On September 13, Scholastic Graphix releases cartoonist Raina Telgemeier’s new graphic novel, Ghosts, a fictional work about two sisters and apparitions in a foggy, small town in Northern California. Telgemeier is well known in the comics world for her young adult works, including her two memoirs, Smile and Sisters, and her illustrated adaptation of Ann M. Martin’s series The Baby-Sitters Club. Calling from her home in San Francisco, Telgemeier spoke about moving from that city and back, taking in surrounding environments, and working her observations into Ghosts.
What do you make of the San Francisco comics scene?
I’ve been a comics fan out here since I was a kid. When I was young, my dad would take me to the bookstore to buy comics. He was a fan of underground comics, so he would buy me all sorts of stuff that I’d never heard of, and he supported my art. But I didn’t have a lot of friends that were into comics, so I actually moved to New York about a decade ago because I wanted to find a cartooning community. Since 2003, several times I’ve come back to San Francisco for the Alternative Press Expo, and I just loved what I found there. People were making mini-comics and creative stuff that appealed to me. I started to see that there was a community here, and when I moved back I found there were a lot of other cartoonists working and living here. It’s really awesome.
Tell us a little bit about your process in creating Ghosts.
It’s an idea that’s been in my head for a really long time. My first sketches for the project date back to 2008. I feel like I’ve been thinking about supernatural things and magical realism—specifically the Day of the Dead––for well over a decade. The images kept coming into my vision, meaning I would see someone’s beautiful drawings of Dia de los Muertos skeletons or I’d walk down the streets of San Francisco and see the bread that was created for that time of year. I have been wanting to tell a story that was true fiction for a while. I usually write autobiography, but I started thinking about these kids and where they lived. And it was very much inspired by the towns in Northern California. There’s a town called Half Moon Bay that’s really big into Halloween. They have a lot of pumpkin farms there, but it’s also a foggy, wind-swept place.
Smile and Sisters are inspired by your adolescence. What are you thinking when you’re depicting family relationships, like the one we see here in Ghosts?
I know the dynamics very well, between my siblings and myself and between my parents and myself. But I spend a lot of time observing other people, and I’m just endlessly fascinated by the ways that other families work and the ways siblings interact with one another. In the case of Cat and Maya, who are the sisters in Ghosts, they by nature have a very different relationship than my sister and I.
You mentioned observing people. When writing the book, did you immerse yourself in the environments that you were sketching?
Yeah, I took a road trip a couple of summers ago from San Diego to San Francisco, and I stopped everywhere along the way. People do that road trip all the time––but I wasn’t necessarily looking for the sweeping vistas. I was looking for the quirkier things and the hidden corners along the way, as well as the overall atmosphere. California can be really foggy in the summertime. That’s one of the things I didn’t like growing up. I wanted to capture that gloom. I took a couple thousand photos and those informed a lot of the work [in Ghosts].
At BEA today, Telgemeier shares her views on the graphic novel at a panel, moderated by PW’s Calvin Reid, on the Uptown Stage, 2–3 p.m.
This article appeared in the May 11, 2016 edition of PW BEA Show Daily.