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SDCC@Home Friday Panels Report

It’s a little odd to do a panel writeup when anybody can go back to see the panel themselves, but maybe some of you wouldn’t have watched the panel in the first place until somebody gave you a rundown and said Hey, this is neat. So consider this to be that — the conversation between Raina Telgemeier and Robin Ha was a talk that went some expected places, some unexpected places, and nicely overcame the inherent limitations of the video talk.

Excitement and enthusiasm aren’t things you expect to get in a teleconference, but Raina and Robin found a way to bring energy to their audience, despite being separated by time, space, and networking distance. Given that my job is teaching, and even in the Before Times it was often done over Zoom, so trust me when I tell you that to summon energy over the camera and make the viewer feel like they’re there in the room is entirely a thing.

The other thing that really struck me is how well the conversation flowed; there’s a need in such situations for somebody to direct things, and even moreso when network lag might enter into it. The best are able to sense when they need to yield the lead role to the other person for a while, and when to pick it up and run with it; Robin and Raina probably did the best job at knowing when to let the other drive I’ve seen since Scott McCloud and Gene Yang had a spotlight talk back in 2014. Like that earlier example, it was a case of two creators with similar sensibilities finding a resonant frequency that they could hop onto and off from as needed.

I’m almost tempted to make the paraphrases more exact and mine the video for quotes, but if I do that, I’ll never finish. I’m treating the session as if I sat in the room and just had the one shot to experience it; the words attributed to Ha and Telgemeier are paraphrases I’ve tried to make as accurate as possible, but words in italics are direct quotes.


The video was mostly split screen, with Robin on the left and Raina on the right, but occasionally it would switch to just one of them for emphasis. Both are spaces that have been carefully designed to show that they’re creative spaces, but neat and organized; everything is very professional-looking, and it makes an impression. You can tell that Raina’s done a lot of video remote interviews, as she’s got quite the setup — pro-looking mic on a boom with baffle, fill lights to make everything look even, and cameras that point down at her drawing desk that can feed a shadowless image.

Raina started off by asking Robin for details about her work, then Robin asked Raina about her latest book. The common theme between their work might be anxiety (appropriately enough, there was a Lucy Bellwood Inner Demon behind Raina on the shelf). Ha remarked that she had frequent stomachaches as a child which doctors could find no cause for; she noted that at that time, Korean culture’s view on stress and anxiety was … maybe not that they weren’t recognized, but maybe more that they were denied. Raina, by contrast, talked about how helpful it was that her parents were able to get her therapy to help deal with her anxiety as a child.

Ha brought the conversation around to the process of constructing a memoir, with Raina noting that it’s not always easy to tap into memories and history and something that’s a story in them; Guts wasn’t easy to make due to the subject, but also because the memories of the real people involved can vary. Her father was in his 40s when the story started, she was 8, so her memories are more directs to how she felt at the time about what happened. It’s necessary to take creative license, but you also have to want to get to the kernel of truth.

For Robin, growing up reading fantasy, scifi comics, and other work not based in reality makes it strange to be a cartoonist that draws mostly nonfiction, but at least I know what happens and how it’s going to end. She deeply feels the obligation to tell the story as truthfully as possible, given that it’s about real people, real life, wants to do justice to all of them as well. Her mother was completely against being in the book and was upset about being one of the main characters, because most of the things I talk about in the book happen because of her. Robin talked about how she had to earn her mother’s trust, tell her this is going to be a book that’s important to me but I respect you and want you to be okay with it. She gave her the manuscript after the layout stage, and was relieve that after two or three days she only had a couple of edits and loved it.

Raina asked if Robin and her mother talk about [the events of Almost American Girl] now that it’s done, or are you glad it’s done and don’t have to deal with it any longer. Robin talked about how the first couple of times she had a book signing in the DC area, her mother came and during Q&A had some of the questions directed to her. She was embarrassed by the spotlight, but enjoyed people telling her how much her action and bravery meant to them.

