I finished reading Raina Telgemeier's SMILE a few minutes ago. My daughter and I found the softcover at Barnes&Noble. I wanted a hardcover, so I had to wait for Amazon to ship it. Yes, if I'm excited about a book, the hardcover is almost mandatory. I really enjoyed this book.
I've been a fan of Raina's work for sometime. I first met Raina at San Diego Comic Con, when I bought one of her mini-comics. And not too long after that, I interviewed her on Fanboy Radio's Indie Show. Afterward, I've bumped into Raina and her husband Dave at various conventions. I'm always excited to see what they're working on next. I loved The Baby-sitters Club. Yes, a guy can read The Baby-sitters Club. Raina is a skilled cartoonist. I've been anxiously awaiting the release of SMILE, a memoir about her experience with braces and the social drama of early teenage years.
The book refreshed my memories of that period in my life. I'm 25 days older than Raina. (Thank you, Wikipedia.) From 5th grade to 9th grade, I had braces. I had headgear. I had brackets. I had rubber bands. I had jaw surgery. I had a retainer. Around the same time Raina was suffering through her visits to the Orthodontist, I was also dealing with those god awful spacers and molds, and the Orthodontist tightening the braces until my mouth ached. I remember these events, but I think I repressed the feelings that were involved with those events. It was embarrassing, and I felt like a real nerd/oddball/weirdo/outsider, because braces *are* weird. Fact. I never felt like I could fit in with the more popular kids, and I never felt like I would have a chance asking out pretty girls to the school dance. I hated 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th grade. However, SMILE reminded me of some fonder moments. I loved reading comics and playing D&D. I loved drawing and writing. I remember when Little Mermaid came out. Yes, it was awesome. I remember The Simpson's first season on television. I remember having a subscription to Nintendo Power. In hindsight, those years weren't too bad. It's funny that after avoiding comics in my later teen years, once I finally graduated from college and "grew up," I came back to comics and those "geeky" things I truly enjoyed. To me, SMILE is more about being okay with who you are than it has anything to do with braces.
For those smarter and more discerning comics readers, we will appreciate the subtle sublime talent of Raina. However, I'm afraid other readers may miss it. When you compare SMILE to a work like last year's highly acclaimed ASTERIOS POLYP, it may feel like these two creators are working in completely different fields. Every page of ASTERIOS POLYP seems to shout: "I. AM. A. GREAT. WORK. OF. LITERATURE. GRRR." It's good, but overwhelming. Whereas SMILE says: "Hey. I'm Raina. Let's hang out. Let me tell you about my life. Cool?" Is POLYP the superior work? Forget those high art and low art distinctions. If we judge a work of literature based on the connection it makes with an audience, my vote is with SMILE. And Raina, since I'm older than you, I'm right.