Five questions for Raina Telgemeier

Guts is the latest graphic memoir from Raina Telgemeier, whose previous titles — Smile and Sisters (all Scholastic/Graphix, 9–12 years) — blazed a path for middle-grade confessional nonfiction in comics form. This story, which takes place during her fifth-grade year, focuses on childhood anxiety and chronicles young Raina's difficulties with — and eventual management of — panic attacks and irritable bowel syndrome.

1. How is the process of creating a comic based on your memories different from creating one that's fiction? 

RT: It doesn't feel that different! Whether I'm writing memoir or fiction, I start with real feelings and emotions, and all of my fictional protagonists are rooted in a part of me or things I've experienced. 

2. How did you determine which details about IBS you would share with readers and what might be TMI?  

RT: The gross-out factor of IBS kept me from tackling this story for a while, even though it's been part of my life for over three decades. I had to narrow my focus to the characters and their relationships, and treat the body functions as matter of fact, stuff that happened (or still happens) to me. I knew that a book about spending time on the toilet was gross — and also boring! The more interesting part was figuring out why my body was reacting the way it was to internal and external forces, and how I got through a tough year of my life. 

3. What do you think using the comics format does to a serious subject?  

RT: I love tackling tricky subjects with humor. Comics can make a reader laugh as well as think. They make great use of the visual medium, conveying without explaining or telling. That keeps the reader in the driver's seat.  

4. Do you have any advice for others going through similar experiences?  

RT: I think we all go through periods of stress, change, and uncertainty. It helps to have some anchors in your life, whether they're people you care about, an activity you love, or even a favorite book you come back to again and again.  

5. Anything you hope to cover in a future Telgememoir™? 

RT: Ha! I can't believe no one has coined that term before. [NB: All credit to the Horn Book's Shoshana Flax.] I have a few more stories that might make good memoir comics, but they might also work better in other mediums. I'll keep thinking about it! 

From the September 2019 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

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