Putting the ‘e’ in BSC: Raina Telgemeier on paying tribute to the series she loved
By Guest Blogger on December 20th, 2012
You may know Raina Telgemeier from her award-winning and bestselling graphic novels, Smile and Drama. But did you know Raina’s first books were The Baby-sitters Club graphic novels? It’ll come as no surprise, then, that she’s a big BSC fan – so big that she stopped by to talk about what the BSC means to her, and to share in the excitement of the release of BSC in ebook format! Thanks, Raina!
I discovered the Baby-sitters Club in fourth grade, the same year I discovered comics. Both of these things meant the world to me. They were funny, and full of engaging characters that leapt off the page. Most of the girls in my class were also obsessively reading the BSC, but I was the only comics fan. Both inspired me to write and create, and both had an immeasurable impact on my life.
In fifth grade, I started keeping a diary (in a writing style embarrassingly reminiscent of Ann M. Martin’s). In sixth grade, I began drawing my own comics (ripping off the art styles of several of my favorite cartoonists, including Lynn Johnston). In seventh grade, I landed my first baby-sitting jobs! As I moved through high school and college, I outgrew most of my childhood interests, except the comics drawing. For some reason, that seemed to be my one constant.
In 2004, Scholastic decided to launch its Graphix imprint. At the time, I had just graduated from art school and was drawing short comics about my life, past and present; self-publishing zines and mini-comics; and working for a book publisher in New York. I met the Graphix editors at a couple of comic events, and they invited me into their offices to pitch my work to them.
While chatting, they asked me what books I had enjoyed as a kid. I listed off some of my favorites: the Ramona books, anything Roald Dahl, The Baby-sitters Club. Their eyes lit up at the last one. “What if you tried adapting The Baby-sitters Club into comics?” Scholastic’s creative director David Saylor proposed. A week or two later, I had laid out the first chapter of Kristy’s Great Idea, done a bunch of character sketches, and before I knew it, was signing my first book contract!
Translating the Baby-sitters Club into comics was an all-encompassing experience unlike anything else I’ve ever been a part of. As I re-read my old favorite stories, the words and images came rushing back as if I’d never been away from them. My personal comics work is mostly memoir and autobiography, but working on The Baby-sitters Club comics felt almost like I was doing just that: telling stories based on my own memories.
I had always been able to visualize Ann M. Martin’s stories in my mind as I read, but now I was doing so physically. There’s a feeling of security in adapting stories that already have solid characters, narrative arcs, and a built-in audience…but I was given the freedom to make the stories my own. Still, my goal was to pay tribute to something that meant the world to me when I was young. I knew that new readers might approach these stories for the first time through my graphic novels, and I wanted what was so good about them in the first place to really shine.
As a kid, I felt most similar to Kristy (we’re both short, with brown hair, and I had a tendency toward jeans and turtlenecks when I was younger…), but drawing and acting through each of the characters brought them all closer to me. As a result, each of the girls has some of me in them. Kristy has my fidgety feet and too-quick reactions. Mary Anne has my introversion, and we can both be a little immature. Claudia and I are both artists, although her artistic talent is limited to what I can draw! Stacey was the hardest for me to peg—when I was young I always saw her as glamorous, worldly, and aloof—but in drawing Stacey’s story, I started to feel that she was actually quite timid and restrained compared to her friends. She’s the only one who still sleeps with a teddy bear! And she’s struggling with her health, her identity, and her appearance, even though everyone sees her as being so cool. I can relate to all of those things. And I think it comes through in the adaptation.
Many wonderful things came out of working with The Baby-sitters Club. I got to meet Ann M. Martin herself, who is just as lovely and sweet as one could hope their favorite author to be. I got to connect with a wide world of hardcore BSC fans: women who had loved the books as I did as kids, and embraced anything new the BSC universe might throw their way. And of course, I found a wonderful publishing home with Scholastic, an unparalleled force for getting books into children’s hands. If it weren’t for Scholastic (in particular, the Book Fairs catalogs!) I might not have found my favorite series of books, way back in fourth grade.
My fourth (and final) BSC graphic novel, Claudia and Mean Janine, was published four years ago and I’m still receiving fan letters, drawings, and pleas for more. Kids are still falling in love with Kristy, Mary Anne, and the gang. The stories are as relevant now as they were twenty years ago. I’m so grateful I got to play a tiny role in helping a new generation discover something I loved so much when I was their age.