jillian tamaki's new graphic novel looks at feminism in the internet era

Jillian Tamaki takes on social media, feminism and diversity in her new book, 'Boundless.'

by Zio Baritaux
Jul 18 2017, 4:14pm


— the new book from critically acclaimed Canadian cartoonist Jillian Tamaki — is a playful and profound collection of illustrated short stories. In "1.Jenny," a girl becomes fixated on a duplicate version of Facebook that alters everyone's profiles (for example, on the "mirror Facebook," Jonah is married to Caroline, but in reality, Jonah is 16 and openly gay), while in "Half Life," a woman slowly shrinks into nothingness (at first, her shoes just feel too big, but later, she lives in a matchbox, and then is swept up by the wind and eaten by a dog). There is also a story about a bisexual movie fan who remembers her past partners through her obsession with an action-adventure film; and a man — the only male protagonist in the book — who laments the cancellation of his "sitcom-porn" show on TV. In "World Class City," Jillian experiments with the language of comics, and uses her words and illustrations to tell two different stories at the same time. "Why not?" Jillian counters. "Manipulating the text-image relationship seems like a very reasonable exploration of the comics form." Here, Jillian answers a few questions about the role of social media, feminism and diversity in Boundless, which is available through her publisher, Drawn & Quarterly, now.

Why did you title the book Boundless?
I think we're all thinking a lot about borders these days. Literal borders, and those related to identity. And the concept of freedom.

Can you explain a bit about what "1. Jenny" is about? Why do you think technology and social media are recurring subjects in your work?
Many of the stories are about the reconciliation of online and "real" life. It's really quite a false distinction. It's not a conscious choice to place the stories partially within the internet space. It's just reflective of the way I live. Probably the way a lot of people live. I'm not making any commentary on the value of the Internet, per se. Just representing it emotionally.

How does feminism shape your work?
I am a woman living in the world. I owe much of my freedom to the work of feminists.

How does being of mixed ethnicity affect your work or your characters? Is diversity in your characters important?
Sure. Probably. Being of mixed identity creates a degree of fluidity. I consider it a privilege and an interesting state of being. I have no idea how it affects my characters though, apart from the fact I am acutely aware of the power of representation. Seeing yourself reflected. It's not everything, but it's very significant, especially to children and young people.

You said that "Darla" was about "intention versus interpretation" as an artist, which I loved. Can you explain a bit about what that means?
Ultimately, despite all your efforts and intentions, to release a work into the world is accepting that people will lay their own experience upon it. Context can change over time or across a culture.

In an interview in The Guardian in 2015, you talked a bit about dating again, and starting to grow out your facial and body hair. You said that it "felt really, really hard at times. But I just couldn't ever see myself being—am I going to be a 75-year-old woman and I'm plucking my eyebrows? Really?" How is that process going or feeling now?
I'm still not plucking my eyebrows.


Text Zio Baritaux
Illustrations courtesy Jillian Tamaki from Boundless

jillian tamaki