By Matthew Jent
Hope Larson is a New York Times bestselling graphic novelist, an Eisner-award winning cartoonist, and the writer & director of Got A Girl’s music video for “Live Too Fast.” Her graphic novel adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s classic sci-fi/fantasy tale A Wrinkle in Time is out this week in paperback. Originally from Ashville, NC, she currently lives in Los Angeles.
A New Yorker profile on Madeleine L’Engle a few years ago said, “There are really two kinds of girls. Those who read Madeleine L’Engle when they were small, and those who didn’t.” Did you have a relationship with A Wrinkle in Time or L’Engle’s writing before coming on board to adapt & illustrate the graphic novel?
Larson: Yeah, I was definitely the kind who read L’Engle. I started with A Wrinkle in Time, but I ended up reading a lot of her other books, too. There was a bookstore in Asheville called Accent on Books, and my parents would often take me and my brother there after church on Sundays, since it was next to the restaurant where we often ate Sunday lunch. Accent on Books had a great kids’ section, and there was a shelf with seemingly limitless books by L’Engle. Her books fascinated me because they were more thematically complicated and edgier than most of the other books for younger readers.
Wrinkle is one of those books I returned to many times over my childhood and adolescence. I loved the sci-fi/fantasy aspects of it, and I loved the imperfect character of Meg.
What’s it like to take on something that looms so large in the culture and in readers’ lives? Did you have any hesitation in adapting it?
Larson: I was definitely nervous about adapting it. I actually declined the job at first, but when the publisher asked me to reconsider I said yes. I thought, well, I love this book and I know what it means to people, and at least I know I’ll be adapting it with love and respect.
My version will not and cannot take the place of the original, but maybe it will serve as a gateway to this story for kids who might not have found it otherwise. Hopefully those kids will go on to read the original, too.
What was your process like for scripting or outlining the adaptation?
Larson: I bought a very cheap copy of the book and completely butchered it — drew page breaks in it, highlighted it, ripped the pages out as I completed them. I put pretty much everything that’s in the novel into the script for the graphic novel. I figured I’d make the publisher tell me what to cut, but none of us could figure out what to remove without destroying what makes Wrinkle special, so we ended up with a very large graphic novel.
Does the dialogue come entirely from the text of the novel?
Larson: Very little of the dialogue changed. I tweaked a few bits for space, and I added a few bits of internal monologue for clarity. L’Engle had a background in theater, and her work makes a lot of sense in light of that fact. Wrinkle is mostly dialogue, like a play, without a lot of action or direction. This made it a good candidate for adaptation into a comic since the story was carried primarily by the dialogue, and I had a lot of freedom with the “acting”.
Did you learn anything new about Wrinkle, or your own craft in general, through adapting & illustrating this book?
Larson: It was a luxury to live inside someone else’s book for a while, and get to know it intimately. When I’m drawing a book I’ve written, a book I’ve already spent months or years scripting and editing, it’s hard to see the whole for what it is and to appreciate it. I generally have no idea if what I’m writing has much value, or where it stands in my body of work. It was nice to work on a book that absolutely, definitely was a great and important story.
I don’t know how much I really learned about craft, but I implemented workflow practices that I still use now. I put in a lot of checks and balances. I made self-care and taking care of my body — since drawing is so physically destructive, believe it or not — a priority. I definitely learned my limits on this book.
Afterwards I burned out big time and there were a couple of years when I didn’t draw much. I focused on writing and film and doing other things. While I don’t recommend burnout as a career choice, it led me to some interesting places before I found my way back to drawing again.
You do a lot with the white & black & blue color palette in A Wrinkle in Time, especially the blue/black flashback or memory panels. Can you talk about your use of color in this book and in your work in general?
Larson: Thanks! A big shout-out to Jenn Manley Lee, who did the coloring and was an all-around rockstar.
The flashback stuff was one of the trickier bits to figure out. The first chapter was one of the most challenging parts of the adaptation since it’s largely in Meg’s head and she’s reflecting back on things which have happened while lying in bed during this terrible storm. There’s a lot going on.
I’ve never been comfortable working in full color, and I also have a background in printmaking, so I stick to limited color palettes as often as possible. Flat washes of color and bold black lines have always appealed to me. Eleanor Davis and I were talking recently about how we both struggle to combine line and color in a way that feels integrated and satisfactory to us. It’s an ongoing frustration and I still haven’t figured it out.
What do you look for in a protagonist? Is there a relationship between Meg in A Wrinkle in Time and the characters you write and draw in your own books?
Larson: Yeah, there’s absolutely a through-line from Meg to the characters I write. The earlier ones, for sure. I can’t get enough of weird-outcast-girl-saves-the-day stories. These days I write more of a range of character types, but the complicated outsider is the one that comes most naturally to me.
