Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Interview with TOMO Contributor Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Debbie Ridpath Ohi (author/illustrator of the Tomo graphic story “Kodama”) is a Japanese-Canadian writer and artist. She is the illustrator for I’m Bored and is also the artist-in-residence at, a Toronto-based fund-raising collective. Debbie writes and illustrates books for young people. 
Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Visit her website: 

Can you tell us a bit of background about your family and when/how they migrated to Canada?

When I was little, I remembering asking my mom where she first met my dad and being a bit confused when she replied that she met him at the airport. Years later, I discovered that a missionary in Japan introduced my parents as pen pals, and that my mom flew to Canada to meet my father. I'm floored that she'd leave her family and friends behind in Japan to get married to a man she had never met. It must have taken a lot of courage; I don't think I'd do it.

Debbie Ridpath Ohi's mother as a child in Japan

My father’s parents came over from Japan before the war but then moved from Vancouver to Toronto and avoided the concentration camps. Apparently my grandparents owned a chain of hotels out in Vancouver but had one day's notice to sell them if they wanted to leave the city.

Debbie Ridpath Ohi at right in the arms of her mother, in Toronto
The story “Kodama” is told in a very effective sketchbook format. Was this a first for you? And what inspired you to try this format for “Kodama”?

Yes, this was the first time I had ever tried telling a YA story in sketchbook format. I used to post some "handwritten journal" entries in my blog and really enjoyed the process. When I saw your call for submissions, I decided to try this new format for a fiction story and wasn't sure how you and Stonebridge were going to react to the unusual format. I was so delighted when you said you were going to include it!

One of Ohi's hand-written journal posts
Do you plan to use this format in other stories?

Yes, and I have you and Stonebridge Press to thank. Your response has inspired me to try this again sometime in the future. Eventually I'd like to try a full-length YA using this sketchbook format. I've already been scribbling down some ideas. 

Can you tell us about your illustration background—training, comics, picture books, etc.?

Debbie Ridpath Ohi at right, age 6
I have no formal training, but have been drawing for fun since I was a small child. My first comic strip was for a weekly family publication. Family as in MY family; my brother, sister and I created it by hand and then we taped it up in the family bathroom since that's the place we figured everyone would see it. Anyway, the strip about a baby called Boppy. Um, don't ask. 

My webcomics include: 

Waiting For Frodo: Avid fans waiting in line for the Lord of the Rings movies. I had fans at Weta Digital! This was my very first webcomic and the art is terrible, but I still like the characters. 

Will Write For Chocolate: About the freelance writing life. 

Waiting For Bilbo: Avid fans waiting in line for The Hobbit movie. My co-writer: Shane McEwan, formerly of Weta Digital. 

My Life in a Nutshell: My semi-autobiographical comic. I'm still in the process of moving these strips over from another server. 

I also do board gaming comics and comics for writers. I’m working on book compilations of both right now. 

I just finished illustrating I'm Bored, a new picture book from Michael Ian Black, coming out from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers in Sept/2012. Up to last year, my main focus has been solely on getting my writing published. Now, I'm exploring both illustration and writing opportunities in the children’s/YA book industry. 

Do you have favorite graphic YA works to recommend?

So hard to choose! Here's one I just finished rereading and still love: Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge (Amulet Books). You can find out more about the author/artist at The ALA has some great lists of graphic novels for teens. 

Do you have any message for teens in Tohoku?

I can't imagine what it must have been like for you when the earthquake and tsunami hit. I've been following some of the reports of the recovery (like Holly Thompson's Tohoku tweets) and have been inspired by the accounts of survival, volunteer efforts and positive outlook. Please know many people around the world are thinking of you.

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