American author Raina Telgemeier has taken the graphic novel for girls, boys, tweens, and teens to a new level. Titles such as Smile, Sisters, Courage, Ghosts, Drama and the adaptation of the first four volumes of the novel The Kangaroo Club -all of them published in Spain by Maeva Young- have not only become true public successes, but many of them have captured some of the main awards in one of the most important competitions in the world of comics, the Eisner Awards.
There is no bookstore in Spain where one does not come across their titles, often out of print; some titles that also began to appear in the home of a server as if by magic, thanks to a seven-year-old girl addicted to comics who became fond of the graphic adaptation of The Kangaroo Club and, behind her, he devoured one by one, in a matter of hours, all the Telgemeier titles. Such was the interest, the devotion with which I read the books, that I ended up immersing myself together with that girl, my daughter, in the particular universe of Telgemeier. I understood perfectly then his addiction, that imperative need to keep turning pages.
“It is a real pleasure to see that my work crosses generational boundaries. I think that is possible because I write mainly about feelings and emotions, about situations that every child goes through, but that every adult has also gone through. It makes me feel very proud that my books are capable of starting conversations between children and parents, “says the author, when I told her how my approach to her work was, in an interview with Of moms & dads and made by email.
Raina Telgemeier became known to the general public almost by accident. He was showing examples of his work to an editor when he asked what his favorite novels were. The author then cited the saga of The babysitting club, by Ann M. Martin. Chance (always chance) wanted the publisher to have the rights to the novels, so the first commission was served: it would make a graphic version of Ann’s stories. M. Martin. “It was a real pleasure for me to bring the books of The babysitting club through the comic. The truth is, I felt a bit of pressure to live up to the stories I grew up with and to be respectful and faithful to the original books. But above all, I have to admit that I had fun doing it. I love the stories and the characters. What’s more, I may even like them more now, because it gives me the impression of having been in their place and having shared the experiences with them ”.
Telgemeier adapted the first four volumes from the adventures of Kristy Thomas, Claudia Kishi, Julia Schafer, Mary Ann Spier, and Stacey McGill. The success was such that Netflix released a series about the literary saga last summer. At that peak, however, the author decided to give up the witness. Make sure you do not regret the decision. In the first place, she says, because now she can approach as a reader the new adaptations made by Gale Galligan (and, more recently, Gabriela Epstein) of which she considers herself a fan. And in the second instance, why leave The Kangaroo Club it allowed him to focus on posting his own stories: “And that’s even more fun!”
His great recognition, in fact, has come with his own titles, with very personal novels based on his own experiences such as Smile, Sisters, Courage or Drama. Stories all of them that challenge the reader, that make him feel identified, because all of us, beyond the geographical coordinates in which we have grown up, have lived similar experiences. Bruno Le Maire, French Minister of Finance, already said in a recent speech addressed to adolescents in which he promoted the habit of reading and which went viral on social networks: “(…) words will calm you down because you They will make you understand that you are part of a community that feels the same things, that you are not alone. That is the uniqueness of reading: it is a solitary activity that opens you up to the rest of the world. You are alone, but you are never as close to others as when you read a book. “
Do you think that the fact that your novel graphics are so personal makes them paradoxically more universal? I ask him about it. “It’s funny, but that’s the way it is. The details are less important than the way in which we live our experiences, and feelings are usually universal ”, responds Telgemeier, who considers that the claim “Based on true events” contained in their titles is “very valuable” to the reader. Raina agrees in her reflection with Le Marie. “Especially when you’re young you often think that you must be the only person in the world who feels uncomfortable, or lonely, or ashamed, or anxious. Seeing those feelings reflected in a story, knowing that the author also felt that way, is something that leaves a mark, “says the author, who assures that she does not feel a special responsibility knowing that millions of children around the world read her stories:” For me the responsibility is always the same: tell the truth. Be as honest as possible in my work, even if it is difficult or confusing. Human beings are not perfect, and characters in books shouldn’t be perfect either. “
The “normalization” of the comic
When she found out I was going to interview Raina, my daughter almost set up an interview on her own. He was especially interested in knowing how he learned to draw as he does, if that quality was innate or the result of painstaking work. The author says that her mother kept the drawings of her childhood, including the first scribbles. “I can confirm that she was not a good artist, just a girl who liked to scribble,” she admits with humor. Of course, he liked doing those scribbles so much that he never stopped doing them. “When you practice something almost every day of your life, you end up getting better. And so my scribbles became drawings, my drawings became characters and my characters began to tell me their stories, ”he says.
Two factors also played a role in this improvement. First of all, reading comics and graphic novels. Raina Telgemeier always cites her inspiration from Bill Watterson and his celebrated series Calvin & hobbes, a collection that does not age and that dazzles young and old alike. In fact, my daughter devours Watterson’s strips with the same relish with which she dispatches pages of the adventures of The Kangaroo Club. The author claims to have recently returned, once again, to the vignettes of Calvin & hobbes. “It’s a combination of many things: funny jokes, witty puns, reflections on the human condition, and an ink stroke that seems to come to life. Calvin and hobbes it is admirable because children understand it, they understand the humor, the relationships between the characters and their imagination … And, at the same time, we adults find ourselves with a deep, sweet and painfully sad sensitivity. When I was nine years old, many things eluded me, but, despite the lack of vocabulary and perception of the social context, understood“, it states.
The second factor was his time at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. Raina remembers that, during those years, in the cartoon / comics subject, there were only two girls among 25 students. “Luckily, since I went through arts school in the early 2000s until now, things have changed a lot. Today, young readers who discover comics do not think of the idea of a time past without women who have been the creators of some of the most important works ”, reflects the author, who says she feels“ very grateful ”for having been able to participate in the beginning of this modern era of comics, although he recognizes that this would not have been possible without all the women who preceded him and who laid the pillars of this new era. Lynn Johnston, Lynda Barry, Alison Bechdel, Rumiko Takahashi, Roz Chast or Marjane Satrapi are some of her heroines.
Another thing that has changed in recent decades is the perception of the comic, its acceptance as a literary genre of equal value to the novel or the essay. Telgemeier often expresses that when his books began to become viral phenomena, he had to suffer the rejection of some teachers and parents, for whom reading a comic was almost the same as eating junk food. “There has always been a rejection of comics, but I have also been fortunate to meet fans of all kinds who praise, defend, recommend, break down barriers and embrace comics in bookstores, libraries and classrooms. These people are heroes “, says the writer and illustrator, who points out that at the beginning of her career, comics and cartoons were better received outside than in the United States:” That has changed a lot in the last 15 years. Now comics win great literary prizes, millions of copies are sold and they are even reviewed in national newspapers along with any other type of book ”.