Home Culture Cartoonists Hope Larson & Raina Telgemeier

Hope Larson & Raina Telgemeier


This weekend before MoCCA will be the second Drink & Draw Like a Lady, hosted by Hope Larson & Raina Telgemeier. Both ladies also have new YA graphic novels out this spring, creating a synergy that demanded an interview this week!

What are your new books about?

HL: Mercury is the story of two girls living in a fictional part of Nova Scotia–Tara, a present-day teenager, and Josey, a farm girl alive during the 1850s–the mysterious connection between them, and a hunt for buried treasure.

RT: Smile is an autobiographical story chronicling my tumultuous middle school years. I knocked out my two front teeth when I was 11, and the story revolves around how awkward it was to try and have a social life while missing half of my smile.

Hope, was it more challenging to write historical fiction?

HL: Yes, definitely. If you’re writing straight fiction you can make up whatever you want, but with historical fiction you’ve got an obligation to the facts. 1850s Nova Scotia isn’t a period or a place people know much about, especially outside of Canada, and I wanted to portray it as honestly as possible. On top of that, I’m American, so all through the writing process I was aware of myself as an outsider, and doing my best to get it right.

Research was a challenge because there isn’t a lot of literature about people living at the same time, in the same place, and in similar economic circumstances to Josey’s family. I read a lot of books about Canadian pioneers, and I read a couple journals written by wealthy girls and women living during the 1800s, and I pieced “the facts” together from bits and pieces. I also visited the Ross Farm Museum, a “living heritage farm” in Nova Scotia, which was incredibly helpful.

The hardest part of writing historical fiction, though, was finding a “voice” for the 1850s characters. Originally they sounded more modern, but my editors suggested I dial it back a bit, and I think that was the right choice. It’s not so much that they talk differently, though, it’s that the things they’re talking about are different from the things you and I talk about.

Raina, how was writing about yourself in Smile different from your fiction projects?

RT: I haven’t written a lot of fiction, so it’s hard to compare. I’ve illustrated fiction, but most of my writing is partly or entirely autobiographical. I’m not even sure why that is; I’ve always felt more comfortable writing about stuff that’s happened to me or people I know.

You both have focused on writing books in which the protagonists are young women. What made you focus on YA graphic novels?

HL: It’s what interests me, and what I’m good at. I’ve written a screenplay about 20-somethings, and I’m working on another one, but YA is something I think I’ll always return to.

RT: I remember being really attached to and absorbed by the books I read when I was in late elementary and early middle school. That was a time in my life that I really clung to strong female characters I could identify with, because there were so few of them elsewhere in the media.

YA prose has exploded in the last ten years, but comics are just starting to crack the surface of this genre. It just feels right to me, to be creating graphic novels for this audience, at this time. And based on the responses I’ve gotten from middle school girls, there is a market that’s very hungry for it.

What are you working on next?

HL: I have three projects in the works right now, and I can’t say much about any of them yet, so please excuse me for being cryptic. They are:

1) An adaptation of a classic YA/middle grade novel, which I wrote the script for and am also drawing.
2) A series of YA graphic novels, which I wrote but won’t be drawing. I’m still trying to lock in an artist for this.
3) A screenplay (on spec). It’s set in the 1920s and it’s based on the true story of an American actress, a British con man, and the massive publicity stunt they embarked on together.

RT: My next project is a (currently untitled) graphic novel about high school students on stage crew. It’s not exactly a sequel to Smile, but it feels kind of like a spiritual successor.  I’ll be starting the artwork for that this month.

What comments would you be happy to never read again in your reviews?

HL: I don’t read my reviews. My husband reads them and feeds me bits and pieces, but I’m too neurotic and obsessive to ingest that sort of criticism.

RT: Male reviewers love to start out by saying  “I am not and never was a teenaged girl,” and as such, they don’t know if they can give a book a fair review or not. I don’t believe that’s true. Did they like the book or not? Why? That’s all I’m interested in.

artwork by Lucy Knisley

What made you decide to start DDLL? How did you guys team up?

RT: Hope gets most of the credit: the whole thing was her brainchild. On my end, I live in New York, so for last year’s event it was easier for me to scope out locations, drop off postcards, and invite the local lady-comics crowd to the party.

HL: Raina, Lucy Knisley and I had brunch during MoCCA in 2008, and I wanted to do something similar in 2009. It quickly became clear that there were too many awesome lady cartoonists in town to fit them all into one restaurant, so we decided to throw a party instead!

Where are this year’s DDLLs at?

HL: The east-coast DDLL, in NYC, is located at 192 Books, which is managed by Lucy Knisley’s dad. Last year we held it in a bar, and addition to being forced into a 21+ event–both are all-ages this year–it was dark and loud and so many people showed up that we spilled out of our allotted space. There was also a singles event happening upstairs, and guys kept drifting over to see if we were there for that. Sorry, no.

