Why Harriet the Spy is Mariko Tamaki's all-time favourite character in fiction
Mariko Tamaki is an award-winning Canadian comics writer based in California. A regular contributor to Marvel and DC Comics, she was named comics writer of the year at the 2020 Eisner Awards. Her other books include the YA novel (you) Set Me On Fire and the graphic novels Laura Dean Keeps on Breaking Up With Me, illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O'Connell, as well as Skim and This One Summer, which were both illustrated by her cousin Jillian Tamaki.
Her latest book is a YA murder mystery called Cold. It tells the story of a teenage boy named Todd whose body is found in a park. As his ghost relives the choice that led to his death, a girl named Georgia tries to get to the bottom of his murder.
Name your favourite writers.
Alice Munro, Jillian Tamaki, A.S. King, Cherie Dimaline, Tony Kushner and Joan Didion. I think all of them are amazing storytellers. Obviously some of them are playwrights and some write comics, and some write nonfiction and so on. But I think all of them just have a voice in writing that really draws me in.
I want to read everything that they write.
I want to read everything that they write. For me, that's a sign that someone is my favourite writer.
Tell me about your favourite character in fiction.
That would be Harriet from Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. If there's any character that I would describe as a root, it would be Harriet. Also, just it's the best spy book ever written.
Who is your favourite painter?
I own a painting right now that my partner got me for my birthday by Maurice Vellekoop, who is an amazing Toronto artist. It's a picture of me riding a giant bunny in the moonlight. That's my current favourite painting. It always makes me feel very buoyed whenever I see it. So it's a very useful painting.
It's a picture of me riding a giant bunny in the moonlight.
What is your favourite occupation?
I think the occupation of writer — which is my occupation — is the best occupation. And I am very, very happy that that's what I get to do.
I have tried to stop writing a couple of times and it just never really stuck.
I have tried to stop writing a couple of times and it just never really stuck. I think that there's just a compulsion to process the world in that way. It's just something that I've always done for as long as I've known myself. I've always kept a diary and wanted to sort of write things down. So I guess I can't imagine coming to it in any other way other than just a feeling that you have to do it.
What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
The lowest depths that I get to are the ones I create for myself from my own anxieties and my own fear. They're the things that I sort of bring into my own world.
What is your greatest regret?
My greatest regret is, I think in my 20s especially, I decided that there were a lot of things that I couldn't do. I was afraid to do a lot of things, so I didn't do them. I wish that I had the perspective of my 40s in my 20s.
I wish that I had had the perspective of my 40s in my 20s.
Who are your favourite characters in history?
The ones who fought for themselves when it seemed like an impossible thing to do. Every activist who, in the time that they were fighting for their rights, were also fighting for the rights of others. I think that's just an incredible thing.
What is your greatest fear?
That I am going to mess something up.
What is your greatest achievement?
All the things that I didn't mess up.
Mariko Tamaki's comments have been edited for length and clarity.