Raina brought up the topic of comics influences, and Robin mentioned that all of her most formative favorites were Korean or Japanese; her favorite creator wrote grand epic, LOTR style fantasy, but also loved CLAMP and the other 80s and 90s big names in manga, especially Ikeda Riyoko’s Rose Of Versailles, which was translated into Korean. When Robin first read around 8 years old, she didn’t know it was Japanese. I didn’t have a concept of anybody other than Koreans living on the Earth, I watched American shows dubbed into Korean and just figured the Friends spoke perfect Korean.

Raina, growing up years earlier and an ocean away from Japan, didn’t get much manga, but was much influenced by newspaper comic strips. As recounted numerous times, her first manga was Barefoot Gen, which her father gave her at age 10 because hey, she loves comics, right? Yeah, a tragic story about the atomic bombing of Hiroshima opened her mind, but it was also a disconnect from, say, Calvin And Hobbes. Robin remarked on the power of comics to take something huge and hurtful and turn it into something meaningful for readers.

She then suggested that they each do a drawing of something that happened during self-isolation, and turned to an easel to draw herself in her first Zoom session, unnecessarily shouting to be heard. I’m the worst at technology, worse than some of the grandmothers I know, she explained. Raina did a sketch of her compromise with everybody’s new bread-baking habit during quarantine. After all, there’s only so much bread you can each by yourself, so she’s shifted into baking pizza, on account of you can always eat pizza.

The back half of the talk was dedicated to questions solicited from readers on Instagram and Twitter.

Maddy, age 13: What would your non-author job be?
Robin: Probably fine arts, like a painter. When I was little, I went to art school after school, I did fine art in college, I was always a painter first.
Raina: What I enjoy most is planning stuff. I’ve had to change my personality because of pandemic, because I am no longer planning my next trip, my next tour, deciding where I’m going to eat in the next city. So I think I might have been a publicist. I love spreadsheets and plans and calendars!

Brisa, age 9: How did you get over your fear of vomit? I’m afraid of it too.
Robin: Me too!
Raina: The clinical term is emetophobia, and I didn’t learn the term until my early 30s. Once I learned the term, I learned there are ways to make it better. I went to therapist that specialized in treating phobias, did and did cognitive behavior therapy. I learned a lot about breathing, how to ground myself, how to engage my mind in other ways when I felt the panic. One of the techniques is exposure therapy, which means experiencing the thing you’re afraid of in small doses. [Editor’s note: The look on Ha’s face read, Oh, no.]

My therapist did not make me throw up in his office [Editor’s note: And now Ha’s expression shifted to Whew.] It was about saying the word out loud, seeing it written on paper, and eventually I got to see photographs or hear audio recordings. I learned to face my fear and very, very gradually your anxiety decreases. I would not have been able to write Guts without having had the therapy first.

Fox, age 13: You get bullied a lot in your books, do have any advice for readers who are bullied?
Robin: The most important thing is to know it’s the bully who has a problem, not you. Never think of it as like it’s your fault. It’s not something to be ashamed of, or that there are reasons you’re being treated that way. Don’t try to go through it alone, find allies, talk about it.
Raina: I’m going to echo finding somebody you can trust, a place to talk about it, somebody on your side to remind you of everything Robin said. There’s so many kinds of bullying and one of the worst is when the bully is your friend.
Robin: You end up afraid of losing your friends, but there’s millions of people out there and the “friends” you’re afraid of losing and being alone aren’t going to be around forever! They’re going to be replaced by somebody better as you grow older and evolve into a new person, so don’t worry about keeping them.

Mia, age 12: What made you have the passion to start writing?
Robin: I started reading comics before books, thanks to my mom who is also a big comics reader; I wanted to grow up and become a cartoonist, write down my ideas, plan on what I’d create.
Raina: I was a big diary writer in addition to drawing, then figured I could put them together. I made my first journal comics when I was 11 years old about what happened to me each day and never showed them to anybody. People would ask if I wanted to be a writer when I grew up and I said No, because I don’t have any ideas. [Editor’s note: It appears that young Raina was a bit mistaken.]

