Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Interview *Half World's Hiromi Goto and Jillian Tamaki*

I have had the great fortune to interview (via e-mail) Hiromi Goto (right, top), author of Half World, and Jillian Tamaki (right, bottom), Half World illustrator. When I read Half World, an eerie and fantastically imaginative tale, I was blown away; it’s such a unique story. And then I had questions, Oh so many questions! And Hiromi and Jillian were generous enough to respond to my exciteable fanmail. What follows is an amalgam of separate interviews, combined for an organic read:

(Mandy) I found the first chapter gripping, Melanie's parents fleeing Mr. Glueskin and the nightmare denizens of Half World. Your story can be so dark and even gruesome at times, which I love because it's a tale for a younger audience. What made Half World a story that needed to be written for younger people? Can kids handle this type of darkness?

Hiromi Goto: Childhood is often socially constructed as an "innocent" site, but children are the most vulnerable to poverty, violence and abuse. They are dependent upon their caregivers and have no individual rights. They are also often inadequately protected by programs meant to protect them. Even for children who do not grow up in such dire circumstances, there is so much darkness in the world around them that cannot be justified or eliminated (i.e. war, rape, abduction, violence, sexism, racism, etc.). Half World is a story about the potential and capacity of a girl to move from despair and into light. In our lived lives there is no age limit as to who enters darkness. I think children and youth are often closer to the darkness than adults or parents imagine. To speak these things is a way to be able to understand it and move toward being an active force rather than passive. Children understand darkness. I think they need more examples of how to move through and out of it. And, if we also turn to original fairy tales and folk legends, there's a long legacy of horrific tales written for children. These stories can be cathartic and the symbolism found in them resonates on many levels. Like the workings of dreams and nightmares....

(Mandy) Mr. Glueskin is a great bad guy! His presence in the book is so strong; he is a consummate bogeyman. Where did he come from and did he scare you when he showed up?

Hiromi: When my son was in elementary school he had a dubious "art project" assigned that involved glueing strands of short pieces of yarn onto a piece of paper so that it would eventually depict a logo of a hockey team.... The deadline was drawing near and he wasn't finished and so I helped him. As we were attaching the strands to the paper our fingers were covered with glue. The glue hardened and then we would peel it off.

"It looks like skin," I crowed. "Skin. It's glueskin!"
"Yuck," my son responded.
"What if you met someone who was called Mr. Glueskin?" I asked.
"I'd be scared," my son said in a small serious voice.

I find Mr. Glueskin to be deliciously awful. He's complete id, personified. What I find most frightening about him is that there is no reasoning with him. He _doesn't care_.

(Mandy) How did you decide what scenes and aspects of Half World should be illustrated? Was the choice up to you entirely? Was it hard to choose what would be included? Were there any illustrations that didn’t make the final cut?

Jillian Tamaki: I'm afraid it's not very romantic... I was told which general scenes to illustrate, for reasons of pacing and whatnot. That was the art director's/editor's decision. When I plan out the illustrations themselves, I try to give them variety and action, while staying true to the story.

(Mandy) How did you decide that Half World needed accompanying illustrations? Did you decide what was illustrated and what wasn't? How was Jillian Tamaki chosen for the role?

Hiromi: My editor at Penguin suggested including illustrations and I was thrilled, and immediately asked if Jillian Tamaki could be contacted. I knew of her work through the original chapbook of _Skim_ (now a graphic novel), and she's a brilliant illustrator and artist.

(Mandy): Why are there no illustrations of Mr.Glueskin? I think it makes him seem scarier in the text. Was this intentional?

Jillian: Yes, I think it's exactly for that reason... to maintain a sense of mystery.

(Mandy): Half World has a very strong message about the heroism of the average person. Melanie learns that there is power in being able to make change in a fixed world. There is no magic per se in the world of your story, but you speak directly to the potential in everyone. Can you speak a little more about this and about the insights Melanie gains through her journey?

Hiromi: Although Half World is a novel that is categorized as "fantasy", I approach the subject matter "realistically". Having "magic powers" is fun and neat-- who hasn't wished to be able to magick unpleasantness away? But I'm not interested in writing escape fantasy (mostly!). I'm
interested in not only how the average person can survive, but in how the average person is heroic. I believe in the daily acts of heroism of people who will never be profiled on tv or in films. The woman who was physically abused as a child, but manages not to abuse her own
children-- that is heroic. Melanie, who does not feel like she has any power or impact, learns that her small part in the world has enormous consequences. I believe this is the same for every living creature upon this earth.

(Mandy): You capture Melanie perfectly. I really mean this. You have a complete sense of her character and it comes through with each image. In particular there are two Melanies on the front cover (which is gorgeous by the way!). Can you tell me how you developed the cover illustration for the book? I may be daft, but why two Melanies?

Jillian: There are two Melanies... the "pre-Half World" Melanie, and the "post-Half World". The Half World is a strange mirror or reflected image of our own, so that's perhaps where that image came from.

(Mandy): What inspires you? In general?

Jillian: Anything, really. Art, design, my friends' work, people in my neighbourhood, photography, nature, traveling...

(Mandy): The themes of awareness and memory are important in Half World. To not remember is a type of waking death for characters and to be aware of your predicament is to prolong your life between the fixed emotional trauma patterns that trap each Half Worlder. I thought this was a very insightful way of looking at a purgatory situation. What is the importance of awareness and memory for your characters?

Hiromi: The capacity to be self-aware and to learn and accept from experiences from the past is a key component of the characters' continued evolution. In order to evolve, the characters need to know where they have come from, and what they have inherited. A fabulous science fiction writer, Octavia Butler, had a great line in her novel, Parable of the Sower: Life is change.... Without change there is no growth.

Ladies, thank you so much! I really encourage anyone to pick up Half World, and to check out both Hiromi's website and blog (I've been kind of addicted to reading about her life and work, little insights she has) and Jillian's gorgeous sketchblog (it will make your day).

You will also enjoy:
Review of Half World
Book Trailer of Half World


Nightjar Books said...

This is such a great interview with Jillian Tamaki - her work is just incredible. I just picked up this book + can't wait to start reading!!

Mandy said...

Nightjar: Hey, you! Thanks for checking my blog. :)
You would LOVE Half World!


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