Raina Telgemeier Is the Most Important Comic Creator of the Current Age

Raina Telgemeier

Why not state the obvious? Brian Hibbs’s yearly BookScan sales review column is now up, looking back at the top-selling graphic novels of 2016 through the bookstore market.

The obvious fact is this: of the top seven, six are by Raina Telgemeier (and the seventh, Dork Diaries, isn’t a comic). Between her illustrated memoirs, her fiction, and her Baby-Sitters Club adaptations (reissued recently in color), she has sold over 1.3 million books in just the last year. As Hibbs says, “literally every book she’s done that is in-print is a top-of-the-charts best-seller, which is wildly unprecedented”.

Raina Telgemeier

Moreover, since she’s published by Scholastic, as Hibbs points out, there are likely many additional sales through book fairs that aren’t tracked by this method. It’s no surprise to me her works do so well — they’re universal stories, approachable and easy to read but with substantial cartooning skill behind the deceptively simple storytelling.

The only books from the traditional comic industry that rank near the top are The Killing Joke (what would DC be without Alan Moore? and an animated movie to promote the story?) and The Walking Dead (TV is the best advertising). There’s lots more data (lots!) in the linked column, including publisher rankings and lists of top-selling books, but I wanted to point out that if you think comics are superheroes made by men, you don’t know what really sells to a young and growing readership.


  • Comics Scholar

    Dork Diaries is a hybrid comic series, so it does belong on the list. While I agree that Telgemeier has great talent, her unwillingness to address her appropriation of and misrepresenting of indigenous cultural practices is problematic (Ghosts) as is her willingness to perpetuate the myth of the “Old South” (Drama).

  • I’ve seen Dork Diaries, and it’s not a comic, it’s an illustrated diary. If it’s included on the rankings list, so should Diary of a Wimpy Kid, which is the same format, and which would likely outrank many of the entries.

    I also disagree with your drive-by charges. The “Old South” is portrayed in Drama as costumes for a school play, not any kind of myth perpetuation, and the use of culture in Ghosts is a bigger discussion than to have in one sentence with someone who won’t even bother to sign their name. More to the point, there’s a difference between discussing alternate readings of a work and assuming you know what she’s thinking (“unwillingness”).

    When someone’s popular and successful, there’s always someone there to throw mud.

  • I haven’t gotten around to reading any of her work yet, but it sure looks nice. And my wife is a middle school teacher, so I’ve definitely heard about how popular these books are.

    I’m always delighted to see the sheer variety in comics currently being published, and in the audiences that enjoy them.

  • If you’re looking for a place to start, Smile is the best place. Sisters is a sequel to that, and her autobio work is more powerful than her fiction (although that’s good too).

  • David Oakes

    Funny, when you first posted this I was going to reply, “She can’t be that important, no one has dismissed your claim in a drive-by snit fit.”

    Stay classy, Internet…

  • James Schee

    I recently read most of her work and at first was disappointed at how quickly I read them. I thought maybe that meant they were slight in content, but the more I thought of it I changed my opinion. The cartooning is so clear it was easy to read more than any other creator working today. So many comics today I have to stop and figure out what panel, heck sometimes what word balloon to read next. That shouldn’t be an indictment of her talent, but a call for others to step up their game to hers.

    There’s good stories in every one of the books she’s done and I can’t wait to see what else she does, and to go back and read more of her work as well. (Haven’t seen the Babysitters Club books yet)

  • Anon

    OK, Johanna, here are people who “throw mud” in more than one sentence, including a woman who’s speaking about HER culture being appropriated:




    I’m a Hapa professional writer and cartoonist (yes, I’m legit published, and no, I won’t “sign my name”). I’m sick and tired of middle-class white creators like Telgemeier and Faith Erin Hicks appropriating PoC’s cultures and appearances, then being lauded for increasing “diversity” in children’s books, specifically in graphic novels.

  • You appear to be using my recognition of Raina’s immense success to respond to someone else entirely, since “lauding diversity” has nothing to do with what I said. I also have to disagree with your argument, since it ultimately becomes “white people shouldn’t be allowed to write about other cultures”. I welcome more voices to tell their stories, but I can’t see it as the either/or choice you (and those links, which don’t engage with the book as much as use it as a jumping-off point to reiterate long-standing concerns) present.

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