So you thought you were going to be a fantasy writer and wound up doing personal comics and memoir, I thought that wasn’t even an option. This isn’t a job! I wish I’d had more access to memoir when I was growing up as an example. [Editor’s note: This is a classic case of how if something you need doesn’t exist, the best thing is to invent it.]
Robin: Are you going to show your comics you made when you were 11?
Raina: They’re not very good! I think not being good is kind of important, they don’t have to perfect, they don’t have to be for show, they don’t have to be for anybody but yourself because you enjoy doing it. I did it as a hobby, would have continued if I was a publicist instead.

Josie, age 13: Do you envision drawings first or words first?
Raina: For me they come together; in my head it’s visual and I can hear the words. I draw a quick box, some stick figures, words, balloon, expression on the face. I write entire manuscripts and my editor works from these thumbnails. I have to draw the head, and the mouth before the words come to me. I’m actually not great at keeping a sketchbook, if they’re not acting, not talking, it doesn’t work.
Robin: I’m the same way; the story comes to me like a movie or a dream, a scene with characters acting in my head. I draw index card size at the scene level. Now I’m working on fiction, a fantasy like it was my childhood dream to create. I actually had to transcribe what I envisioned in my head as text, as it’s easier to edit and have other read it because my sketches are super rough, they only make sense to me. I have a synopsis, I can’t wait to draw it.
Raina: Is this an announcement?
Robin: I can show you a few drawings [holds up two pages of character studies; see below for the images] It’s going to be like drama and action, there’s going to be shapeshifters and murder.
Raina: Oooo!

Chandrima, no age: I want to publish my own graphic novel, what suggestions do you have?
Robin: You need to first learn to finish your comics. I had a plan for an epic, 500 page fantasy for my first graphic novel and they’re very fun for the first 20 pages, but you have to be able to finish it! Start small, maybe 20 pages, finish it, have something you can show to people.
Raina: I always say that, start small! Have two characters in a conversation, or a small adventure. Do another, maybe turn it into a collection of short stories in your world, work on your skills, maybe you find that you don’t really like doing comics and want to just write or just draw. Just start on page 1, put in some sketches and word balloons.
Robin: One danger of doing something long as a young creator is your style may change over the course of that 500 page epic, or your taste in stories may change. So if you’re on a project that going to take years to finish and by the middle you’re a different kind of writer or artist, it’s not fun.
Raina: Read lots of comics! Different kinds, styles, genres. There’s so many out there to read and learn from.

They finished up by recommending some book and comic stores that they’re familiar with.
Robin: Here in Washington, DC, Loyalty Bookstores is owned by a queer Black woman; it has a lot of great signings and community events, I highly recommend them. Also, Big Planet Comics, they have an excellent curation of indie and mainstream comics, there’s always something going on there.
Raina: Brain Lair Books¹ in South Bend, Indiana, is Black owned, and has a great graphic novel selection which you can find on their website. Check out their recommendations on YA and MG books, too. And Green Apple Books is my local independent bookstore in San Francisco; I’ve been going there since I was a teen, they have great comics and kids selections. Check them out, and support your local bookstore.


Robin Ha shared two images of characters from her forthcoming drama/action/shapeshifters/murder fantasy epic. I love the hair designs in the female-presenting character — they have a lot to say about station and class. The male-presenting character has a little Jaeger by Carla Speed McNeil in his DNA. It might be the attitude, it might be the eyes. I very much want to read this book.

The Eisners are tonight; I’ll post this now so you don’t have to wait until after midnight EDT to read, and do a writeup of notable winners later.

¹ As per the description on the panel page, The first 100 purchases of Raina books from Brain Lair that use the promo code RAINATA at checkout will receive a signed bookplate.

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