. I think every book I’ve ever drawn has been made, in part, to Aphex Twin.

Do you ever have people around when you work?

Jillian: I used to work in coffee shops; the ambient sound is good. Now I have a studio-mate. I’m not very social when I’m working, though. I gotta get in “the Zone.”

Mariko: My preference is to be alone with TV in the background.

What do you love about working together?

Mariko: Making art is a privilege. This is an incredible job. I appreciate all facets of it. The opportunity to make something you could not make on your own is incredibly rewarding and always surprising.

Jillian: I agree with all of that!


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Founded in 1993, BUST is the inclusive feminist lifestyle trailblazer offering a unique mix of humor, female-focused entertainment, uncensored personal stories, and candid reporting that tells the truth about women’s lives.

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