Raina Telgemeier’s Smile, about her adolescence, was one of my best graphic novels of 2010. Now, as she moves into fiction, she’s put out another outstanding title. Drama is one of the best graphic novels of 2012.
It’s the story of Callie, who’s the set designer for the school play. She’s got a crush on her friend Greg, but after telling him of her feelings, he starts avoiding her. (Kids. Easier not to talk about something than face the difficult conversation. Hmmm, maybe not just kids.) Once she gets involved in play preparation, she meets twin brothers Justin and Jesse. Justin is a bit of a diva, ending up in a star role, while Jesse is quieter.
They’re both dealing with high parental expectations, but for now, they’re able to explore their own interests for a while. Jesse has the talent to be on stage, but his non-competitive nature (and perhaps being used to Justin being the one in the spotlight) keeps him in the wings. Callie, Jesse, and Justin hit it off immediately, providing a wonderful example of those rare times when you meet instant friends. I don’t want to talk too much more about the plot because part of its charm is contained in the many surprises that reveal themselves as the story continues.
The overture framing, as though we’re entering the story by watching the curtain rise on a play, makes clear the parallels between school and putting on a show. The kids are figuring out their roles, who they want to be and how that might differ from what they want to project to others.
Raina does an amazing job capturing the authentic feelings of being a teen, from the enthusiasm over a project (and getting in over one’s head with grand plans) to bravery not always working out (but being the better choice in the end). Her drawings are so expressive, too, showing these attitudes and emotions through every movement. The loose, cartoony style makes everything amusingly readable. There’s a wide-ranging cast, full of different personalities, making for a full, realistic world. And some of the moments are just so perfect, as when Callie runs into the stuck-up girl Greg’s dating, and she doesn’t know who Callie is. (Cue Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me”.)
The sequence where Jesse and Callie read an art book on historical stage design is beautifully cartooned, with the characters slowly slipping into the pages to demonstrate how the images fuel their imaginations (much as this comic did for me). The title is just right, capturing both the events — drama club — and the emotions — the drama that comes with crushes and best friends. This is highly accomplished work by someone who’s thankfully got many more years in front of her to continue rising to ever-increasing heights.
Here’s a youth-targeted book trailer that animates some of the art: