Cousins team up in com­ing-of-age tale

Calgary Herald - Calgary Herald New Condos - - Weekend Life - ERIC VOLMERS

For those who grew up in On­tario, spend­ing a weekend at “the cot­tage” is as Cana­dian an en­deav­our as pulling into Tim Hor­tons for a dough­nut and dou­ble-dou­ble.

But for those born and bred in Cal­gary, sum­mer pil­grim­ages to the lake — and the near re­li­gious de­vo­tion with which they are un­der­taken — may seem a bit strange. The con­cept was cer­tainly alien to Cal­gary-raised il­lus­tra­tor Jil­lian Ta­maki, who needed to take a few fact-find­ing tours deep into Muskoka ter­ri­tory with her On­tario-born cousin, Mariko Ta­maki, to pre­pare for their graphic novel, This One Sum­mer.

“I had to see the place for my­self,” says Jil­lian, on the phone from a tour stop in Toronto. “You can get some im­pres­sion from Google or Flickr or what­ever, but it’s not quite the same. As I talk to people who have read the book now and are from that area, it is kind of a very spe­cific thing that I re­ally hadn’t ex­pe­ri­enced first hand.”

This One Sum­mer takes place in the fic­tional town of Awago Beach, but it should be in­stantly fa­mil­iar to those who spent lazy sum­mer week­ends in that strange par­al­lel uni­verse of cot­tage coun­try.

For Ta­maki, who now lives in Brook­lyn, there were deeper el­e­ments that stood out be­yond the fresh air, flip-flops, pic­nic ta­bles and rus­tic cot­tages.

Specif­i­cally there was the gap be­tween those who spent sum­mers in these strange small towns and those who lived there year round.

“Two people can view a place in two com­pletely dif­fer­ent ways even though you are look­ing at the same thing,” Jil­lian says. “It’s kind of an in­ter­est­ing idea for me be­cause it all de­pends on your con­text and your state-of-mind and your point of view. It’s a ru­ral town and you’re just drop­ping in. You turn left, they turn right and it’s re­ally seg­re­gated in that way. What is this place like in the win­ter? There is some­thing very Shangri-La-ish about it. It’s not a real place for some­body who is a tourist or a re­sort va­ca­tioner. It kind of ex­ists as a fan­tasy be­cause you don’t view the whole spec­trum of the place.”

Which is not to say that This One Sum­mer has one of those townie-ver­sus-tourist nar­ra­tives. If there is a deeper ex­am­i­na­tion of class, it hides be­neath a sim­ple com­ing-of-age tale that fol­lows Rose and her cot­tage buddy Windy over one event­ful sum­mer. The two teens in­ter­act with Awago Beach young lo­cals, who have their own con­sid­er­able dra­mas to con­tend with, as Rose’s par­ents work through a trou­bled patch in their mar­riage.

The book is a fol­lowup to Skim, the Gover­nor Gen­eral Award­nom­i­nated graphic novel the cousins cre­ated in 2008 about an all-girl Catholic school in Toronto.

As with that book, Mariko wrote the story to This One Sum­mer like a play and left plenty of cre­ative space for Jil­lian’s il­lus­tra­tions, which ex­pertly and beau­ti­fully con­jure up a sum­mer of con­fu­sion, won­der and lost in­no­cence.

“We are very in­ter­ested in a lot of the same topics,” Jil­lian says. “She’s a very good col­lab­o­ra­tor, she lets me add my own con­tent in a vis­ual way and is very trust­ing of the de­ci­sions that I make. I think we have the same in­ter­ests in terms of themes and ideas and who these people are and we are also not in­ter­ested in mak­ing a cer­tain type of book, which is very mor­al­iz­ing and straight-up.”

While This One Sum­mer isn’t au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal, Mariko did call upon her own ex­pe­ri­ence grow­ing up in Toronto and spend­ing week­ends at the cot­tage. This was not some­thing her cousin knew much about, but Jil­lian’s style as an il­lus­tra­tor nicely aligns with Mariko’s in­ter­est in chron­i­cling com­ing-of-age sto­ries for girls.

“I’m very in­ter­ested in show­ing real­is­tic de­pic­tions of girls and women,” Jil­lian says. “Not as any sort of man­i­festo, but I think it’s a good thing to have a di­ver­sity of ex­pe­ri­ence and fem­i­nist themes in books, es­pe­cially if they are go­ing to be read by young people. It’s also sort of a ripe time as well. It’s just a very in­ter­est­ing time where a lot hap­pens. It could be hard to make a book about my life now, which is pretty sta­ble and just in­volves work­ing a lot. Where at that point, ev­ery­thing is in flux, ev­ery­thing is chang­ing and ev­ery­thing is very emo­tional and you don’t un­der­stand it. That makes it a very rich time to mine.”

Mariko and Jil­lian didn’t spend all that much time to­gether when they were com­ing of age. It wasn’t un­til Jil­lian left her Lake Bon­av­ista home to go to Queen’s Univer­sity in Kingston, Ont., that the two be­gan to hang out with each other. That even­tu­ally led to a work­ing re­la­tion­ship.

Jil­lian is cur­rently a free­lance il­lus­tra­tor whose work has ap­peared in the New York Times and The New Yorker. She has pub­lished her own comics and cur­rently teaches at New York’s School of Vis­ual Art. Both Skim and This One Sum­mer have re­ceived praise from crit­ics and peers. But Jil­lian shrugs off any sug­ges­tion that the Ta­makis are break­ing new ground in comics for young people.

“If people think that we do it com­pe­tently, that’s all I hope for to be hon­est,” she says with a laugh. “I’ve only been do­ing this for 10 years. I still have a lot to learn. I hope I make bet­ter books. I don’t think about push­ing the form for­ward in any way. I think it’s hard enough to tell a good story that people care about and cre­ate char­ac­ters that people care about. To me, that’s so im­pos­si­ble-seem­ing and dif­fi­cult, I just worry about that.”

Postmedia News/Files

Cousins Mariko Ta­maki, left, and Jil­lian Ta­maki col­lab­o­rated on the graphic novel, This One Sum­mer.

This One Sum­mer Jil­lian and Mariko Ta­maki Ground­wood books

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