The west-coast DDLL, in Portland, OR, will be in the ballroom at Secret Society . I’m a little nervous about that, because it’s our first year in Portland and I have no idea what to expect!

How have people responded?

HL: The response has been incredibly positive. So many people came up to me last year and thanked me for putting the event together that I had to do it again this year. I get the odd complaint about DDLL being sexist, and it is a sexist event by nature, but I think it’s important for women just finding their way into the comics industry to feel that there’s a support system in place for them.

RT: I’ve been surprised to hear how many women felt there was a real need for an event like this. And the guys seem interested, too, but for all their jokes about going off and creating an exclusive men-only event, it hasn’t happened.

artwork by Erica Moen

Who are your favorite women cartoonists?

HL: I’m friends with so many women cartoonists that I don’t think it’s fair to name names. I’ll go with Lynda Barry and Vanessa Davis because I love their work but I don’t know either of them personally.

RT: My two cornerstones of inspiration are Lynn Johnston (For Better or For Worse) and Lynda Barry (Ernie Pook’s Comeek). I’ve been reading both of their work since I was a pre-teen, and have wanted to follow in their footsteps ever since.

Challenge: How many women cartoonists can you name?

HL: This is going to betray my reading habits for sure.

Lynda Barry, Vanessa Davis, Raina Telgemeier, Jessica Abel, Gabrielle Bell, Faith Erin Hicks, Vera Brosgol, Dylan Meconis, Erika Moen, Jen Wang, Amy Kim Kibuishi, Jillian Tamaki, MK Reed, Yuko Ota, Tintin Pantoja, Kate Beaton, Lucy Knisley, Katie Skelly, Rebecca Kraatz, Lindsay Cibos, Star St. Germain, Lea Hernandez, Hellen Jo, Annie Wu, Meredith Gran, Rivkah, Willow Dawson, Liz Baillie, Nikki Cook, Joelle Jones, Rene Engström, Ariel Schrag, Alison Bechdel, Jill Thompson, Sara Varon, Julia Wertz.

And for manga…  Rumiko Takahashi, CLAMP (4-woman mangaka collective), Riyoko Ikeda, Fumiyo Köno, Naoko Takeuchi, Hiromu Arakawa, Moto Hagio, Erica Sakurazawa. To be honest, because I’m not familiar with Japanese names I have no idea whether most mangaka are male or female.

I know there are tons more. I shudder to think who I’m leaving off.

