The collected SuperMutant Magic Academy, which originally ran online from 2010 to 2014, ranges stylistically from quick ink sketches to detailed scenes of mutant teenage life. Tamaki says the immediacy and low commitment of the webcomic format – as compared to her ongoing illustration contracts at places like Penguin and the New York Times Book Review – helped her gain experience as a cartoonist and to vent daily frustrations. “Anger can be a great motivator for creativity,” she says with a laugh.
According to D&Q creative director Tom Devlin, Tamaki’s chameleonic artistic style is a rare thing, but the real secret to her work is its sense of humour. “She’s clearly very socially aware but she always knows where the joke is, which is the special thing about this book,” he says. “There are people who can draw like Jillian, but are deadly serious about it. It’s not just as interesting as a result.”
Tamaki’s art has always observed, in a droll, self-effacing way, the absurdities of day-to-day life. Her second solo book, Indoor Voice, a petit livre of comics and drawings published in 2010 by D&Q, featured several pages dedicated to Brooklyn, her home of 10 years (she moved to Toronto earlier this year). “Brooklyn Follies” is a diaristic account of typical big-city grievances: dog poop smeared on sidewalks, masturbators on the bus, parks overrun with hipsters.
Tamaki also knows how to wring laughs out of rare places, and is a master at subverting a punch line. Take this scene in SuperMutant Magic Academy in which a group of characters are sitting around a campfire, singing, playing guitar, and drinking beer. “Man, this is great,” says one teen boy, with another responding, “It really is.” In the final panel, one of them deadpans, “I think we’re probably having the time of our life.”
Cartoonist Kate Beaton (no slouch in the jokes department herself) calls Tamaki “King Midas” and praises the relatability found in her brand of yuks. “Her humour comes from a place that is the quiet – personal conversations we have, or the thoughts in our head as we go about our business. It’s ground level as much as it is fantastical.”
It’s this combination of astute observations, natural humour, and empathy – not to mention artistic chops – that has Tamaki poised to stand alongside her early comic heroes. “I cannot emphasize enough how talented she is,” says Barry. “She’s at the top of her game for creativity. There’s nothing Jillian can’t do”
This story appeared in Q&Q’s graphica spotlight in the May 2015 print issue.