By Rachel D.
Yumi Sakugawa is an American comic book artist and illustrator. She is an illustrator for the websites The Rumpus and Wonderhowto. Yumi also recently released the book I Think I Am In Friend Love With You. This book is incredibly sweet and its ending is as heartbreaking as it is relatable. I talked to Yumi about her own comic influences and the representation of different ethnicities in pop culture.
Rachel: Had you planned to publish “I Think I Am In Friend Love With You” as a book when you began drawing it?
Yumi: Definitely not. I was purely making it for myself as a sort of therapeutic diary comic to process my own unresolved feelings with certain people from the past, and then I decided to share it with Sadie Magazine, an online magazine for teen girls and young women I was making web comics for at the time. I remember thinking that I would be happy if at least 10 random strangers understood the nebulous feeling of friend-love, so I was shocked and very pleased when the web comic went viral all over Tumblr and the internet.
R: Did you read comics as a kid? If so, what were your favourites?
Y: I read a lot of newspaper comics and some Japanese manga titles. Definitely a lot of Sailor Moon, which was probably my all-time favorite.
R: Are there any comics that influence your work?
Y: My first exposure to independent comics was BLANKETS by Craig Thompson and SUMMER BLONDE by Adrian Tomine. Though they are both very different in terms of style, I remember being struck by their very strong black and white drawing styles and their distinctive narrative flow that have a very literary quality to them. I really loved (and still love) SKIM by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki. Recently, I am finding myself revisiting short comic stories by Moto Hagio, an old-school Japanese manga artist who does these amazing magical realism stories but at the heart of it are so psychologically and emotionally arresting.
R: Did you draw comics or make zines as a teen?
Y: I didn’t really make zines, but I definitely drew a lot of super-short comics. They were hardly anything elaborate and probably mostly one-strip or one-panel gags. I did draw a lot and write a lot though.
R: What TV shows and movies did you watch as a teen? Do you think your interests have changed much since?
Y: I watched a lot of Evangelion and GHOST WORLD was my favorite indie movie as a teen. I think I’m still interested in the same type of stories and themes, but maybe now that I’m older and in a steady relationship, I’m not as concerned with love stories.
R: Do you prefer drawing your characters as creatures (like in I Think I Am In Friend Love With You) or as people?
Y: Lately I’ve been really enjoying drawing non-human characters. I don’t know yet if it is a preference or a temporary phase.
R: Do you think your work, or at least how you work, would be a lot different without the internet?
Y: I think how work would be different. It is exciting to be able to work on a self-contained, short web comic (like the work I do for The Rumpus) and know that it will be posted and seen by a lot of people within a matter of days.
R: I love your comic about Claudia Kishi of The Babysitter’s Club, do you think ethnicities are more represented in pop culture now?
Y: Definitely much more than when I was a child of the 90’s reading The Babysitter’s Club, but representation of ethnic minorities is still embarrassingly low in mainstream media.
R: Also regarding your comic about Claudia Kishi, do you idolize any fictional character now the way that you idolized Claudia Kishi then?
Y: I don’t think I’ve found a new fictional character that tops the fabulosity of Claudia Kishi.
R: Did you keep a diary when you were a child/teen?
Y: Yes. Obsessively. I am actually sad that I’ve fallen off that journal-writing habit and I hope to get back onto it soon.