Raina Telgemeier has worked on Smile for a long time. First posting parts of it online, she eventually inked a deal to publish it as a book with the Scholastic, the publisher of the Babysitters Club graphic novels Raina worked on. As she explains in this interview, she had about half of it done online when the book deal came about:
I’d posted about 120 pages of Smile online, on a page-a-week basis, before Scholastic picked up the publishing rights. The pages were drawn over a four-year period and were written as I went along. So there were things I wanted to fix, a few continuities that needed to be straightened out…and I was suddenly working with editors! What I did was sit down and write out the entire rest of the book, and then we figured out what, if anything, from the first half needed revising.
The finished book is really good. It should fit right in with other favorite young adult novels of the middle school set.
I remember talking to Raina at last year's SPX and I remember her talking about how all of the work she did on the Babysitters Club books was so helpful to her craft, both in terms of just the amount of work she's done and the ways those books made her stretch to draw things she might not have otherwise taken on. All of that really shows in this book, there's a lot of skill here the visual choices Raina makes. And I don't think I've ever enjoyed Raina's art as much as this book. She's always shown a bit of a Lynn Johnston influence in her work, (nothing wrong with that!) and here she has done a great job of character design, from the main characters to the various smaller roles. She has a real command of comics language here, from her sense of panel design, to camera angle to all of the visual and symbolic tactics that comics has to show and not tell what's going on. For example, I really liked the faded yellow color for the pages where she remembered an early childhood experience losing a baby tooth (starts on page 96). All of those details show how on top of her comic game Telgemeier is right now.
And the story itself is quite engaging. The central incident the story revolves around, the loss of the two front adult teeth and all of the dental work afterwards, is both literally interesting and a real hook for the reader, but also a great way to symbolize the many changes and angst everyone goes through in those middle school years. Everyone recalls something of that time in their life (and if you don't wait until those friends find you on Facebook and I gaurantee you the memories will flood on back) and the common theme is probably the awkwardness of finding your place in things. The real achievement here is that Telgemeier gets both the details of the dental drama pitch perfect (informative, engaging but never disturbing) but also manages to capture a lot more about life at that age. In fact, it's impressive that in telling her life story she manages to do it so honestly and without trying to overtly manipuate the reader towards sympathy, pity or providing some syrupy happy ending. Yes there is a happy ending to this story, but it's a small moment that resists making it more than it is.
There's a preview of the book available here and a great trailer you can watch below:
The publisher provided a free copy of the book to ComixTalk for review purposes.