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Leaps and ‘boundless’

A review: visiting writer and Canadian cartoonist Jillian Tamaki

Campus and Community

By Irene Velentzas

What does it mean to be boundless? To be free from restraint or definition? To exist without borders?

What happens when there is no difference between me, or you, the real or the virtual world? Can you even imagine such an existence?

Visiting writer

Canadian cartoonist, Jillian Tamaki, tries to imagine just such a world.

Ms. Tamaki will address these questions and more as the latest featured author in the Department of English’s Visiting Writers’ Series.

The event takes place on Monday, Nov. 13, at 8 p.m. at Innovation Hall (IIC-2001) in the Bruneau Centre for Research and Innovation.

Recent work

In her most recent graphic novel, Boundless, Ms. Tamaki’s artistry defies even the page limitations a book would impose. Her images often start on one page, careen off the page edge, and somersault onto the next. With such narrative techniques, Ms. Tamaki invents and re-invents the story world and the people in it, destabilizing any one interpretation.

Ms. Tamaki’s fluid compositional style ensures that what we see is only ever part of a larger image, one that is tantalizing hidden from view. Her images twist and turn, never quite staying in one place like they should, rather metamorphosing themselves along with our preconceptions.

In this way, the artist reminds us that boundaries are imposed, imaginary lines whose borders are permeable – meant to be crossed and defied.

The cover of Boundless.
The cover of Boundless.
Photo: Drawn and Quarterly

No stranger to controversy, Ms. Tamaki, and her oftentimes collaborator, Mariko Tamaki, are known for their defiant coming-of-age comics such as This One Summer and Skim.

Winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award, This One Summer is also the American Library Association’s Most Challenged Book of 2016. The book, which follows friends Alice and Windy’s summer at Awago beach, explores sexually explicit themes, drug use and depression.

Similarly, Skim is a book about a teenage girl’s sexual awakening and coming-of-age. “Skim,” or Kimberly Keiko Cameron, is a Japanese-Canadian, Wicca-practising Goth in an all-girls Catholic School.

The book explores teenage heartache and suicide, Skim’s fluid sexual orientation and her adolescent sexual fantasies. Like these highly imaginative works, Ms. Tamaki’s most recent solo-authored project, Boundless, is a just-around-the-corner series of fantasies seemingly ripped from the collective conscious.

Short story format

Unlike This One Summer or Skim, which are longer graphic narratives, Boundless reads as a series of short stories.

The artist brings a chameleon-like artistic quality to these stories, often thwarting typical comic conventions to open her story world to numerous and divergent meanings.

Ms. Tamaki’s stories are presented in brilliant colour washes, dark inks, rough sketches, clean silhouettes or cartoon outlines, in either extraordinary or very little detail.

Her images are unboxed and run off the page, or otherwise seem to timelessly float in its negative space. When Ms. Tamaki does use traditional comic conventions such as panelling, her characters resist such containment by shrinking down into miniscule form, defying the very act of being marked onto the page.

The big picture

If looking is a way of thinking, then the artist presents a way of seeing the world without its imposed constructions, or rather, a vision that encourages breaking apart these constructions to see a bigger picture in a different way.

The big picture, Boundless suggests, is as much a whole as it is a sum of its holes. By showing us the holes, Ms. Tamaki renders the invisible temporarily visible, and the temporarily visible, actionable.

It may be the case that crossing established but invisible conventions becomes a way to illuminate and question these constructions, ourselves, our relationship with others and our society. Questioning these boundaries may, like Ms. Tamaki, help us to operate without them.

Everyone welcome

Ms. Tamaki joins an illustrious set of previous guest lecturers for the Visiting Writers’ Series, which includes the poet laureate of Toronto, Dionne Brand, and George Elliot Clarke, Canadian Parliamentary poet laureate. Ms. Tamaki also joins a series of award-winning visiting Canadian cartoonists who have given guest lectures at Memorial during the past year, including Kate Beaton and Ho Che Anderson.

Parking is available in lot 15B for attendees. The Department of English encourages everyone to join them in welcoming Jillian Tamaki to Memorial.

Admission is free to all for the public lecture, discussion and reception.

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