What was the reaction like to your adaptation? Do you introduce yourself at parties as New York Times Bestselling Graphic Novelist Hope Larson?
Larson: Yes, and I have a license plate frame that says that, too.
Honestly, the response has been a gratifying one. I was locked up with that book for so long with no idea what would happen when it came out; I was just hoping not to be tarred and feathered. What’s meant to most of me is hearing that reluctant readers and kids with autism have found the adaptation useful and accessible. That validates my work as a cartoonist like nothing else.
Are there other novels or stories you’d like to adapt as graphic novels?
Larson: There isn’t a story I particularly want to adapt. I’m pretty busy with my own stuff right now, but never say never.
Can we talk about your webcomic Solo? You recently called it your romance comic, in response to the Fresh Romance Kickstarter. Is a modern narrative about love & relationships inherently a romance comic, or do you see Solo as part of the tradition of romance comics as they existed from the 1940s-70s?
Larson: I haven’t read that many of those old romance comics but I have read a few of the classic DC ones… and thought they were boring. I don’t know that Solo exists within any kind of romance comic historical context, but it’s the only story I’ve ever written that is, definitively, a love story. There are a lot of other elements, but the relationship between Leah and Wade has always been the reason I wanted to write this story.
But is it a romance? What is a romance versus a love story or a story about love? I don’t know! Just looking at modern romance novels, they’ve come a long way from the ones I used to get from the library as a kid. They can be very smart and complicated and empowering. I don’t know that Solo fits in with those stories, exactly, but it’s not radically different from them, either.
You’re releasing Solo page by page as you complete them, “the moment the ink’s dry, raw and fresh and full of mistakes,” as you said on your blog. It seems like a very personal project. Do you want to publish Solo in book form when it’s complete, or will it live exclusively online?
Larson: It’s quite a personal story but it’s not autobiographical. It’s had a looooong gestation period. It’s not The Story of Hope’s Divorce because the script predates that, but having gone through a divorce I have to pat myself on the back and say that I nailed the emotional aspects of divorce. There was a long period when I thought about shelving the project over my worries that readers would see it as some kind of tell-all, but ultimately I decided that would be a shame. And anyway, a lot of people assume my other work is autobiographical, too!
I definitely want to publish it when it’s complete. I’ve been putting together little minicomic versions for shows, which has been fun. I’m about a third of the way through the story right now, so it’s going to be a while before I have to worry about what to do with the thing.
What’s a normal workday like for you? Are you writing or drawing every day?
Larson: Right now I have a lot of different projects on the go, so I try and split my workday up. I either write in the mornings and draw in the afternoons or vice versa, with a break in between to go for a run or bike ride. If I have busywork (lettering, or flatting colors, or e-mails) I try and leave that until the evening. It really depends on what’s the most pressing item on my to-do list, though. Whenever possible, I take weekends off to rest and hang on to my sanity.
Music plays a large part in Solo — do you listen to music as you work? Did you have a playlist for A Wrinkle in Time?
Larson: I do listen to music when I work, whether I’m writing and drawing. I love music, but in a naïve way; my understanding of music on a theoretical and historical level is fairly shallow. I like writing about musicians because it’s a way to put all the ideas that interest me about being a creative person into a more appealing wrapper.
I didn’t have a playlist for A Wrinkle in Time. The main thing I remember listening to while drawing it is the Millennium series — The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, etc.
What are you excited about in comics today? Are there books or creators you’re reading or looking forward to?
Larson: I’m presenting the LA Times Book Award for graphic novels this year, so I’ve been reading the finalists. I really need to read more of Jaime Hernandez’s work. I need to read more Roz Chast. I’m very excited about Sam Alden’s work right now. I’m reading Saga. I liked Megahex a lot in spite of the fact that I’m not the target audience for that book!
What’s next? What are you working on in the near future that you can (and wanna) talk about?
Larson: Hooooo boy. So many things! Next week Jen Wang and I are starting to pitch the cartoon series we’ve been working on for the past year, which is exciting! I’m finishing up the first draft of the script for a middle-grade graphic novel I’ll both write and draw. I’m working with Rebecca Mock to put the finishing touches on Compass South, the first book in our Four Points series of middle grade graphic novels, which will be out next year. The second volume, Knife’s Edge, will be out in 2017; it’s scripted, but we have a long road of drawing, coloring, lettering and revisions ahead. Those projects and Solo are the biggies, but I’m also working on a few other things that may or may not happen.
If my life is a rollercoaster, it feels like I’m just about to go over the top — and I mean that in a good way.