Boundless by Jillian Tamaki, Drawn and Quarterly, 248 pages, $27.95. ( Drawn and Quarterly ) Jillian Tamaki, author of Boundless. ( Reynard Li / Reynard Li )
By Sue CarterMetro
Fri., June 16, 2017
Theres a brilliant new social-media app called Binky, which works just like Facebook or Twitter, except for one major difference: all those scrolling images of food, furniture and animals are randomly generated, and dont belong to real people (Binky refers to a nickname for a baby pacifier). This app seems innocent enough nothing more than an innocuous time-killer, or a way to avoid awkward social interactions especially if you compare it to the monstrous one that appears in Jillian Tamakis comic 1.Jenny.
In Tamakis story, which appears in her new collection Boundless, a mirror Facebook site grows organically, making subtle changes to everyones profiles, including their romantic interests, hobbies and even snack cravings. Everyone is obsessed. The main character, Jenny, works in a garden nursery, and asks for a transfer to the flowering bush department so she can surreptitiously check her phone and her alternative life more often. Under the Toronto cartoonists beautifully rendered illustrations, the nursery foliage is lush but claustrophobic, closing in around bubbled status updates where Jenny discovers that her Facebook doppelganger watched Top Gun, owns an unflattering blue sweater and is now dating a guy named 1.Robert.
Tamaki herself admits to having an unhealthy relationship to technology. Its a way of momentarily turning off ones brain, a familiar, comforting mental space you can carry around with you, she says. I cannot easily disconnect but I only feel bad about it sometimes. Its how I maintain many of my friendships.
As a kid growing up in Calgary, Tamaki spent a lot of time in the Alberta countryside, which she believes is why she values open spaces so much. And she was always drawing. Tamaki remembers going through a phase where shed obsessively sketch photographs of horses, which helped develop her physically muscular illustration style and the discipline required to draw the repetitive scenes for serial comics.
Despite her love of drawing, Tamaki was never into comics, though she was a fan of Archie and the Riverdale gang, to whom she was introduced by her younger sister. (Though she considers herself incredibly nostalgic, Tamaki loves the CW show Riverdale for how willing they are to go off canon.) Comics didnt enter the picture until she was a student at the Alberta College of Art and Design in Calgary, making zines and discovering the work of artists such as Adrian Tomine, Chester Brown and Seth. (Today, Tamaki, too, is a cartooning idol: her work draws just as many fans to events such as the Toronto Comic Arts Festival.)
Then, as the story goes, came the big break. In 2005, Tamaki partnered with her cousin Mariko on Skim, a 24-page comic about a teenage Wiccan goth and her boundary-skirting relationship with a female teacher, for the Toronto literary magazine Kiss Machine. Both were new to the comics form, and without any preconceived rules to hold them back, were willing to experiment. Skim impressed Groundwood Books then-publisher Patsy Aldana so much she signed the cousins to produce a full-length edition. The graphic novel was internationally lauded for its nuanced, sensitive but provocative storytelling and show-stopping illustrations.
Boundless demonstrates Tamakis incredible versatility as an artist, effortlessly mixing up photo-realistic to painterly styles. How she decides to render a drawing is a purely instinctual process. I am intrigued by the information contained within lines and colours and shapes and how those interact with words, she says. Some stories showcase Tamakis dry wit, which was on full display in her last book, SuperMutant Magic Academy, about a high school for outsider superheroes.
Many of the subjects in Boundless deal with modern anxieties, from getting rid of bedbugs and boyfriends, to cultish skin-care systems and internet viruses that rip apart the universe. Her characters worries and obsessions all feel relatable and familiar, even when the story is about a woman who shrinks down to the size of a dust particle. Tamaki refuses to call her work therapeutic in any way, though.
Writing feels like work or a personal challenge, she says. That said, of course creating it involves deep meditation on a topic. As for what I am personally freaked out about: world politics, economic disparity and housing instability within Toronto.
She just finished her first picture book, which will be out next year, and is looking ahead to the future.
So I guess Im thinking about next projects, she says. My first book of the Trump era.
Sue Carter is the editor of Quill and Quire.
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Connecting to an alternative reality – Toronto Star
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