My responsibility is to present things in a way that is realistic and true to the multifaceted world I’ve known… This is how I think the world is, not how it should be.
All my stories take place on the West Coast – not the beach, but smaller inland towns. I feel homesick, and I find inspiration in capturing that.
I don’t pick up my work at all. If it’s something that’s still in progress and I have the chance to make some edits on the material or think about the order, little things like that, I’ll keep those stories at hand and go through them. But once it exists as the book, it’s locked away in a vault, and I kind of put it behind me.
I had relatives who would go to Japan and bring back random stuff they bought at the airport or whatever – ‘Ultraman’ and ‘Speed Racer,’ stuff like that.
Readers often bring a different set of criteria to the work based on the format.
It’s a strange thing to be a so-called alternative cartoonist, because in the early part of my career, I was really tethered to the superhero world.
It’s absolutely chilling to think that I’ve been working on a comic-book series called ‘Optic Nerve’ since I was sixteen.
I’m not the best person to analyze any kind of evolution in my work, but I do feel like it’s been an ongoing struggle to basically teach myself how to tell the kinds of stories that interest me in comics form.
When I first started drawing the earliest incarnation of ‘Optic Nerve,’ I hadn’t even been on a date; I hadn’t had a romantic relationship of any kind yet, so in a way, I was almost writing science fiction.
I’ve always liked the tradition of publishing work serially in the comic-book ‘pamphlet’ format and then collecting that work in book form, so I’ve just stuck with it.
There’s never been a moment where I sat down at my drawing board and thought, ‘I’m a pro!’
Ninety percent of the time when I’m working, there’s this very palpable sensation that I’m doing everything wrong and should just give up.
The comics work is very slow, and it basically involves working for sometimes years in isolation and not knowing how the work is going to be received.
I think the response I get to one ‘New Yorker’ cover outweighs five books that I publish.
I’m sometimes a cartoonist, and there’s an audience for that, and I’m sometimes an illustrator, and there’s an audience for that.
The art editor in charge of the covers at the ‘New Yorker’ is Francoise Mouly. She’s very familiar with the eccentricities and personalities of cartoonists, so working with her is very easy.
For a lot of the time I was in Berkeley, I was single. I was living in a kind of collegiate apartment by myself – it was like a protracted summer vacation. So at least in hindsight, I have gloomy emotions attached to Berkeley, whereas I started coming to New York because I was dating someone, and it was very exciting and romantic.
The most impactful comics that I’ve read are the ones where the artists swung for the bleachers and tried to immerse you in their world.
I was just taking my sketchbook to Kinko’s and making photocopies and hand-assembling them – folding them over and stapling them.
I’ve always published a range of responses to my work in the letters section of my comic book.
I think that artists, at a certain point, can either become defiant and say that the audience is wrong, readers don’t get them, and they’re going to keep doing it their own way, or they can listen to the criticism – and not necessarily blindly follow the audience’s requests and advice.
When I started creating my work for publication, I just assumed that the focus would be on the work itself and that there wouldn’t be a lot of interest in who was creating the work.
Most of my work – including everything from my own comics to the covers I’ve drawn for ‘The New Yorker’ – is the result of taking some personal experience or observation and then fictionalizing it to a degree.
I’m not the kind of person who would throw himself into some exciting or dangerous situation just to get material. So I tend to go about my normal, boring life and just try to look at things a little more closely.
Even though I’m usually not conscious of it, I think drawing has always served a sort of therapeutic purpose in my life. There’s something about the process of translating the messy chaos of real life into a clean, simple drawing that’s always been comforting to me.
I’m Japanese, but restaurants in my hometown served the most sanitized versions of California rolls. I grew up eating a lot of Japanese food at home that my parents or grandparents made.
I never really thought of myself as an Asian-American cartoonist, any more than I thought of myself as a cartoonist who wears glasses.
I started my career so early and developed in print for better or for worse, so I think there’s a sense some of my earliest readers are kind of copilots on this voyage with me.
I hated ‘Dilbert.’
I had a mundane, happy childhood, without much struggle.
My 20s were peaceful, privileged, but still I felt the desire to write angsty dramas.
I wanted to be as invisible as possible as an artist. I wanted to differentiate between myself and who I’m writing about.
New York is a brutally expensive place to live, and the kind of person who might have the dedication and esoteric taste to make the comics that I would really love is finding it more relaxing to live elsewhere.
I love the idea of trying to do the work of old-fashioned novelists of plotting and of really making you curious about what’s going to happen next and all that, but also trying to load it up with your weird thoughts and opinions.
For a long time, I was very resistant to the idea of online publication or even e-books or something like that.
