On April 5, about 175 people gathered inside Central Park Library’s Redwood Room to meet award winning graphic novel creators Raina Telgemeier and Faith Erin Hicks. The two cartoonists chatted about their careers creating novel-length comic books for young audiences.
After remembering how they met at a convention in Toronto 10 years ago, Telgemeier and Hicks also reflected on the landscape of the comics industry in years past and what was behind their motivation to become professional cartoonists.
“As a teenager, I felt there weren’t any comics being made for me as a teen girl reader; I started writing and drawing comics because I wanted to make the kind of comics that I wanted to read,” said Hicks, who later won an Eisner Award (the comics industry’s equivalent of an Oscar) for her book “The Adventures of Superhero Girl.”
“Faith Erin Hicks’ artwork for ‘The Nameless City’ is amazing,” said Erin Ulrich, the library’s program coordinator of youth services, of a series Hicks created. “You get transported into the city with Kai and Rat and feel like you’re joining them on their adventures. It’s a very exciting book. I can’t wait to read the next one.”
Hicks discussed a couple of artists whose ideas have inspired her work.
“Bill Watterson, who’s the creator of Calvin and Hobbes [once said] that every character you create is half you; I tend to agree with that,” Hicks said. “With Rat and Kai, [I applied] different aspects of things that I struggled with and perspectives that I wanted to explore. I was also being inspired by Hayao Miyazaki…another film that I really liked was Castle in the Sky. It had a boy and girl protagonist, there was action and adventure and [the characters] had a very strong bond.”
In 2004, Telgemeier started putting “Smile” up online as a web comic on Girlamatic.com, which offered girl-friendly web comics. “Smile” is a memoir about Telgemeier’s adolescent struggles to treat her severe teeth injuries and the bullying she encountered from frenemies. After the story was developed into a book, it became a New York Times bestseller, which Telgemeier also won an Eisner Award for.
“I guess there was this idea for awhile that girls didn’t read comics and that there weren’t that many comics that would appeal to girls,” Telgemeier said. “I was very much like, I’m going to prove them wrong.”
Telgemeier continued creating a number of other engaging books with relatable characters including her most recent book, the New York Times bestselling “Ghosts” (a fictional story about a girl and her sister, who suffers from cystic fibrosis, and their experience celebrating Day of the Dead). At the talk, Telgemeier revealed she had a cousin who passed away from cancer at 13-years-old.
“I was looking for a way to process death. I was looking for a way to process loss,” Telgemeier said. “Day of the Dead was something I’d known about most of my life but only experienced for the first time here in San Francisco a few years ago. I thought, wow, this is a very interesting way to think of the dead. It’s part of life. I thought it was a really beautiful sentiment.”
According to Ulrich, graphic novels appeal to both reluctant readers and regular readers.
“Books Inc. contacted the library to see if we could host this event because they knew it would be a big draw; of course we said ‘yes,’” Ulrich said.