The (Comic) Art of Storytelling

Nikita visits with best-selling graphic novelist Raina Telgemeier in Toronto. 

Raina Telgemeier started to make comics as a kid. At the time, she had no idea that she would grow up to be a superstar in the world of graphic novels.

I got a chance to talk with Telgemeier in Canada last May, when she was in town for the Toronto Comic Arts Festival. The festival provides an opportunity for artists in the comic and graphic novel categories to showcase their work, and for readers to meet their favorite authors. 

“I didn’t discover comic strips until I was 9 years old,” Telgemeier said. “As soon as I did, it was like all of my favorite things combined into one art form.”  

When asked how she was able to transform her childhood passion into a career, Telgemeier said: “I thought that it would just be something I did for myself as a hobby. The next thing I knew, Scholastic was hiring me to make graphic novels.”


Nikita with a copy of Telgemeier’s latest book, Share Your Smile, which encourages young creators to transfer their ideas to the page. 


Telgemeier has published several best-selling books, including Smile, Drama, Sisters, and Ghosts. Smile and Sisters are based on her experiences growing up in San Francisco, California, in the 1980s and ’90s. She also adapted four books from the iconic Baby-sitters Club series by Ann M. Martin into graphic novels.

Telgemeier’s latest title, Share your Smile: Raina's Guide to Telling Your Own Story, was on display at the Toronto festival. The book encourages young creators to transfer their ideas and experiences to the page.    

One of the most common challenges for authors, Telgemeier told me, is writer’s block. “The best way to get over that is to step away,” she said. “Don’t force yourself to work when you just can’t think of anything to work on.”

Telgemeier encourages aspiring graphic novelists “to start small. Try writing a short story with two characters and see what comes of that.”


Telgemeier at the Scholastic headquarters in New York City with her editor, Cassandra Pelham Fulton. The image behind them is from Smile


Drawing comics can take a long time, Telgemeier said, and make your hand “super sore.” You have to pace yourself. 

Telgemeier advises artists who are just starting out to observe the people around them and draw a comic strip based on that. To add a fictional element, draw the characters from different points of view.

“With art, the best way to get better is to practice,” she said. “Try drawing things from different angles, not just the same drawing every time. You’re not going to improve if you don’t challenge yourself.”



Many of Telgemeier’s books delve into her childhood experiences. “When I write memoirs,” she said, “it’s reaching down to my memories. It’s trying to relive hard times of my life.”

Keeping the artwork and stories that she created as a kid has helped Telgemeier transform her life into art. Her work has earned several honors, including the Eisner Award for Best Writer/Artist for Sisters.

What comes next for Telgemeier? Guts, a graphic novel about the anxieties and fears she faced growing up, will be released on September 17. Although the book deals with a tough topic, it is told with the author’s distinctive sense of humor.


Top photos courtesy of the author; bottom photo by Suzanne McCabe