The basic work schedule for me is whenever I’m not doing anything more important, like taking care of my kids or something. So, it’s most of the day, five days a week, most evenings and sometimes on the weekends.
‘Drawn & Quarterly’ has always given me complete editorial control over my books and comics, so any decision about what to include or exclude from the book was my own.
There’s a lot of books that I’ve purchased simply because of the cover design. On the other hand, there’s certain books that, even if I’m very curious about the content, I can’t bring myself to buy if I really dislike the cover.
‘Peanuts’ is a life-long influence, going back to before I could even read.
In general, daily strips were just a regular part of my childhood. So even if I wasn’t a huge fan of most of those strips, I still read them religiously every morning while I ate my cereal.
I intentionally approached each story in ‘Killing and Dying’ in a different way, and that includes the writing process.
I think having kids has been the biggest influence on my work since I started publishing.
I’m always a little apprehensive about ‘decoding’ fictional stories.
I would honestly be elated if I could wave a magic wand and eradicate my back catalog and then have a fresh crack at some of those ideas.
My early comics are really reflective of being kind of a befuddled, single loser in the Bay Area, and I think having kids has been by far the most profound impact on me as a person and as an artist.
To me, one of the big fears of doing a big huge graphic novel is locking yourself into one style and getting halfway through it and going, ‘Oh I made the wrong choice,’ which is a recurring nightmare I have.
What was a very private childhood hobby turned into a very a public, professional job, and I think that there’s a lot of inhibition that can grow from that.
A lot of the qualities in ‘Killing and Dying’ is sort of a response to work I’d done previously. I wanted to push myself in some different directions.
Fortunately, I’ve never had to be too critical of my own work, because the world is critical enough.
I was thinking about what it was like for my parents to have a strange kid with a hobby or a pursuit that maybe they weren’t that familiar with. It must have been a strange experience – nerve-wracking, in some ways.
When I started publishing my work, one of the biggest surprises to me was the recurring question about my background and why I wasn’t doing more stories about Asian-Americans.
On a very basic, concrete level, there have been times when my work, regardless of the content, has harmed relationships because I made that work such a primary priority in my life.
I really love New York, but I have to say, the humidity during the summer is a nightmare for a cartoonist. Not only am I sweating in my studio, my bristol board is curling up, the drafting tape is peeling off the board, my Rapidograph pens bleed the minute I put them to paper… it’s a disaster.
When I’m sitting at my drafting table in my studio, I could really be anywhere.
If anything, I feel a bit of pressure to write about less disenfranchised people, because I’d probably sell more books that way and would’ve already had some hot property that I could’ve sold to Hollywood.
I do think that many Americans have a limited view of what constitutes Japanese cartooning based on what gets translated, so it’s great to see an increase in diversity.
The story entitled ‘Good-Bye’ is probably Tatsumi’s most well-known work, and I think it’s a good representation of many of Tatsumi’s skills and stylistic tendencies.
To be perfectly honest, if it was up to me, I would be invisible as an artist.
There’s a part of me that feels like it gets really frustrating to keep working in the manner that I made the book ‘Shortcomings,’ where everything is pretty accurate to the real world.
I’m an unabashed fan of ‘The New Yorker.’ I do feel proud when I see my artwork in there.
‘Shortcomings’ was me figuring out who I am.
A lot of my fears come out in my work rather than life.
I think comics can be the basis for great films, but I think the focus of such a project should be on making the film as good as possible, not on painstakingly replicating the comic.
There have been a handful of assignments over the years that I’ve had to turn down due to time constraints, and I was fairly envious when I saw the finished product, beautifully illustrated by someone else.
I grew up with a very romantic, idealized vision of New York, probably because of all the books I read and the movies I watched.
I used to live in Chris Rock’s former apartment. I’ve got some junk mail for him if he wants it.
Most normal boys, as they’re growing up, they – in order to become attractive, they might, you know, get good at sports or join a rock band or develop good social skills, and for some reason, I thought that drawing comic books might be my route.
The type of cartooning that I think is generally referred to as ‘alternative’ or ‘underground’ is usually – the distinction is usually in terms of whether it’s made by one person, the entire thing is done by one hand or more of a production line process, which is how the comics that we grew up reading were made.
I think that if you are looking at a comic that’s made by one person, that there’s just a level of intimacy that I don’t really see anywhere else.
I started publishing my comic while I was still living with my parents.
When email and the Internet came along, I never publish an email address. I just stuck with this P.O. Box address.
I enjoy getting any kind of mail. Like, for me, like, the more interesting a letter is, I just get more excited, and I know that this going to be great for my friends who are looking forward to reading that in my comic.