From slasher films to Garfield, Sakura Maku (BFA 2004 Illustration) taps into a surprising mix of pop culture sources for inspiration. “Jason, Freddy, Michael, Chucky—you name it, we watched it,” says the cartoonist, one of 18 SVA alumni featured in “The Pond, the Mirror, the Kaleidoscope.” SVA Close Up caught up with Maku via email recently to find out what makes her tick.
Please tell us about your background. Do you think that the playful, colorful character of your work reflects your unconventional upbringing?
My father is an ice sculptor for much of central Florida. He’s as much
of an artist as I am. We both have studios, but my dad’s is in a freezer. I remember attending ice sculpting competitions in southern California when I was young. Lots of artists with chainsaws. More importantly, drawing was encouraged at home.
Where do the strange words and images in your paintings come from? Where do your stories and characters come from?
Words and images come to me pretty naturally. My recent work came from a rice package label!
The rose idea (ed: as seen in her Momoko Rose series, on view in “The Pond, the Mirror, the Kaleidoscope”) has been around for a while. I made a zine about an adolescent woman named Kokuho Rose over 10 years ago. I’ve enjoyed passing by Isa Genzkin’s Rose II at the New Museum. Gertrude Stein’s meditations on the rose being a rose is something
to think about. When I was young I lived in Buena Park, California, and we watched Japanese TV on the U Channel. The history programs had yellow subtitles, and any nudity was covered by a giant red rose.
You’ve said that film has had an enormous influence on your life and in your art. How so? Is it true that you taught yourself English by watching slasher films?
I learned English watching TV and video rentals from the local grocery store, including all the ’80s horror flicks. Jason, Freddy, Michael, Chucky—you name it, we watched it. It was an accessible way to learn English as a family. Freddy Kreuger for me is Freudian; he’s often narrating your suburban nightmares or fantastical crimes that happen under the table. Jason (from Friday the 13th) is an immigrant hero, a family man to a symbolic extent: he doesn’t kill praying children and he doesn’t give up his fight. I made a comic called Jason Is My Hero when I realized that Jason is like my dad, minus the killing spree–he works with a chainsaw and he doesn’t speak English.
There was an immigration surplus in America in the 1980s (we
came in ’85). As a result, there were lots of films that one didn’t necessarily need to know English to understand. Fassbinder’s Ali Fear Eats the Soul elegantly portrayed the fear that played a giant role within the daily immigrant lifestyle. And E.T., the ultimate suburban alien encounter flick, symbolizes a socio-economic legal/illegal alien experience to some extent.
Comic art has traditionally been male-dominated genre. Do you think that’s changing? What has your experience been like as a female artist in that world?
I hope it’s changing. More people are making comics, and women are great cartoonists, but there aren’t enough female cartoonists to create diversity. This year’s Ignatz Awards features an all-female ballot for best graphic novel. The choices are tough.
What comics did you enjoy reading growing up, and what do you read now?
I read and watched Chibimarukochan by Momoko Sakura; Doraemon, Sazaesan, Mebae magazines; and my sister’s Ribbon Magazines. Peanuts, Garfield, Felix, The Sunday Funnies. Black Hole, Love & Rockets, Optic Nerve, Bookhunter, Paper Rad, Princess Knight, Horror Hospital, Jimbo, Taiyo Matsumoto, and Keiji Nakazawa’s Barefoot Gen.
I’m into artists who respect the margins and their unique visions, while creatively pushing forward. Recently, in no particular order, I’m a big fan of Ulli Lust, Miriam Katin, Rutu Modan, Gabrielle Bell, Leslie Stein, Lilli Carre, Edie Fake, Lale Westvind, Lauren Weinstein, Jillian Tamaki, Kris Mukai, Diana Thung, Whit Taylor, Clara Bessijelle, Mare Odomo, Chris Ware (he is a genius), Ron Rege Jr., Dash Shaw, Austin English, Farel Dalrymple, Michael DeForge, Zack Soto and too many more to mention.
Who were your mentors at SVA?
I studied with Tom Woodruff, Keith Mayerson and Gary Panter. They’re super earnest, awesome, intelligent artists. They have integrity and they keep it real. When life gives you lemons, good advice goes a long way.