Raina Telgemeier spills her guts—quite literally—in her latest graphic novel, appropriately entitled Guts (Scholastic Graphix, Sept.), the third in a series inspired by Telgemeier’s memorable childhood experiences.
Guts is the story of Raina, a fifth grader whose anxieties over school and her relationships with her parents, younger siblings, teachers, friends, and enemies are expressed through her stomach. Raina’s days and nights are marked with bouts of vomiting, passing gas, loose bowels, and other such excretions not usually brought up in polite society.
The author says that she is fully aware that some in her target audience of middle grade readers “aren’t mature enough” to handle the subject matter of Guts and will laugh at images of Raina in the bathroom. But others, she says, will relate: they have had similar experiences.
“We just dismiss it as gross, or embarrassing, or taboo,” Telgemeier says of bodily manifestations of emotional problems. “So many [children] have something going on with their bodies or their minds, and they don’t know how to talk about it.”
As a child, the author dreamed of becoming a writer, but considered it an impossibility, as she thought that writers had to create characters who were not them, having experiences that were not their own in real life. “I didn’t know then that it was possible to write stories about yourself and still call them stories,” she says. Once she started mining her memories, Telgemeier wrote Smile, “the crazy story about my braces,” and Sisters, about growing up with a younger sister. She also wrote two mostly fictional graphic novels, Drama and Ghosts.
“I thought, after Smile and Sisters, I was tapped out, and that was the end,” she says of writing autobiographical graphic novels, but that observation turned out to be premature. While “slogging through” a completely different project, Telgemeier realized that what she really wanted to write about, if she could only overcome her mental resistance, was how her parents once sent her to a therapist due to her incapacitating anxieties and neuroses. Once she decided to go with the flow, Telgemeier says, the script for Guts was completed in just a few weeks. “It’s like it was sitting there, and all I had to do was pull it out,” she concludes.
Today, 1:30–2:30 p.m. Raina Telgemeier will sign galleys at Table 1 at a ticketed event.
Correction: This article initially mistitled the graphic novel Ghosts. It has also been updated for clarity.