Fairy Tale Comics and Baba Yaga: An Interview With Jillian Tamaki

Fairy Tale Comics cover

Two years ago, First Second’s Nursery Rhyme Comics blew me away with its fresh and fun approach to familiar old rhymes, featuring a roster of some of the best illustrators in the business. Now they’re back with Fairy Tale Comics, another lively collection of short comics depicting classic children’s tales. Once again editor Chris Duffy has assembled a team of gifted cartoonists to bring some very old stories to a brand-new audience, comics-style. I had a chance to chat with illustrator Jillian Tamaki about her contribution: the wonderfully creepy Baba Yaga tale.

Melissa Wiley: How did you get involved with Fairy Tale Comics?

Jillian Tamaki: First Second, the publisher behind Fairy Tale Comics, will be publishing my upcoming graphic novel, co-created with my cousin Mariko Tamaki. So we had a relationship prior.

Baba Yaga by Jillian Tamaki. Image source: First Second Books.

MW: The Baba Yaga stories always fascinated me as a kid. I couldn’t get over the house with chicken legs. What made you decide on that tale as your contribution to the book? And since she appears in so many narratives, how did you choose which of her stories to tell?

JT: I snapped up the Baba Yaga because I wanted to draw the witch and her chicken-house. Because it’s Russian, the story and imagery felt a little fresher and more intriguing to me. The way magic was used felt unfamiliar and exciting.

MW:  Were you into fairy tales as a kid? (Or beyond…some of us never stop reading them!)

JT: My parents read the Brothers Grimm to me sometimes. I still have the book. Those stories are so weird. I illustrated a book of Irish legends a few years ago and was struck by how they differ from the typical “story” we have come to expect. The idea of hero, narrative, moral, etc., are very different.

MW: We’d love to hear a bit about your process. Do you still work on paper, or have you gone entirely digital?

JT: I work in a way that combines digital and traditional media.

MW:  I love the palette of golds and reds you chose for this tale. Really enhances the eerie, otherworldly feeling of Baba Yaga’s world. Can you tell us a little about your approach to coloring?

Scene from Baba Yaga by Jillian Tamaki.

JT: It’s pretty simple: I try to pick a colour scheme that fits the emotion of the story that also looks nice.

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MW:  What were your favorite books as a kid?

JT: Any book with horses. Illustrations with lots and lots of detail.

MW: Who are some of your influences as a writer and an artist?

JT: Too many things to name and they’re constantly shifting. I just came back from a vacation to Newfoundland so that’ll probably creep into my work somehow.

MW: At GeekMom, we’re always talking about our geeky passions. What are some of yours?

JT: I am a cartoonist! Doesn’t that qualify as geeky enough?

MW: What are you working on now?

JT: Finishing up my graphic novel, working some illustrated books, and collecting my webcomic strip SuperMutant Magic Academy into a book for 2015.

For more interviews with Fairy Tale Comics creators, click here!