- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 22, 2006

NEW YORK

It was love at first sight — literally. Nine-year-old Raina Telgemeier had discovered “The Baby-Sitter’s Club” book series.

“I read the first book at least 20 times throughout my childhood,” the 28-year-old cartoonist says.

Now, about 20 years later, Miss Telgemeier has returned to the world of preteen friends Kristy, Claudia, Stacey and Mary Anne.

Her graphic novel adaptation of “Kristy’s Great Idea,” the first in author Ann M. Martin’s hit series, is making its debut on Scholastic’s Graphix imprint.

It is a modern, visual twist on an 1980s favorite, and it’s being marketed not only to 8-to-12-year-old girls, but women of Miss Telgemeier’s age who grew up with the original books.

Raised in San Francisco, Miss Telgemeier identified most with Kristy, the scrappy 12-year-old who starts a club catering to parents in need of baby sitters.

“I was a Kristy girl. I was a tomboy, too,” she says, laughing, in her Queens apartment. Framed comic strips and colorful posters surround her. She wears glasses and jeans, her hair in a loose ponytail. “I was interested in drawing, in playing outside, in having friends, not being a ballerina or a princess.”

Miss Telgemeier herself began baby-sitting at age 11.

Set in the small town of Stoneybrook, the books deal with lighthearted issues as well as serious subjects — what Miss Telgemeier calls “the three Ds: divorce, diabetes, death and sibling rivalry.”

Stacey is the sophisticated New York transplant who at first conceals her diabetes. Claudia is the artsy one with a snobby older sister. Mary Anne is Kristy’s best friend, a shy girl with braids whose mom died when she was young. Kristy’s parents are divorced. A later character, Dawn from California, is laid back.

Scholastic introduced the series in 1986, and it soon became a breakout hit. Offshoots followed, with more than 175 million “Baby-Sitter’s Club” books in print and 132 books in the regular series.

“I wanted to create a group of friends who were very different from one another but could get along well,” Miss Martin said. “Mary Anne was based on me. Kristy was based on one of my best friends growing up. Claudia was somewhat exotic.”

The series — which inspired a television show in 1990 and a movie in 1995 — officially ended in 2000.

About that time, Miss Telgemeier was attending New York’s School of Visual Arts for illustration and putting out her own 12-page autobiographical black-and-white minicomics, selling them “for a quarter to my friends” and to stores. The bubbly stories captured moments from her childhood — from knocking out her two front teeth to the first time she drank tea — and drew some attention.

In 2003, Scholastic, mining for graphic novel ideas, asked Miss Telgemeier what she read as a kid.

“I said, ‘Oh, I was a “Baby-Sitter’s Club” fan,’ remembering it was Scholastic’s property,” Miss Telgemeier says. “And they thought it was sort of a good idea. I was very skeptical, at first. … Then I thought, ‘Why not?’”

With Miss Martin’s blessing, Miss Telgemeier worked on the first graphic novel for a year, finishing it last September as part of a two-book contract.

“This has been the biggest art endeavor I’ve ever done,” she says. The adaptation of “Kristy’s Great Idea” runs about 190 pages, compared to the original’s 150 pages.

Miss Telgemeier’s second adaptation will be “The Truth About Stacey,” coinciding with the series’ third book, and is due out in November.

Translating the books into comic form has included a few challenges. Miss Telgemeier solved how to illustrate 10-page conversations by making the girls move around instead of having them sit in a room, as in the book.

“That’s where the internal filmmaker of a cartoonist comes out,” she says, demonstrating with her hands how Kristy can’t sit still, and how Mary Anne sits up straight.

When Stacey sees Kristy’s older brothers, for example, her eyes widen with hearts instead of pupils. Mary Jane nervously chews her nails.

The original book was also very ‘80s — “pink, purple sweat shirts and plastic jelly shoes,” Miss Telgemeier says. And while she wanted to capture that ‘80s flavor, she says her editors and Miss Martin preferred something “more timeless.”

To Miss Martin, the point “was to keep the characters the same but update them, which was a difficult charge.”

So Miss Telgemeier gave punky Claudia a magenta streak in her long hair and skull earrings. Yet, the town of Stoneybrook still lacks modern-day technology such as computers and cell phones, in keeping with Scholastic’s desire for timelessness.

“Nowadays the girls would just make a Web site,” Miss Telgemeier says.

However, she describes the graphic novel as “emotionally on target” and mostly faithful to Miss Martin’s text “because I care about the source material.”

So will the graphic novels catch on like the series?

Joanna Sondheim, an assistant librarian at a private elementary school in Manhattan, thinks so. The 28-year-old, who also writes, got into the books at age 7, and says she’s interested in reading the graphic novel to spark “memories.”

As for taking the series out of retirement, Miss Martin says there are no plans to do more books, “but I’ll never say never.”

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