Raina Telgemeier is the author and illustrator of the graphic novels Smile, Drama, and Sisters, all #1 New York Times bestsellers. She also adapted and illustrated four graphic novel versions of Ann M. Martin’s Babysitters Club series, and has contributed short stories to many anthologies. We sat down with Raina at Kobo HQ during a recent trip to Toronto to talk about her early love for The Babysitters Club, seeing little girls dressed like her at events, and her deep love of reality TV.
For readers who haven’t heard, describe how you originally got involved in The Babysitters Club franchise.
I was nine when the BSC books were first being published. I actually found out about them from the scholastic book fairs so they came into my classroom. I looked at the hand out and I was like “this is so cool.” I bought the first four books in the set and I fell in love.
Eventually I grew up and moved on with my life, but I never forgot about those characters and their stories. And much later I was writing and drawing short story comics just for myself, Scholastic invited me in for a meeting about my work. None of my original stuff was quite ready for publication at the time, but I told them I had been a BSC fan.
Two weeks later I had a contract. It was like going back to my childhood–it all came back to me really quickly!
How do you choose which stories in the series you illustrate?
I was really given free range. I knew I wanted to devote at least one book to each of the four main characters. But instead of just doing the first four books in the series I was able to pick a favourite book for each character. I’m really grateful Scholastic let me pick and choose.
How do you balance writing/illustrating your own stories and adapting others?
For the first four years, I was working for Scholastic I was basically doing one BSC book a year and it was my full time job and on the side I would spend about an hour a week on my own projects. Smile went from being kind of a backburner project to being a fulltime gig once the BSC books were completed
Who has influenced you most as a storyteller? Who as an illustrator?
Amazingly Anne Martin had a huge influence on the way that I write. It might be because I read like 150 of her books when I was nine years old, but her easygoing very natural voice definitely snuck into my head when I was a kid. Her and Beverly Cleary and Judy Bloom were probably my 3 biggest writing influences when I was a kid. As an artist, I was really influenced by ‘For Better or Worse’ by Lynn Johnston and ‘Calvin and Hobbes’ by Bill Waterson.
What’s your writing routine?
The writing routine is very visual for me. I don’t write with just words – I write with words and pictures. The process is called thumbnails. I figure out where the panels go, and then draw little stick figures into the panels and put word balloons coming out of their mouths. That’s how I figure out the story and the pacing. It doesn’t happen until I’m actually drawing. If I sit down and try to write at a computer the ideas don’t come.
Tell us about your most memorable fan interaction?
The most surreal interaction has probably been with kids who come to author events dressed up as my characters. It's weird and wonderful because when they dress up as Raina from Smile, they’re actually dressing up as a younger me. I met a girl last year that made a Walkman out of cardboard (it’s not that easy to find a real Walkman anymore) and attached it to headphones and came to an event as Raina. It was amazing!
What’s your current obsession? (music, TV, pastime, etc.)
Some current loves are Top Chef, Master Chef Jr., and Project Runway. I like to see artists who work in different mediums making things. Watching talented people work through challenges and come to creative conclusions – it speaks to me at a pretty gut level.
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