RT: Abby Denson, Ai Yazawa, Alex de Campi , Alexa Kitchen, Alisa Harris , Alison Bechdel, Alison Wilgus, Amanda Conner, Amy Kim Ganter, Amy Reeder Hadley , Ann Nocenti, Anne Gibbons, Ann Telnaes, Anne Timmons, Annie Wu, Anzu, Ariel Bordeaux, Ariel Schrag, Ashley Quigg, Audra Ann Furuichi, Becky Cloonan, Becky Dreistadt, Benita Epstein, Bisco HatoriBritt Wilson,Bunny Hoest, C. Tyler, Carol Lay, Carla Rodriguez, Carla Speed McNeil, Carla Ventresca, Carolyn Belefski, Cathy Guisewite, Cecil Castellucci, Chari Pere, Christine Norrie , Chynna Clugston, CLAMP, Cliodhna Lyons, Colleen A.F. Venable, Colleen Coover, Colleen Doran, Colleen Frakes, Colleen MacIsaac, Cori Doerrfeld, Corinne Mucha, Dame Darcy, Danica Novgorodoff, Danielle Corsetto , Deb Aoki, Debbie Huey, Debbie Drescher, Delaine Derry Green, Der-shing Helmer, Devin Grayson, Diana Cameron McQueen, Diana Tamblyn, Donna Barr, Dorothy Gambrell , Dylan Meconis, Elena Barbarich, Elena Diaz, Ellen Forney, Ellen Lindner, Emily Horne, Erica Sakurazawa, Erika Moen, Faith Erin Hicks, Fumiyo Köno, G. Willow Wilson, Gabrielle Bell, Gail Simone, Gina Biggs, Hanni Brosh, Hellen Jo, Hilary B. Price, Hilary Florido, Hiromu Arakawa, Hope Larson, Hwan Cho, Isabella Bannerman, Jamaica Dyer, Jane Irwin, Jean Ciolek, Jen Vaughn, Jen Wang, Jenn Manley Lee, Jenn Moore, Jennifer Holm, Jenny Gonzalez, Jen Van Meter, Jess Fink, Jessica Abel, Jessica McLeod, Jill Thompson, Jillian Tamaki, Joanna Estep, Joelle Jones, Joey Allison Sayers, Johane Matte, Jordyn Bochon, Julie Doucet, Julie Wertz, Kaja Foglio, Karen Luk, Karen Sneider, Kasey Van Hise, Kat Roberts, Kate Beaton, Kathryn Immonen, Kathryn LeMieux, Katie Skelly, Kris Dresen,Kt Shy, L NicholsLark Pien, Laura Park, Laura Williams, Laura Wilson, Lauren WeinsteinLayla Lawlor, Lea HernandezLeigh Dragoon, Linda Medley, Lindsay Cibos, Lisa Hanawalt, Liz Baillie , Liz Prince, Liz Hickey, Liz Lunney, Liza Donnelly, Lucy Knisley, Lynda Barry, Lynda Barry, Lynn Johnston, Lynn Lau, Margaret Shulock, Margo Debaie, Mari Naomi, Mariko Tamaki, Marilyn Scott-Waters, Marion Vitus, Maris Wicks, Marjane Satrapi, Mary Fleener, Megan Baehr, Megan Kelso, Melissa DeJesus, Meredith Gran , Meredith Scheff-King, Michelle PalumboMihona Fujii, Mikhaela Reid, Ming Doyle, Minty Lewis, Miriam Libicki, Misako Rocks!, Miss Lasko-Gross, MK Reed,Monica Gallagher Monique MacNaughton, Moto Hagio, Naoko Takeuchi, Natasha Allegri, Nicola Scott, Niki Smith, Nikki Cook, Nina Paley, Paige Braddock, Pam Bliss, Pancha Diaz, Patricia Burgess, Penina Gal, Phoebe Gloeckner, Posy Simmons, Rachel Dukes, Rachel Hartman, Rachel Nabors, Raina Telgemeier, Rebecca Clements, Rebecca Kraatz, Rebecca Sugar, Rene Engstrom, Renee French, Renee Kurilla, Rina Ayuyang, Rina Piccolo, Risa Itō, Rivkah, Riyoko Ikeda, Roberta Gregory, Robyn Chapman, Rosa Colon, Rosemary Mosco, Rosemary Travale, Roz Chast, Rumiko Takahashi, Sally Bloodbath, Sara Varon, Sarah Dyer, Sarah Glidden, Sarah McIntyre, Sarah Oleksyk, Shaenon K. Garrity, Shannon O’Leary, Shayna Marchese, Shelli Paroline, Sophie Crumb, Spike, Star St. Germain, Stephanie Piro, Stephanie Yue, Stevie Wilson, Sue Coe, Susie Cagle, Suzanne Baumann, Svetlana Chmakova,Tania Del Rio, Tara O’Connor, Tara Tallan , Tatiana Gill, Tintin Pantoja, Tracy White, Trina Robbins, Ursula Vernon, Ursula Murray Husted, Vanessa Davis, Vanessa Satone, Vera Brosgol, Vicki Nerino, Willow Dawson, Yali Lin, Yuko Ota

Sorry if I missed you & that I couldn’t put in everyone’s website, but add yours in the comments!


  1. I know there were some jokey “boy’s only/no women allowed” get-togethers last year while Drink & Draw Like a Lady was going on, but I really think those boys were just jealous they didn’t get to participate in the awesomeness.

    I can see how some people might find the idea exclusionary, and while I was only there briefly last year, it felt very welcoming and fantastic — everyone was friendly and it felt very comfortable (but then I left before the singles-mixer people started wandering in). I look forward to it this year.

  2. How many women cartoonists can you name that can produce something other than trite autobiographical, boring coming of age, or faux-esoteric chick flick storylines?

  3. Kate Beaton is making probably the funniest comics on the web. Becky Cloonan can outdraw just about anyone. And there’s quite a few more, but I’m not sure you’d care.

    What’s a faux-esoteric storyline, chick flick or otherwise?

  4. Well, Mike, in superhero comics, which is mostly a boys club, there’s Colleen Coover (fun stuff…when’s Marvel gonna issue a Hydrette action figure?), Gail Simone (I prefer Tranquility, but there’s also Wonder Woman and Secret Six, and Birds of Prey), Amanda Connor (Power Girl, The Pro). Old school, er, I mean The Golden Girls: Ramona Fradon, Trina Robbins, Marie Severin, Louise Simonson, Jo Duffy, Colleen Doran.

    But I don’t care who does what, as long as it’s cool and enjoyable, and maybe offers a new perspective.

  5. this is a really cool event (it sounds like, as I’ve never been)..but! the women are awesome! Hope, Raina, Lucy and Erica and all those mentioned! :)

    Lots of great talents mentioned at the end there too!

    I’m not a woman, but I love the work of many of those mentioned. :D

  6. Great interview. That’s an impressive list of female creators you both complied, Raina, Hope (it’s nice to know there’s so many of us working in comics!). I was flattered to find my name on the list. :)

  7. Thanks for the mention, Raina!

    I wonder how much that list of women cartoonists has grown since I wrote my masters thesis on women in comics in 2005 — or how much it’s stayed the same, and how perceptions of our numbers have changed so much in a few years.

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