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Exclusive Interview with Graphic Novelist, Raina Telgemeier

The author of ‘Smile’ and ‘Drama’ chats with SL about writing for a middle grade market and her inspiration for her latest work.

By: Ashley Baylen
Published: November 8th, 2012 in Culture » Books » Interviews
Raina Telgemeier's DramaPic: Scholastic
Raina TelgemeierPic: Marion Vitus

San Francisco-born, Raina Telgemeier, has been drawing her entire life. She moved to New York City after high school to pursue an illustration degree at the School of Visual Arts, and currently resides in Astoria with her husband, and fellow cartoonist, Dave Roman.

As a pre-teen, Telgemeier suffered a serious mouth injury that required multiple dental and orthodontic surgeries, spanning over several years. These experiences are described in her New York Times bestselling graphic novel, Smile, which also received the Eisner Award for Best Publication for Teens and a Boston Globe-Horn Book honor.

Telgemeier’s most recent graphic novel for middle grade readers, Drama, was released less than two months ago and is already a New York Times bestseller. Drama follows Callie, a theater geek with a terrible singing voice, who becomes the set designer for her school production. Callie is “determined to create a set worthy of Broadway on a middle-school budget. But how can she, when she doesn't know much about carpentry, ticket sales are down, and the crewmembers are having trouble working together? Not to mention the onstage AND offstage drama that comes once the actors are chosen, and when two cute brothers enter the picture, things get even crazier!”

Shalom Life had the chance to catch up with Telgemeier to discuss Drama, Smile, and the Baby- Sitter’s Club.

To learn more, visit her online at www.goRaina.com and on Twitter at @GoRaina.

ASHLEY BAYLEN (AB): Congrats on success of Drama thus far. What inspired you to write a book centered on a middle school theatre tech crew?

RAINA TELGEMEIER (RT): I was a part of my schools’ theater communities in both middle school and high school, but I mostly left those details out of Smile. Theater was such a fun experience, though, and I wanted to write a story based around my memories. I never actually did any theater tech myself, although many of my good friends did—and it was a chance to imagine what being involved in a play might have been like from a different perspective.

AB: Your previous book, Smile, was autobiographical. Is Drama based on some of your childhood experiences as well?

RT: Most of the story in Drama is made up, including the musical the cast and crew stage, Moon Over Mississippi! The parts that do come from my life are the relationships—specifically, Callie’s relationship with her new friends, twin brothers Jesse and Justin. I’ve got two wonderful friends who are also twin brothers, and the core of my relationship with them is reflected in the pages of the story. It’s still fiction, though—the way Jesse saves the play from disaster is a figment of my imagination!

AB: Why have you decided to write specifically for the middle school market?

RT: I never sought out to write for this market; it just sort of happened. I started working on the Baby-Sitters Club graphic novel series at the same time I was starting Smile, which was a personal project. They just both happened to be about middle schoolers. I found I really enjoyed working for that age group, and was happy to continue!

AB: What I find most refreshing about both Drama and Smile is how relatable the stories are for young girls. They aren’t fantastical or idealistic, just real stories about home and school. Is your intention to shatter the Hollywood mold, focusing on smart and hard-working girls instead of the boy-crazy, popularity-driven stereotype?

RT: Nope, I never had intentions to shatter any molds! That’s just what I enjoy and I gravitate to in books and movies and television: real kids in relatable situations, and especially real kids who overcome real challenges. One of my biggest inspirations is For Better or For Worse, which was a comic strip about a regular family—no fantastical twists. I was fascinated by the “reality” of the storylines in FBorFW, probably for the same reasons people like watching reality television. Real life can be really fascinating!

As for writing stories about hard-working girls, I do think it’s important for young girls to have good role models. Girls who like to make stuff and do things. My characters like boys, too, but they usually don’t let them rule their lives!

Check out the second half of our interview with Raina on page 2!

Related articles: Raina Telgemeier, Drama, Smile, New York Times Bestseller, Graphic Novel, Cartoon, Illustration, Comic Books, Comics, Artist, Scholastic, Baby-Sitters Club, Exclusive, Interview, jewish
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