Robot 6

Hope Larson talks comics

The past 15 years have brought about one of the strongest — and broadest — generations of new comic creators since the medium’s inception in the early 1900s. For that you can credit the groundswell acceptance of manga, the opening of doors to more genres thanks to the graphic novel format, and a generation of children brought up on comics, cartoons and countless other artistic entertainment. One of those is cartoonist Hope Larson.

Larson started out in comics during her junior year at Chicago’s School of the Art Institute, when renowned cartoonist Scott McCloud happened upon her personal art website and posted on his blog that she should be doing comics. Shortly after that, Lea Hernandez invited her to contribute a webcomic to girlamatic.com. Although Larson calls the comic she did there a failure, it put her on a path toward a career in comics. Hand-made minicomics soon followed, as well as stories in several anthologies including Flight. Her first full-length book, Salamander Dream (2005), was originally serialized as a webcomic. In the following years, she completed three more books, coming to the attention of book publishers and the wider young-adult market.

Following a move west from her native North Carolina with her husband, Larson resumed work on her biggest project yet: a graphic novel adaptation of Madeline L’Engle’s classic sci-fi novel A Wrinkle In Time. It’s Larson’s first adaptation, and one she chose out of love of the book;  but while her drawing board might be full with the adaptation, her keyboard is keeping busy as she finishes the script of a new YA comic series, to be illustrated by Tintin Pantoja, that is her first attempt at a series, mixing the magical girl genre of manga with her own takeaway of superheroes.

Chris Arrant: Let’s start with an easy one – what are you working on today?

Hope Larson: I’m drawing an adaptation of Madeline L’Engle’s classic sci-fi novel, A Wrinkle in Time, which will be published by FSG in fall 2012. I’m also revising the script for my next YA comic, Whois AC, which will be drawn by Tintin Pantoja and published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers in Spring 2013.

Also, just for kicks, I’m writing a screenplay. The screenplay is historical fiction, a based-on-a-true-story sort of thing, and involves a lot of research; when I’m too wiped out to draw or revise or write I’ll sit around and read weird old books and newspaper articles.

Meg Murry by Hope Larson from 'A Wrinkle In Time'

Arrant: Besides a few short anthology stories here and there, all you’ve done is long-form GNs – and this one is almost 400 pages. In comics the idea of being holed away with no new work on the shelf for months – even years – is still hard to get used to for people, although it’s common in the world of prose novels. What’s that like for you to be so withdrawn from the public eye in this respect?

Larson: I guess I am about halfway through the process, although graphic novels are made of so many different processes that it’s hard to say. I wrote the script last fall, thumbnailed the whole book all spring, and now I’m 65 pages into the final artwork. I should be finished next summer.

One of the hardest things about doing graphic novels is having to sit on them for so long, absolutely. I wasn’t even allowed to say I was working on A Wrinkle in Time for months, and that was a miserable time! There I was, plugging away, working on this project every day, and to anyone else it seemed like I wasn’t doing anything. It’s probably the reason I’m so active on twitter. “Yes, hello, here I am, drawing comics! Writing comics! Please don’t forget about me!”

I knew when I signed on to Wrinkle, before I even started writing the script, that the book was going to be a monster. It’s 200 pages of prose, and when you’re working with such a beloved story you can’t go in and start cutting and abridging as you please. I knew I was going to be tied up for about a year and a half, and the worst part of that was the fact that I wouldn’t be able to draw an original GN at the same time. Fortunately, I’d written the first draft of Whois AC before I started work on Wrinkle, and it felt critical that I find an artist and get that book out ASAP. I’m not an illustrator, I’m a storyteller, and I’m not happy if I’m not creating my own stories and putting them out into the world.

Arrant: Becky Cloonan has stated that after doing an OGN, she liked doing serialized stories more because she gets more feedback and can talk about things longer. Have you thought about doing any serialized work?

