Emiko Superstar is the latest release from the soon-to-be-defunct Minx line from DC. The book is written by Mariko Tamaki (Skim) and drawn by Steve Rolston (The Escapists, Queen & Country). It's a Canadian double team of awesomeness!
The book is about Emi, a shy, somewhat nerdy teenage girl living in the suburbs. She is about to embark on a seemingly unadventerous summer, taking on a full-time baby-sitting job for her very normal-seeming neighbors. Her summer takes a major turn, however, when she discovers an underground performance art collective. She finds herself fascinated by the freakshow that is put on in an abandoned building (The Factory) every week, and by its free-spirited participants.
What I loved about Emiko Superstar is that every character in the book just seemed so familiar to me. Emi is a fantastic teenage female character, awkwardly straddling wanting to be responsible and grown-up, and wanting to drop out of her boring life altogether and do something truly unique and wild. The story promotes art and creativity, but doesn't shy away from showing the darker side of that world, and of some of the people in it. The older man, known as The Curator, who oversees The Factory is a particularly creepy figure.
The art is also fantastic. I always love Steve Rolston's art, and he does a great job with this story and its eclectic cast of characters.
Mariko Tamaki was kind enough to do a Q&A with me via email. The interview was done before the cancelation of Minx was announced.
I was definitely a geek for a large portion of my teenage years - mostly because at the private school I went to there weren't a heck of a lot of freaks - and I was pretty good at Math and Chemistry (which makes you a card carrying geek in almost any high school). I suppose my experience was a lot like Emiko's in that I had to go outside of school to really connect with a freak identity, and finding that meant disconnecting with some geeky friends who were heading in a direction I wasn't too into (finance and law - ick). Unlike Emiko, I wasn't necessarily all by myself when I first discovered things like the Rocky Horror Picture Show, I had a pretty cool black lipstick wearing friend to go with me. So Emiko is far braver that I ever was.
Is The Factory based on anything that you've actually experienced or heard about? It certainly was familiar to me, and I wonder if every city has these sort of underground performance gatherings.
I had a pretty good feeling that things like the Factory exist(ed) in almost every city. I first discovered the freak salon when I was living in Montreal going to McGill University . It was like, "Hey, where are all the Goths going?," "Hey, what's THIS?" Places like the Factory are not always easy to find but when you do, it's like this underground city of eyeliner and amazingness. The idea behind this comic was to combine my love of the whole Warhol Factory scene with my experience of beer and bizarre performance art in clubs/warehouses in Montreal and Toronto - and the people that rule and love them.
It always kind of amazed me, the age range at these kinds of places - which is not to say ALL performance art scenes are like this - but there's this trend of a populous that contains a lot of teenage girls and a ton of older dudes, who end up acting as these kind of wise leaders. It makes you wonder why these guys get to be in this position and why they end up with so much cred - which - you know - for a place that's touting a resistance to authority and the mainstream - why buy into this male leader type thing - even if he is wearing a t-shirt with the word "SUX" on it. I didn't want to create any kind of moral tale warning girls about people like the Curator, but from the inception of the story it seemed like something that shouldn't be left out.
Of course, I want to repeat here, because I don't want to scare anyone off, it's not always this way. As someone who performs regularly in all kinds of spaces - feminist spaces, queer spaces, straight spaces, theatre spaces, literary spaces (and on and on) - I can say for certain that there are some places where freakdom flows and there's no king, which is an awesome place to be.
Steve Rolston did an amazing job on the art. Did Minx put you guys together for this book, or did you choose him yourself?
Shelly Bond, who is the Minx editor, put Steve and I together, which I will be eternally grateful for. Steve is so cool and creative and funny. He's always totally gotten this project and the hearts of the characters within it.
I am a huge fan of YA books - of fiction of all kinds aimed at Young Adult audiences, especially girls. I think it's great to have books that are not only aimed at girls, but tell girls' stories, you know? Like how when I was in high school all the books we read were boys' stories: A Separate Peace, The Catcher in the Rye, now Harry Potter, that kind of thing. And I think it's important to have girl voices and girl stories out there for girls, for boys, and for adult readers when I think about it.
Being a teenager is generally a messed up thing to be. It's all emotions and complicated and fears and anxiety, you know? And it's also an amazing, kind of a ridiculously free (in this way that doesn't seem free) time in your life. I think I like writing about teens because I like thinking about this time period in a person's lifetime. That may chance though. I mean, maybe I'll get too jealous and start writing books about people who have three jobs to pay the rent. Who knows?