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‘Pajama Diaries’ Cartoonist Terri Libensen on New Graphic Novel ‘Positively Izzy'

Middle school is not necessarily an easy time of life to live, but cartoonist Terri Libensen depicts the struggles and joys kids experience through graphic novels.

“Weirdly enough, I find it to be kind of natural for myself,” she said. “I think part of me just never grew up (laughing), which is probably part of the reason I’m a cartoonist.”

“Positively Izzy,” published by HarperCollins, captures the drama of middle school and explores what happens when two very different characters' lives intersect.

The Mayfield Heights resident also writes and draws the syndicated comic strip, “The Pajama Diaries,” centered on a mom balancing family and work life. Libensen, a mother of two like her series character, Jill Kaplan, knows that position well producing a daily strip.

“I have a little trick for that,” she said. “I get into a writing mode, so I’ll write for about a week straight and I’ll collect… a little over a month’s worth of strips, narrow them down slightly, and then I’ll just draw everything at once.”

As a cartoonist, she has felt the turbulence of cuts in the newspaper industry since the launch of “Pajama Diaries” in 2006. In contrast, she said graphic novels have enjoyed strong interest, particularly from middle grade readers (ages 8 to 12).

The Cuyahoga County Public Library has seen the genre’s popularity increasing in the last three to five years, according to communications director Hallie Rich. She shared via email, there are more than 14,000 graphic novels in the library system’s youth collection with about 36 percent currently checked out.

“I got in this partly to write for girls, because I think that was a readership that was kind of missing from this genre,” Libensen said.

“Positively Izzy” is a spin off from her first graph novel, “Invisible Emmie.” The new book features two very different girls, “Emmie’s” best friend,

Briana, and a new character, Izzy.

“I’m sort of trying to explode the idea of labels,” she said. “One of the underlying themes there is to sort of prove that you’re more than what people think you are.”

Libensen is currently writing a third graphic novel about middle school, which explores the issue of exclusion.

Carrie Wise is the deputy editor of arts and culture at Ideastream Public Media.