Raina Telgemeier, Katy Farina, and Gale Galligan discuss the joys of adapting The Baby-Sitters Club
Moderator Rebecca Kaplan (The Comics Beat) and panelists Raina Telgemeier, Gale Galligan, and Katy Farina for a conversation about the wonderful The Baby-Sitters Club graphic novels from Scholastic.
Late Thursday morning at San Diego Comic Con, a small audience gathered to listen to the three artists who are responsible for adapting beloved classic Baby-Sitters Club novels into graphic novels. The panel took the course of about an hour and covered not only The Baby-Sitters Club, but also the cartoonists' inspirations and even some advice for budding cartoonists.
The moderator Rebecca Kaplan (Prism Comics, The Comics Beat, Popverse) started the panel off by asking the panelists, Raina Telgemeier, Gale Galligan, and Katy Farina to introduce themselves with a fun fact. Telgemeier's fun fact was that she read the original books when she was nine years old in 1986 when she discovered the books at the Scholastic Book Fair. Katy Farina's fun fact was that she once saw a ghost in Hawaii (she is also a big fan of the Scholastic Book Fair). When she was a kid the series and movie were "her whole life." Gale Galligan had discovered Baby-Sitters Club books because, one day, her school library gave her a free Baby-Sitters Club book, and she was hooked! It was the first time Galligan encountered an Asian American person in a book. "It made a huge difference, honestly." Galligan's fun fact was that they travelled in her youth, living as a child in Virginia, Florida, Frankfurt, and Bangkok.
Kaplan then asked the panel why they felt like Baby-Sitters Club worked so well across multiple generations and decades. Farina responded, "The Baby-Sitters Club deals with themes and ideas that are just extremely common across the board… We're just recontextualizing stuff that is already there." While there are certain things that Telgemeier adapted to the present (like VHS to DVDs), "The spirit of the girls, the spirit of the friendship, and the spirit of the problems they have to solve as a group will never get old."
As for the cartoonists' favorite Baby-Sitters Club books? Farina named the original Little Sister Books, specifically book number 15 Karen's in Love. Galligan chose Claudia and Mean Janine, as "I delight in family dynamics, and that book had it all." Telgemeier's favorite is Kristy's Big Day.
Of course, adapting a prose book into a visual medium takes some work. To successfully accomplish this shift, these artists had to draw from their real lives. Farina worked off the world that Raina developed, expanding the visual world and adding bits of scenery from her own life. In fact, Karen's mom's house was based on the kitchen Farina had when she was growing up. Galligan mentioned that using a visual medium means rethinking the story and each moment, "What can I showcase and show off?" Telgemeier told the audience that she draws from her own body language for her character sometimes, as well as drawing inspiration from the novels. Ana Marten's books "were almost like visual scripts. She's so descriptive and clear in her writing." Telgemeier also pointed out that the humor in Marten's prose adapted really well into comics form.
An audience member asked about a story from the cartoonists' creators pasts that had inspired them. Telgemeier remembers watching all the Disney movies in movie theaters, and name checks Pinocchio, Bambi, and specifically The Secret of Nimh. After watching The Secret of Nimh, she went to read the book that it was based on Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh (which is quite different), and that book still remains her favorite of all time. Gale Galligan shared that she really likes Garfield and that her work is trying to replicate the feeling of reading Garfield and Calvin & Hobbes.
Next, the conversation turned to the panelists' art inspirations, Farina responded, "Anime and Manga 100%." Galligan mentioned Garfield and Yu Gi Oh, "I like pushing faces, pushing expressions." Telgemeier named Calvin and Hobbes, Disney movies, Saturday morning tv of the 80s, Scooby Doo, Care Bares, and the comic strip For Better and For Worse.
One young audience member asked for any tips the panel might have for beginner artists. "Start making [comics]," Farina says, adding that it is important to share them, not necessarily online but even with friends and family. Galligan chimed in that it's good to "Make little things, like 4-8 page mini comics." Telgemeier urges creators to "Try not to worry about 'this is my style' it doesn’t need to be great. It doesn’t need to be your best work ever. Just finish something." Farina agrees, saying that "It's okay to mess up… you don't have to share your sketchbook with anyone," and Galligan chimed in sharing that "Comics are communication. They don't always have to be beautiful."
As to what these amazing cartoonists are working on next… Raina Telgemeier replied that she isn't able to go into too much detail, but "it has to do with an art exhibit," and it should be published sometime next year. Galligan was happy to chat about the details of her new book (galleys of which were also distributed at the convention). Freestyle is a middle grade graphic novel about a boy named Cory Tan who is in a dance crew. At the end of the year, Cory's friends are all heading off to different schools, so they really want one last year of winning a big competition—but then Cory is distracted by the wonders of yo-yo. Farina can't say too much about her next book either, though she did say that "I'm very inspired by my own life, and when I work on Karen maybe we'll see more of that."
To check out some of the other panels and events that Popverse covered during this year's SDCC, check out Popverse's San Diego Comic Con Coverage roundup.