Larson: I haven’t seriously considered it, no. I’m not too interested in anyone’s feedback except for my editor’s; I’m not doing comics by committee. When I was involved with the Flight anthology that was very much the atmosphere, and it didn’t much appeal to me. I tend to think that the more sources you solicit feedback from, the blander your end product will be.

I also don’t think there’s an acceptable vehicle to serialize the kind of work I do. The Internet’s great if you’re willing to hustle, but I’m not. And floppies … Well, what publisher would be willing to publish a YA girl story in a monthly or bi-monthly format? On top of that, the editorial relationship I want isn’t possible if I’m not working on large chunks of story at a time. For me, short-form serialization — anything under 100 pages or so — seems like a lose-lose situation.

Arrant: Can you tell us more about Whois AC? Is this the project you hope to be a series of books?

Larson: I sure hope it survives past the first book. It’s the magical girl project I’ve been referring to, mostly on Twitter, for a few months. I watched a ton of Sailor Moon and Magic Knight Rayearth and read a bunch of Amethyst, Princess of Gemworld as inspiration. I’ve been fascinated by girls’ books and silly genre stuff for a long time, and I collect antique girls’ series–the Marjorie Dean books, the Radio Girls book — and I’ve wanted to play with a longer story for a while. Partly that’s because it’s a different type of storytelling than what you get when you sit down and write one complete story, and partly it’s because people often tell me they wish my stories were longer. (Mercury is 240 pages long, and I hear on a regular basis that people want more of that story.) And another reason I want to do a series is because I’m hoping it will enable me to get books out more quickly and more regularly. Keep things rolling.

Anyway. Whois AC is my superhero story. It’s very genre and very personal, and it was easier and more fun to write than anything I’ve written. I don’t know if that’s good or bad! I hope it just means I’m getting better at writing.

Arrant: You’re working with Tintin, and I remember a story Bryan drew for you as well. As a storyteller who is an artist yourself, what do you look for in a collaborator?

Larson: I look for someone who’s professional, reliable and communicative. Someone who can hit deadlines. Someone who understands that the story we’re telling truly is a collaboration, and is willing to make it hers and put her stamp on it. I may be steering the ship, but the artist is equally responsible for getting us to our destination in one piece.

Arrant: In an interview next door at the CBR blog Comics Should Be Good, you talk about your introduction to comics being on a trip to France and how shell-shocked you were when you came back to the U.S. and didn’t find that diversity – just the idea of Glo-Worms and My Little Pony comics sounds amazing. Do you think that had a big impact on your later comics ambitions?

Larson: Yeah, probably. There’s room in comics for the My Little Pony comic as well as Akira and Batman. But really, I just write the stuff I want to write; I’m lucky that much of the stuff I want to write fits right into the YA category.

Arrant: People might have a certain image about you based on your books – what do you think would be the most surprising book on your shelves for people that just know you from your four books?

Larson: I have no idea what image people have of me. Maybe Uzumaki, but I talk all the time about my love of horror manga. I love Stieg Larsson. I’ve been reading a lot of silly supernatural romance-type books (Charlaine Harris, Patricia Briggs, etc.) since I got my Kindle, but I don’t think that’s surprising, either.

Arrant: You recently moved out to California, but just before you moved your place got burgled, stealing your laptop with all sorts of notes – including almost a full outline for a screenplay you were working on. Now that some time has passed, how has that theft impacted you? Will those stories that you’ll have to re-write benefit from having to do it all over again?

Larson: Right after we were burgled, I walked around the house just hoping I’d left the laptop somewhere else, and it wasn’t really gone. The stuff going through my brain was the same stuff that goes through your brain when your computer crashes: It’s gone. I didn’t back it up. Why didn’t I back it up. All that work! Well, you’ll write it better next time. Shut up, brain! You don’t know that!

Hope's new workspace

Losing the outline sucked, but I rewrote it and it is better the second time around. I improved it in ways I might not have if I’d been working off the original version. That’s all that matters. The main impact the whole thing has had on me is that, now, when I leave the house, I make sure to hide my laptop.

