Eisner-nominated webcomics creator Raina Telgemeier has had a great time adapting the classic children’s series The Baby-Sitters Club for Scholastic, the last of which, Claudia and Mean Janine,
was recently released. As a BSC fan from back in the 1980s, this writer
was more than eager to talk with her about working on these books…and
in the process, found out about some exciting projects she has for next
year and beyond.
Newsarama: Raina, how did you come on board to adapt the BSC books?
Raina Telgemeier: The editors at Scholastic invited me to pitch
some ideas for their new Graphix line, and while we were talking, they
also asked me about my favorite childhood books. When I mentioned that
I was a big fan of the BSC as a kid, they put two and two together and
asked if I would like to try doing a graphic novel adaptation.
They signed me up to do two books, and then asked for two more.
Everything happened very quickly, and I went from working as an
editorial assistant at a publisher to being a published cartoonist in a
short period of time.
NRAMA: How did you first discover the BSC books, and what impression did they make on you?
RT: I was in fourth grade, and we got those Scholastic Book
Club order forms in class. A lot of my friends were talking about a
series they were reading, The Baby-Sitters Club, so I ordered the first
four (which were the only ones out at the time) in a box set.
I fell in love with them immediately, and bought each new book as it
was published. I was not into that many ‘cool’ things at that age (I
got teased for watching cartoons, and none of my friends read comics),
so it was something I could talk about with my friends.
NRAMA: What was it like getting to meet BSC creator Ann M. Martin?
RT: I have always had a great respect for her stories, and I
think my own sensibilities as a writer were greatly inspired by her.
I’ve been floored by the fact that she likes what I’ve done with the
series. Meeting her was definitely a fangirl moment for me!
NRAMA: Who's your favorite member of the BSC, and why? Is she also your favorite to draw?
RT: As a kid I liked Kristy best, but that might have been
because I looked the most like her. Kristy’s design is based on the way
I draw myself at that age. She was also the leader of the club, and an
idea-person, which I definitely aspired to.
Now, I still find that drawing Kristy comes the most naturally to me,
because she’s very over-exaggerated and reacts to things very boldly.
She’s suited to being cartoony, which I appreciate.
NRAMA: For that matter, which is the most difficult character to draw?
RT: Probably Stacey. Kristy’s design and body language were
based on myself, and Mary Anne’s and Claudia’s were also both based on
people I know. Stacey wasn’t based on anyone specific, so ‘acting’
through her was kind of tricky.
Once I got into working on the second graphic novel, The Truth About Stacey,
though, I feel like I got to know her better, so she’s been easier to
draw since then. But her design has changed way more than the other
characters, if you go back and compare my drawings in the first graphic
novel to the other three.
NRAMA: Is it just me, or was Stacey's diabetes unusually severe? I mean, she always seemed about to go to the hospital.
RT: Ha ha! Well, don’t forget, these stories were originally
written in the mid-80s. Diabetes treatment has come a long way since
then. But, I think the writing reflects Stacey’s insecurities as a
character—being twelve years old and having anything wrong with you can
be really scary for a kid.
NRAMA: What was the most challenging part of adapting these books?
RT: I wanted very much to preserve the heart and spirit of the original novels. But, making comic adaptations means making a lot of choices—you need to adjust the pacing, the dialogue, and in this case, a lot of the cultural references.
The original books were written in the ‘80s and ‘90s, and the graphic
novels were designed to appeal to today’s kids. Which meant that VCRs
became DVD players, we added a few cell phones, and I had to update the
kids’ clothing to feel more modern.
Some of the humor got lost in the process, so I tried to compensate for
it in other ways. Doing these things while still trying to keep the
spirit of the originals was a challenge, but one I had a lot of fun
NRAMA: Which story was the most fun to adapt, and why?
RT: They were all really fun. I think each book had its own
moments that stood out for me: In Kristy’s book, drawing Kristy running
around with the dogs. In Stacey’s book, drawing Stacey in New York
In Mary Anne’s book, I liked drawing her relationship with Mimi. And in
Claudia’s book, I liked drawing all the kids running around, and also
Kristy and Dawn’s bonding scene in the barn. I think I like drawing
action scenes best, but I also like drawing characters flipping out and
over-acting, whether they’re laughing hysterically or getting really
NRAMA: So you're no longer working on the series now -- would you like to return in the future?
RT: I can definitely see myself doing more, sure. They’re really
fun to work on, and the response from kids has been really great.
NRAMA: What stories would you have liked to adapt?
RT: There are two specifically: Kristy’s Big Day was the
6th prose book, and I skipped over it to draw book 7, because I hadn’t
done a Claudia book yet. But it’s the book where Kristy’s mom gets
married, and the whole story focuses around the wedding. I think that
would be really fun to draw.
The second book is The Ghost at Dawn’s House,
which is the 9th prose book. It would be great to draw a ghost story,
especially one that deals with legends and old town history. Plus, Dawn
is an awesome character!
NRAMA: I always liked Mallory better….
What did you learn from this experience?
RT: I learned a lot of things. A lot of it has to do with
confidence about my own output. I know how long it takes me to draw a
page, how long it takes me to complete a project, how long I can work
before my hand gives out, that sort of thing.
I think I’m a much
better draftsman than I was when I began; I can now draw cars, old
houses, dogs, chairs, babies, Times Square…stuff I wouldn’t have
challenged myself with before. I also learned that I really like
working for young readers, because there’s such a limited amount of
comics material out there for them.
NRAMA: What would you have done differently?
RT: I probably should have spent a little bit more time
designing certain set pieces. It’s labor-intensive to draw 10 five-page
scenes in a book where the characters are sitting around talking in a
room that has lots of things on the walls, details, furniture, and
artistic touches…so a lot of the characters live in simple houses
without much in the way of decoration.
I wish I’d taken the time to craft the look of the world a little
further, because the attention to detail pays off and is way more fun
to look at later.
NRAMA: What are you working on now?
RT: I’ve turned my attention full-time to Smile, which I started as a webcomic (http://smilecomics.com)
the same year I started working on the BSC. And now it’s going to be my
next book, which Scholastic will also be publishing. The book version
will expand on the web version, finish up the story, and will be in
full color. It’s currently slated to come out in early 2010.
I’m also scripting a shoujo-manga X-Men series, for Del Rey Manga! My
husband, Dave Roman, and I are co-writing the script, and it’s being
drawn by a talented Manga-ka from Indonesia named Anzu. The first book
in the series will be out this spring. We’ve had a ton of fun with this
project and I can’t wait to see the finished product!
For more of Raina’s comics, visit www.goraina.com. For more of The Baby-Sitters Club adaptations, visit http://www.scholastic.com/bscgraphix/about/ Keep an eye out for Raina coming back to Newsarama to talk about her X-Men manga series.