Smash Pages Q&A: Gale Galligan takes on ‘The Baby-Sitters Club’

The artist discusses her work on the popular graphic novel series as well as her recent Garfield fan comic, ‘Jon.’

A lot of comics readers know Gale Galligan for her webcomics and short comics like Patbird and Galesaur, 12 Days in Ireland, and Weeb, but this month her first full length graphic novel comes out from Scholastic’s Graphix imprint, which will likely introduce her to a whole new audience. The Baby-Sitters Club: Dawn and the Impossible Three is the fifth book in the graphic novel series. Galligan is taking the reins adapting and drawing the series from Raina Telgemeier.

Already hard at work on the second book in the series, Galligan isn’t slowing down at all, and showed up to this year’s SPX with a new minicomic, Jon. We talked about writing for kids, finding her own style, and Garfield.

Gale, especially when I talk to people about their first book, I like to ask what brought you to comics and what made you want to make them?

It’s a classic story! I read the funny papers religiously as a kid, and loved making my own weird strips inspired by comics like Garfield, Calvin & Hobbes, and The Far Side. Then in middle school, my sister and I got swept up in the manga boom of the early 2000s. We started playing magical hero games with our neighbors, and I’d always run home at the end of the day to put our adventures on paper. It felt so great when everyone would gather around the stoop to flip through my terrible, punny comics. I carried that feeling with me into high school, where my friends and I would spend hours and hours creating characters and stories together. It didn’t matter how good my work was—we were all just excited to see our ideas on the page! That sort of validation and encouragement goes a long way, and before I knew it, I’d been drawing nonstop for years.

How did you end up getting this job of adapting and drawing The Baby-Sitters Club books?

A few years ago, I was pursuing my MFA in Sequential Art at the Savannah College of Art and Design. The department hosts an annual event called Editors’ Day, where editors from various comics publishers come in to do portfolio reviews and share advice about working in the industry. I was very fortunate that Scholastic happened to be one of those publishers while I was there!

I already knew that I wanted to draw comics for young people, and had been working on a portfolio and a few pitches with that in mind. So I met Scholastic/Graphix creative director David Saylor, pitched him my stories, and handed him a packet of my work, which he later showed to Cassandra Pelham Fulton (my wonderful editor!). The three of us kept in touch, and a few months later they asked if I’d like to draw test pages for The Baby-sitters Club. I think I screamed a little?

Did you read the books when you were a kid? I’m curious what you liked about them and what interests you in the series today as an adult?

I was a fan! I’ve always been drawn to stories about teamwork and the power of friendship, and these books definitely fit the bill. As a kid, I thought they were a lot of fun, and I liked that I could relate to each of the characters in different ways: Mary Anne’s fear of confrontation, Kristy’s love of schemes, Claudia’s creativity (of course), and so on. Today, I really appreciate how the girls were able to work through all sorts of problems using creative thinking, empathy, and communication. Those are such helpful skills to have at any age.

What was the process of deciding which book to do and working with the editors at Scholastic? What was the process of picking out Dawn and the Impossible Three and scripting the book?

When I came on board, the editors already had a good idea of which books they were interested in working on next—so I didn’t have to do too much there!

For Dawn and the Impossible Three, I wrote a short chapter-by-chapter outline using both the original novels and Raina Telgemeier’s previous BSC adaptations as reference (some events in the graphic novels diverge from the original timeline, so I was pulling scenes from a few different books). Once we’d gone through edits and the outline was approved, I expanded that into a written script for my eyes only—just because I personally work better that way—and used that to draw thumbnail sketches for the entire book. From there, we could have more specific discussions about pacing, dialogue, and the story as a whole.

You’ve been making short comics and webcomics for years, what was the biggest adjustment in terms of making a book length project?

Honestly, it was mostly mental! With shorter projects and less production time, it’s easier to recognize that you’re getting things done from day to day. I learned while working on this book that I needed to constantly remind myself that I was moving forward, or I’d start feeling like I’d hit a slump. I made myself a bullet journal to keep a visual diary of each day’s progress, and that helped a lot.

People who know you from, say, Patbird and Galesaur will see that the book is in a different style and I would guess you have a lot of the same influences as Raina, but you’re not treating her books as a model sheet to copy. What was the process of finding “your way” to do the book.

Absolutely! We wanted to keep the book in-universe, so to speak, so I did reference Raina’s work for character and environment designs where I could. If you’ve seen my Weeb minicomics, that’s basically my default personal style for human characters: large eyes, chubby cheeks, and over-the-top expressions. I was asked to take that and bring it a bit more into the real world, which meant slightly more realistic proportions and fewer sparkles. It was actually eye-opening for me, the number of times I’d get notes asking to tone down the sparkles. I did not realize how heavily I’d been leaning on the power of the sparkle.

I’m thankful, though. The pages where we kept them in…really shine.

I know you’re working on another Baby-sitters Club book, can you say which one it is and where you’re at?

Yes!! I’m very excited to be working on Kristy’s Big Day, which is the one where Kristy’s mom gets remarried! I’m just about done penciling the book (hooray, bullet journal!), and feel that my flower-drawing game has improved significantly since I started. If you ever want to get better at drawing flora, consider illustrating a millionaire’s wedding.

You also have a new minicomic out, Jon, and I wondered if you just wanted to say a little about it?

Haha! This is embarrassing. As I mentioned, I’ve always been fond of Garfield (in fact, I share a birthday with him). So lately I’ve been thinking about America’s Favorite Polka Enthusiast Jon Arbuckle…you know, as one does. He’s a cartoonist, but we don’t get to see a lot of that side of his life. Is he on Instagram? Does he go to cons? What’s on his pull list? Stuff like that. I thought it would be interesting to consider Jon from a more personal perspective, and maybe talk about my own insecurities in a roundabout sort of way.

What I’m saying is, I’m an adult with a master’s degree who drew a heartfelt Garfield fancomic in the year of our Lord 2017, and I’m just astonished and sincerely delighted by the kind response it’s received. Thank you.

Thank you, Gale!

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