Jillian Tamaki Uses Her Indoor Voice

Jillian Tamaki Uses Her <i>Indoor Voice</i>

Jillian Tamaki is a successful Canadian illustrator living in New York City whose work has won her such prestigious clients as Vanity Fair and the New Yorker. She is also the visual artist behind Skim, the acclaimed coming-of-age graphic novel she created with her cousin Mariko Tamaki (a successful author in her own right) and published by Groundwood Books.

The real strength of Skim is how writer Mariko’s authentic elliptical dialogue works so successfully with Jillian’s visual representation of unspoken body language and complex facial expressions. Both elements speak volumes about the characters’ inner worlds without needing to actually come out and say much. Still, I found myself marveling again and again at Jillian’s natural visual storytelling powers and her obvious skill for expressing the human form in the natural world. Take a look as some samples from the publisher’s website here—the drawings just pull you in while the panel layout effortlessly leads you along.

Cover graphic for Indoor Voice. Click through to publisher's website for a sample.

I was pretty excited to hear Jillian Tamaki was publishing Indoor Voice as part of Drawn and Quarterly’s Petit Livre, a series of informal sketchbooks that collect a single artist’s drawings, comics, and art. I certainly expected to like Indoor Voice but not as much as I did. Tamaki’s comics are loose and silly, yet sharp-witted and observant. There’s a keen sense of the dark and depressing balanced by humour and self-mockery. The sketches are loose and personal, and they make you want to draw. Here and there an occasional knockout water colour reminds you of Tamaki’s depth of talent, but the petite livre format favours the more approachable, loose work.

There’s a great interview about the basics of Tamaki’s character-driven approach to illustration at Illustration Friday, as well as here at an older blog named Girl Art Index, where Tamaki describes her love of Charles Dickens. Another longer interview worth reading is at Sequential Tart here. Here’s a quote from that interview:

“For Skim, editing dialogue and the logistics were new to me, but when it came down to the drawing, it was about the same as doing illustration,” she says. “With the illustration, I tend to be very narrative-conscious. The details are what make the thing special or powerful. I didn’t want to fall into the trap of talking heads, something I don’t do in illustration. I do character development, and that’s a real strength of Mariko.”

Who published her first? Montreal-based Andy Brown of Conundrum Press of course (see Torontoist’s interview with Andy Brown here), who reprinted Tamaki’s City of Champions zine in 2006. Why can’t we have more cartoonists like this?