Arrant: If somehow your laptop ended on your doorstep all in one piece and you had those files – do you think you’d use the ones you’ve rewritten since?

Larson: There’s one file I’d pull off it, because that one I have to retype from scratch. I have it, but only as a PDF. Everything else on there? At this point I feel like, “Well, good riddance.” I’m big on forging ahead and never looking back.

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17 Comments

I love comics books. I love reading regular books. I’m sick of how comic books rehash already stellar novels. I understand it’s an art form to reinterpret these stories, but where are the original ideas. Comics seem to be using the hollywood formula lately. Reinterpretations only dumb down novels. “A Wrinkle In Time” is already a young adult novel, yet I bet the number of young adults who could sit through reading it and truly understand it has been cut in half since it was originally published. That’s sad. Do books truly have to be completely illustrated now, or put into a digital/expensive format, to gain any attention, yet alone classics of the genre. I feel our childrens imaginations and original creativity will be dead in the next 20 years. It’s sad. People should be encouraged to buy cheap already produced used books. There are billions out there. And as for comic books how about reading original works and encouraging that in the medium. I’m not hating on this creator at all, just my opinion on the sad state of media and creativity.

Actually, anytime a classic book is adapted into another medium — comics, television, film, etc — it creates multiple points of entry, and encourages potential readers to seek out the original work. When I was in the fifth grade, comic book adaptations of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers, and others led me to read the original books.

Hope has written a lot of her own material.
Comics don’t ‘dumb down’ things, they interpret things. There’s space for all – novels, comics, films, music etc
if you keep an open mind and are interested in what other people create. Of course our children’s imagination and creativity won’t die – as long as they are encouraged to create : in whichever medium they chose.

You are both right. And I didn’t mean to put down Hope at all. Just had an opinion. I agree that comics don’t “dumb down” anything. I myself have a vast collection and try to encourage anyone to read…whether it be comic books or novels, or newspapers even. I have just found that it is getting tougher and tougher to find anyone willing to try it anymore. There is no instant gratification in it. Not enough distractions. Thanks for responding this is fun.

Ryan,

I promise you that dumbing down, replacing or otherwise taking away from the original work is not the intention of anyone involved with this project. (Although, to quote Charles Wallace, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”) 2012 is the 50th anniversary of the original A Wrinkle in Time, and my adaptation is intended as a tribute more than anything else. It’s not going to be to everyone’s taste, and there are already a lot of people out there who are pissed I’m doing this at all. That’s okay. I don’t blame them. If I wasn’t drawing the thing I’d probably join the crusade against it. :)

Given the choice, I would MUCH rather have everyone go read the original book than my version, but you’re right–there are kids out there who would find a 200-page novel daunting. If this book gives a few reluctant-reader kids a way into the original, or if it gets a few fans of the original to think about reading more comics, my work is done.

Hope,
I can’t wait to read your adaptation. What an excellent choice of novel to give a pictoral treatment.

I really dislike it when artists lavish acclaim on classic original material while they’re remaking them. If you valued the original so much in the first place, you should understand the disrespectful nature of redoing it. Now people can rationalize these sorts of actions all they like but that just comes off as doing more of a disservice to the original.

Why not undertake the more difficult effort to create something new and separate taking A Wrinkle in Time as your inspiration? I’m sure that would please not only Madeleine L’Engle, who was against the very idea of her novel being translated into another medium, but also pay tribute to the imaginative nature of the story in a much more satisfying way.

…you guys don’t actually have to buy the book, you know.

Man, there’s a whole section on this site devoted to movie adaptations of comics, but if a comic adapts something else, WHOA, it’s unoriginal? Yeesh. If we followed this reasoning, where would that leave works like Vagabond, R. Crumb’s Genesis, or Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto? Besides, Hope mentions -in this very interview- the original magical girl series she’s working on, so what’s the big deal about working on this one adaptation?

Actually, Kate, I have four original GNs out. I’m putting the finishing touches on the script for a fifth, preparing to rework a sixth, writing a seventh with my husband, and I’m in the middle of writing a screenplay.

