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Fleen Book Corner: Begrudging Acknowledgment Is Better Than None, I Suppose

Recall, if you would, my observation of how the New York Times was dragged kicking and screaming into recognizing Raina Telgemeier‘s Guts in what’s turned out to be the most half-assed way possible. They pushed graphic books off to a monthly bestseller list (among other things, this makes me wonder if they will bother with a ___ weeks on the list notation), and they expanded the list to fifteen titles from ten (to be fair, all their lists appear to do this now), so that nobody can dominate it too much.

Didn’t change a damn thing. In the inaugural Graphic Books And Manga list, Guts is in the top slot, Drama (2012), Smile (2010), and Sisters (2014) in positions 5, 7, and 12, respectively. One may recall from the previous NYT Bestsellers list that included comics that Drama had an accumulated 179 weeks on the list, Smile 240 weeks, and Sisters 117 weeks (also, Ghosts was #1)¹.

And now that I’ve finished my mockery of the Times for all this weaksaucery, I’m happy to tell you that Raina hasn’t lost a step with her latest. I was lucky to read an advance copy at Comics Camp, but it was only yesterday that I got my own² and was able to refresh my memory.

Guts, for a long time, wasn’t the book that we were supposed to be reading. On her Ghosts book tour three years back, when she asked Do you guys want to see some pages from my next book?³, what she shared was an expanded version of her story about Barefoot Gen, the comic that changed her life. It focused on her relationship with her father. It was supposed to be out a year ago. It just wasn’t coming together like it needed to. And during that stalled creative process, she four herself moving across the country, back to her hometown of San Francisco and away from an ending marriage.

I can’t imagine the stress and anxiety it must have caused to have to travel the country and be on for her fans, be all-caps RAINA at each tour stop. Eventually, the solution was a complete shift of the book that would be delivered, a prolonged period of stress and frustration leading to a story about another prolonged period of stress and frustration.

As Guts tells us, stress and anxiety have been there in Raina’s life for a very long time. Some of those stressors we all live through — mean kids in grade school, say — and are grown out of. Some of them take root and cause a self-perpetuating cycle of I’m anxious, I’m going to barf, I don’t want to barf, now thinking about barfing is making me more anxious than I was and … oh no.

The real trauma of growing up Raina? It started before the teeth.

Her prior two memoirs have had a hell of an important message for her readers: You aren’t alone. Everything that’s wearing on you, it happened to me, too. I got to grow up and draw comics for a living! You can grow up and do what you want to do.

But she’s added several things that are more raw, more true than she’d previously shared: When you grow up, even if you get to draw comics for a living, things won’t be perfect. My phobias and fears are still with me, but they’re part of who I am. I learned to accept them, but not by myself. I got to talk about my fears, therapy has helped, and just like I didn’t have to deal with my challenges alone, you don’t have to deal with yours alone, either.

The reason that Raina’s on a first name basis with kids (or nearly so … I usually hear them, very shyly, call her Miss Raina; it’s adorable) is that they know that she respects them enough to tell them the truth. That she will tell them that she remembers the parts of that age that sucked, that she won’t discount their hurts and stressors and anxieties. She also remembers the value of a well-timed fart joke which, come on, that’s kid comedy gold there.

But it’s about 96% the truth telling, the creation of a space in her stories where kids can feel safe to admit their fears and vulnerabilities, to feel seen and validated, to try and fall short, but be able to try again.

Guts carries the dedication For anyone who feels afraid, and that’s essentially all of us. We won’t all get to grow up to draw comics for a living, but we can learn to deal with those fears and feel confident that at least one person is going to encourage us to be our best, bravest selves.

Guts by Raina Telgemeier — with colors by the indispensable Braden Lamb — may be found wherever books are sold. If you aren’t sure where that is, find a kid about 8 – 13 years and ask where they got their copy.

Spam of the day:

What bananas do to your body

I’m going to guess your contention is not provide nutrition, as part of a varied and healthy diet.

¹ I’ll go a little farther; in that final accounting of Paperback Graphic Books, the 18 weeks for Ghosts all occurred in the 20 weeks since its release in September 2016; 117 weeks for Sisters happened in a span of 127 weeks since release; 179 weeks for Drama out of 230 weeks in print; Smile‘s 240 weeks were out of 365 weeks since release. Or, considering that Smile didn’t make the list until September of 2011, 240 of 279 weeks since it debuted in the #9 spot.

A Raina book will sit on that list, week after week, between 65% and 92% of the weeks since it’s first printed, forever. And keep in mind, there are far more books vying for a spot on the list these days than in 2010. The only conclusion is that Raina Telgemeier is the most significant voice in comics today. No pressure.

² I’d ordered it at that start of summer from my local comics shop, and Diamond finally saw fit to send it along this week. Monopolies, folks!

³ For the record, asking that in an auditorium full of tweens will cause them to loudly and completely lose their shit.


I was in the audience for a presentation by Raina at the National Books Festival this August and she is a total rockstar for her fans. Giant room was packed and she talked about her books and then did a quick workshop on comics (projecting her drawings through a classic overhead projector). Wish I remembered more of the specifics of her talk but I remember she did talk about reading Barefoot Gen and how meaningful it was to her.

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