Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
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.
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!
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.