Interview with Mariko Tamaki

by Michael D on March 29, 2018

 Mariko Tamaki is a Canadian writer primarily known for her graphic novel, This One Summer. The book was a breakout success, landing Tamaki numerous awards such as the 2015 Caldecott Honors award and even an Eisner. In 2016, Tamaki made her debut in mainstream comics with Hulk and Supergirl: Being Super. We were lucky enough to be able to pick her brain and discuss her break into Marvel, her recent stint on She-Hulk, and the future projects she has coming. 

CTG: You’re mostly known for your independent work such as This One Summer, only recently breaking into the Big 2. How did they transition happen? Was the She-Hulk pitch your idea? Were you ever a big superhero reader growing up?
Tamaki: I was not a huge superhero comic reader as a kid.  But I was a big reader overall.  Now, however, now I am a huge superhero comic fan.  I am making up for lost time.
In terms of how I got into writing mainstream superhero type comics , at some point after This One Summer came out, I started getting offers, first from IDW to do Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, later from Dark Horse to do Tomb Raider. It was my first time working on a property outside of my own collaborations/creations, and it was definitely a learning experience.
The SHE HULK storyline, as with a lot of work I do for the Big 2, was connected to a much bigger editorial vision, because it was in continuity.   Specifically I was following up on the sequence of events from Civil War II. The actual story, in the comics, was something I pitched.  I’d always wanted to do a Golem type creature and I liked this idea of a Golem that was made up of all the negative energy and fear that was accumulating in this downtown apartment.  Note, huge credit goes to illustrators I’ve been able to work with, who are all amazing storytellers.  With Marvel this includes: Nico Leon, Georges Duarte, Pierfrancesco Gaston, Julian Lopez Velarde, Sebastian Carrillo, Jahnoy Lindsay, and Diego Olortegui.  Plus all the amazing colorists and letterers.  Plus my editors. 
CTG: What would you say was the most difficult part about transitioning to writing for Marvel?
Tamaki: I don’t know if the transition to Marvel itself was difficult.  It’s definitely tricky to move from graphic novels, where you have quite a bit of space to tell a story all in one go, to figuring out how to pace and structure issues and arcs.  Also I think there is the whole thing of taking on a character with a huge fan following, that was an adjustment.
CTG: For This One Summer and Skim you worked with your cousin, Jillian Tamaki. How would you compare that to working with a rotating cast of artist like you did in She-Hulk? What challenges and what opportunities would you say came from that?
Tamaki: Every artist is different, every book is different.  With every artist and project you have a chance to learn something and to do something unique to that project.  It’s like working with different characters; it’s a chance to tell different stories, to see different approaches to this medium.  I was very lucky I had really cool people to work with.  So it’s not really a challenge per se.
CTG: One defining characteristic of Jennifer Walters is that she enjoys being the She-Hulk. She’s comfortable in her green skin and likes to have fun. What made you decide to take the more serious direction with the character?
Tamaki: Jen was grey when I got her, and the focus of the story, as it was pitched to me, was to explore someone who HAD been comfortable in her own skin and then lost that after a tragic series of events – including losing someone incredibly important to her.  Which is a pretty serious thing.  But I think part of the great part of Jen is she is so funny and smart and so even in her worst moments she has this inextinguishable funny soul.  Even when she’s in the middle of the hardest thing she’s ever gone through, even when she’s not green, she has that.
CTG: Jen’s struggle with her traumas, the fear constantly bubbling below the surface, felt very real. How personal would you say this story was to you?
Tamaki: I think every story comes from something of a personal place.  You have to feel a little bit of what your character is feeling.  It’s not specific.  But I think at some point you get invested in a character’s story and it feels personal to them in this way that can feel very close.  Also I have lived in my share of creepy apartment buildings.  Also I love cake.  So yes, it is definitely personal in some ways :)
CTG: You finished your She-Hulk run with a Jen who was in a much more positive place in her life than where you found her. Can you shed a little light on what’s next for Shulkie’s fresh start?
Tamaki: That is a Marvel question. I wish her the best though.
CTG: Speaking of a fresh start, The Hunt for Wolverine: Claws of a Killer is your next announced Marvel project. Could you provide some details on the project? How are you approaching working on a horror title, a genre we’ve yet to see you tackle?
Tamaki: I have not written a horror comic before, so it’s an amazing opportunity.  I have written a horror short story.  I’m working with Sabretooth, Lady Deathstrike and Daken.  They’re on the hunt for Wolverine.  There are going to be zombies.  Lots of zombies.  It’s illustrated by Butch Guice, who is awesome.  I am approaching it by watching a lot of horror movies and not getting a ton of sleep as a result :)  I’m also working on X-23 now with the super talented and very funny Juann Cabal.