Monday, September 3, 2012

Talking with Raina Telgemeier about DRAMA

Raina Telgemeier creates fantastic graphic novels for tweens, most notably the hugely popular Smile and the graphic adaptations of the Babysitter's Club. This month, we are super-excited to share Drama - her newest graphic novel.

Every tween I've shared Drama with so far has LOVED it. They've connected to Cassie's character, the struggles she goes through, and how much her friendships mean to her. Several tweens helped me put together some questions for Raina (special shout-out to Helena, Marina, Francesca and Molly - thank you!!). Come listen in:

Mary Ann & kids: Kids are always curious - how much of your books are based on your real life? Were you ever in a drama club?

Raina: It depends on the book, but I draw a lot of inspiration from my real life! Smile is about 95% “true”: there were some name changes, and a few cases where I condensed time or place to serve the story better. Drama is, I would say, about 50% “true”: I was involved in after school drama in middle school, and musical theater in high school, and some of the characters are inspired by people I know…but they are still characters. With Smile, I let my past events drive the story. With Drama, I was able to steer it wherever I wanted.

Mary Ann & kids: At the end of Smile, you write: “I realized that I had been letting the way I looked on the outside affect how I felt on the inside. But the more I focused on my interests, the more it brought out things I liked about myself. And that affected the way other people saw me!” (pp. 206-7)  How does this relate to Callie’s story in Drama?
Raina: Callie’s more interested in enjoying her geeky pursuits than worrying about what people think of her. Maybe that makes her an uncommonly mature middle schooler, or maybe she’s just in her own little world. But she is very passionate, and knows her own strengths and weaknesses well enough to focus on what works. I wish I had been more like Callie when I was in middle school!

Mary Ann & kids: Why did you decide to make Callie’s two friends gay? Kids have liked this part of Drama, but are curious why you decided to make it an important part of the story.

Raina: Jesse and Justin are very much inspired by two good friends of mine, who also happen to be incredibly talented, good-looking, inspiring, and yes, gay, twin brothers! These two characters, and their relationship with Callie, are the truest part of the story—I still have a wonderful bond with my two friends, and I wanted to honor them in Drama. Telling this story in any other way was never an option; it was always, at its core, about these three characters and their friendship. 

Mary Ann & kids: What parts of the creative process come really quickly for you? What parts are harder? Why?

Raina: Writing is the hardest! Whether I’m working with my own memories or crafting stories from my imagination, it’s kind of like doing a really difficult word search. You’re staring at all the letters, trying to make sense of them, waiting to see patterns in what looks like a big jumble. When you finally see those words, it’s as if they were always there! But that process can take months. Even years.

The drawing comes more easily. I do my ‘writing’ in thumbnail format, which means that the words and pictures in each panel are coming to me and I am jotting them down at the same time, so when I’ve completed a script, I have a rough draft of the words and the page layouts. From there, I can interpret the rough, scribbly art into something nicer to look at, and from that point on it’s very fun. Tiring for my drawing hand, but fun. 

Mary Ann & kids: You’ve laughed at times that kids will read your stories in an hour, when it takes you years to write a graphic novel. But I’ve seen kids reading Smile again and again and again. Why do you think kids reread graphic novels in this way - what draw kids back to them time and again?

Raina: I had the same experience with my Calvin and Hobbes and For Better or For Worse collections, reading them over and over to absorb everything. The first time around, I think it’s the story and the jokes readers respond to. Then, it’s the artwork. After that, it becomes more subtle, but it’s still very powerful: I carefully studied the pacing and setup of comic writing, the beats and the rhythms. The body language of the characters. Their faces. Each of these elements can stand on their own, even though they add up to a quick, easy reading experience when combined.

Do you want to learn more about Raina? Head over to her website and explore all that she has to offer! Definitely head out to see her as she visits bookstores and schools across the US this fall. She'll be in the San Francisco Bay Area this month. All of her bookstore signings are listed right on

Thanks so much, Raina!

©2012 Mary Ann Scheuer, Great Kid Books


  1. LOVE THT BOOK!!!!! GO RAINA!!!!! :):):):):):):):)

  2. Read the book and I loved IT!!!!P.S Raina, I'm making a website about you!