Smile, by Raina Telgemeier
This review is written by Becky Hawkins. Becky drew her first minicomic in 2007, right before landing a job as a cruise ship musician. Since then she has kept a travel-journal online, self-published eight more minicomics, and contributed to The Zinester’s Guide to NYC. She especially loves drawing food, old buildings and quirky bodies. If she had a spouse or a cat, she would mention them here. Becky is the creator of French Toast Comix (which we reviewed here). You can follow her on twitter using @hawkins_becky.
Now for the review:
What’s it about?
After losing her front teeth in a nasty fall, 11-year-old Raina Telgemeier undergoes a series of braces, retainers, dentures and oral surgery to repair her mouth. Between visits to the dentist, she faces boy trouble, friend trouble and even an earthquake! Luckily for Raina, she finds her artistic passion and a new set of friends. Luckily for us, she also became a cartoonist, so we can all enjoy sharing her adolescent pain!
What’s good about it?
Smile has a ton of details that vividly recall high school: the way your fingers cramp up when you start learning flute, or how the former “brace faces” compare retainers during lunch. Readers will be so lost in the world of Raina-the-budding-teen, they won’t notice that Raina-the-adult-narrator is behind the wheel. If you look at any panel, you can see that Raina has considered what the other characters are feeling. For example when Raina chats excitedly about her new earrings, her younger sister looks bored. And when Raina painstakingly assembles a new outfit, her mother ruins the moment because Raina looks both grown-up and ADORABLE.
The dialogue is similarly true-to-life. Raina’s parents and siblings interact with real intimacy and warmth, even as they’re getting on each other’s nerves. Raina’s friends - who often frame insults as “beauty advice” or “jokes” - are believable antagonists. Raina’s friends aren’t evil; they just tease her because it “makes them feel better about themselves in a weird way.” And to them, it is “just a joke.” So we understand why Raina stays friends with them. Younger readers may not have had friendships like that, but they will.
Smile resembles a movie with a strong ensemble cast. But in a comic the artist has to do the work of the casting director, costume designer, actors and extras. Raina Telgemeier is clearly up to the task. Each character has a distinct hairstyle, clothing style, body language, and personality. (And Raina subtly and convincingly ages them from 11 to 15 - no easy task!) Plus, she draws what braces feel like.
What’s the art like?
The artwork is cartoony and inviting, and had me giggling from cover to cover. Raina packs a lot of detail (and occasional gorgeous cityscapes) into clean, simple drawings. Adults will enjoy reading it and remembering what their clothes and toys used to look like. The bright colors and expressive characters will appeal to all ages.
Raina Telgemeier has adapted several Babysitter’s Club books into graphic novels. Her next graphic novel, Drama, hits the shelves on September 1st.
For webcomics, appearances and more, visit http://goraina.com.