Next Thursday (March 22nd), we are very lucky to have Raina Telgemeier leading an event for us called "Creating Comics: A Hands-on Workshop with Raina Telgemeier" (registration required). The event, which will be held at Algonquin Middle School, will gives teens in grades 6 through 12 a chance to learn about making comics from a very inventive artist.
Telgemeier is best known for her autobiographical graphic novel , Smile. According to one of our Young Adult literature specialists, Cheryl Gladfelter, "Any teen can relate to Smile. It's about dealing with growing up, friends that stop being friends, family, and discovering who you are and what you like. It's also about how Raina dealt with knocking out her two front teeth and all the surgeries, braces, and many dentist appointments that she went through during middle school and high school."
Any teen can relate to Smile. It's about dealing with growing up...Cheryl's comment highlights how Telgemeier's "comic" (or the move elevated "graphic novel") operates on two levels. On the one hand, it's about a series of real events that happened to her—breaking her teeth, getting braces, and dealing with the consequences of that. On the other, the "comic" relates these events to issues that all teens face going through school and "dealing with growing up."
In fact, this is what the best comics do so well. They are able to focus in on specific experiences or events by being abstract. Their simple style actually helps them convey these many different layers of meaning more effectively. Scott McCloud makes this point in his excellent book, Understanding Comics.
Perhaps this ability to tell stories in a more direct and impactful way explains the prevalence of graphic novels like Art Spiegelman's Maus, the graphic adaptation of the 9/11 Commission Report or the the illustrated reporting by Joe Sacco.
In any event, I started by talking about a fun event for teens next week (that you should sign your kids up for!), and now we've come around to illustrated stories about difficult subjects like war and peace. And yet we've been talking about comics the entire time. How cool is that!