If you’re looking for Wrinkle-inspired books, I suggest Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me.

I gotta agree with Ryan. Hope, you come out and say it clear as day right in the interview. Did anyone actually read it?

“I’m not an illustrator, I’m a storyteller, and I’m not happy if I’m not creating my own stories and putting them out into the world.”

Kind of hypocritical. But why would you listen to us lowly internet “trolls”?

“I’m not too interested in anyone’s feedback except for my editor’s; I’m not doing comics by committee…I tend to think that the more sources you solicit feedback from, the blander your end product will be.”

Interesting artistic method sealing yourself off like that…yet aren’t you bringing your own ideas to an already established property?

If you object to comics doing literary adaptations, shouldn’t you object to movies doing them too?

That would excise a great number of the best films ever. Every one of Stanley Kubrick’s films were literary adaptations. Karasic and Mazzuchelli’s adaptation of CITY OF GLASS is often cited as one of the best American comics. Given her track record and reverence for the material, Larson will probably deliver a great book. And what’s totally awesome is if you don’t want to read it, you don’t have to.

I hated the Watchmen movie, and the X-Men movies weren’t ‘Claremont’ enough for me. And I suppose for 5 or 10 minutes I’ve hated the idea that the world thinks that Watchmen is all about spurting blood and wuxia kicks, but that’s about all the time it’s worth. The great thing is that I can always pull those comics off the shelf and read them and enjoy them despite the fact that there’s a crappy movie version of it out there.

Pluto –
what is hypocritical about being honest? Hope is just saying that she still had the need to write her own stories at the same time as creating an adaptation of “A Wrinkle in Time’.

When Hope talks about feedback, I think she means feedback/input WHILE she is making her comics. Not that she doesn’t want to hear what people think about her work AFTER it’s finished. If you get too much input from too many sides, it’s impossible to be creative. “Too many cooks spoil the broth”.

Kate -
What is disrespectful about adapting a classic medium? Like Hope says, it’s a tribute.

…..

I’m amazed how negative people are, and I think that’s the true problem. You’re making adaptations sound like the root of all evil, and this book isn’t even out. So truly, look at yourselves and if you’re honest you will have to admit that your negativity has absolutely nothing to do with Hope Larson’s book.

I said, “I’m not an illustrator, I’m a storyteller, and I’m not happy if I’m not creating my own stories and putting them out into the world.”

Pluto, I also wrote the script for the adaptation, which involves a lot of storytelling. What moments do I emphasize? What elements do I push into the background? What ideas do I have to modify for comics, because it won’t “play” in comics the same way it would in prose? How many pages can I devote to this scene or that scene? That’s not just illustration.

And like I said, I’m doing original work simultaneously.

I said, “I’m not too interested in anyone’s feedback except for my editor’s; I’m not doing comics by committee…I tend to think that the more sources you solicit feedback from, the blander your end product will be.”

To which you said, “Interesting artistic method sealing yourself off like that…yet aren’t you bringing your own ideas to an already established property?”

Lilly gets what I was saying about feedback. I’m hardly sealed off. I get feedback from my editor and from Madeline L’Engle’s estate, and later I’ll get more from copy editors (who check stuff like continuity in addition to grammar and spelling), and believe me… that’s a lot of feedback.

You’re right, I am bringing my own ideas to an already established property. It’s L’Engle’s work from my point of view, not the whole Internet’s many divergent points of view, and that’s why my name will be on the cover. Like it or not, I was hired for the project because of my artistic point of view.

Gee, Hope – after reading all the insightful comments on this thread, I can’t for the life of me imagine why you’d be uninterested in soliciting feedback from everyone under the sun. See what you’re missing? You can get valuable feedback on your work from people who haven’t even read your work.

things hope larson needs to stop doing to be less obnoxious: using the term “YA”, clumsily referencing publishing jargon, and telling people that “young adult” equals “teen”

Jim C., not that you’re going to read this, but I’m pretty sure everyone who’s been inside a library knows what “YA” means.

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