photo by The Bui Brothers
Hope Larson is a cartoonist and burgeoning filmmaker. She's also a certified graduate of Penn State's ice cream college with a Tumblr of outrageously delicious-sounding ice cream recipes, including a recipe based on her recent comic adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time called "Chocolate-Covered Aunt." She's the author of YA graphic novels Mercury, Chiggers, Gray Horses and Salamander Dream. Hope lives in Los Angeles with her husband, cartoonist Bryan Lee O'Malley. You can follow her blog here and follow her on Twitter @hopelarson.
Read my review of Hope's wonderful adaptation of Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time here. Below, I got a chance to talk with Hope about A Wrinkle in Time, her upcoming projects and her new short film Bitter Orange. Be the first to read her cast and see the film's poster below!
As a storyteller, how did it feel to adapt such a famous story? How do you make your own mark on something so well-known?
It's scary to adapt a beloved book. It was my first adaptation, my first experience working with another writer, and the advantage of that is there's a lot of excitement around the project before it even exists. The disadvantage is that there are a lot of people who don't like adaptations (which I can't blame them for), or don't like comics (can't do much about that one), and they're waiting for you to slip up.
Initially, it seemed like the publisher expected me to compress the book into a couple hundred pages, and I figured that would be doable, but as I sat down and really looked at the meat of the book, I realized the important stuff is the little moments, the emotional shifts, and you can't compress that. It's funny to me how small, delicate scenes take up more space than big, spectacular ones. There's a lot of dialogue in the book, too. L'Engle is light on description and heavy on dialogue, and I kept looking for ways to cut it down, but I couldn't. Or I didn't want to be the person who butchered L'Engle's words. I did make a few trims, but a lot of the time I would take out a few words, or a sentence, and my editor would ask me to put it back.
I had many conversations with other creators who've worked on adaptations, and an idea that came up again and again is that a too-faithful adaptation is a terrible thing; that a great adaptation simultaneously celebrates and destroys the original. I was terrified that my adaptation would be too faithful. There were a few places where I wanted to go a little more experimental and was restrained. Or restrained myself. I was conscious, always, that this was a book for people who are not necessarily comics fans. I often worried that I wasn't investing enough of myself, my artistic self, in the book, but it's impossible to work on a book for two years and not leave your mark. And looking at the complete book, I don't regret the missed opportunities–or even remember what they were–and I don't feel like I made any real artistic compromises. I'm proud of what I made.
I love the way you visualized something as cerebral as tessering, or The Black Thing or the two-dimensional planet. What were you most looking forward to illustrating when you re-read the book?
Tessering was up there, the scenes with Aunt Beast and, from an "acting" perspective, the scene with Meg and Calvin in the apple orchard. Lots of complicated emotions at play in that scene. I most dreaded drawing Camazotz, which is appropriate.
What seemed like the hardest concept to reflect in the novel?
I struggled with the Black Thing because the way it's described in the novel is impossible to draw. At one point I was trying to draw it slightly more anthropomorphized, more monster-like, and that cheapened it.
For me, personally, the religious stuff was tough. Uriel in particular–the scene with the centaur creatures singing and dancing was hard to wrap my head around. I'm not religious and didn't have a religious upbringing, and the scene made me uncomfortable.
In adapting A Wrinkle in Time, did anything strike you about the book that you'd never noticed before?
The general weirdness of it. It's a REALLY strange book.
Are there any plans for you to adapt the rest of the Time Quintet?
No. That would definitely kill me. I want someone else to adapt Many Waters, which is about time travel and puberty and sexy male angels. Angel sex.
You have a real talent at capturing the awkwardness of adolescence in your work. Is there something about that painful time that you find especially compelling?
I was an awkward weirdo teen and now I'm an awkward weirdo adult. It's much easier for me to write about lonely, frustrated outcasts than other types of characters. I love an underdog. Learning to write more confident, go-getting characters is something I've been working on lately.
You've mostly worked on long-form graphic novels. Do you have any interest in serialized work?
Yes! I have an original graphic novel called Who Is AC? coming out next spring that is ostensibly the first book in a series. It's written by me and drawn by Tintin Pantoja, and it's a magical girl book grounded in shoujo manga tropes. I like to pitch it as Sailor Moon versus the Internet, but it has plenty of awkwardness and introspection going on. I wrote it over three years ago, so if I do have the opportunity to continue the series–which depends on sales–that'll be weird.
What's your favorite ice cream to make? To eat?
Chocolate is fun to make, because you get to chop up big bars of chocolate. My favorite to eat is mint chip.
You wrote and directed a short film, BITTER ORANGE. Talk about making that jump from the page to the screen.
This could be a whole interview in itself! Not to make this interview a total downer, but I've been having a tough time selling another graphic novel. The publishing industry and comics industries are a mess, the economy's a mess... It doesn't seem like there's a future there for me, in the long term. It's not a stable career.
Anyhow, I've been writing nonstop for the last few years, but it's all been screenplays. The dream is to break into screenwriting, film being somewhat similar to comics, and something I've always been passionate about–I went to film school for a year before switching into illustration and ending up as a cartoonist. Last year I decided that a good way to start getting my name out, start getting people to take me seriously, would be to write and direct a short. Several of my friends, Riley Stearns and BenDavid Grabinski, had let me visit their sets and watch them direct their own shorts, and I thought, "Okay, I can do this."
I wrote the script for Bitter Orange in December. It's a period piece, the 1920s having been my passion subject for the past couple of years. The crew and cast (Brie Larson, Brendan Hines and James Urbaniak) came together so easily I was shocked. I even pulled in a few comics friends I've always wanted to work with: Jen Wang, who did my storyboards; Becky Cloonan, who illustrated the poster; and Dustin Harbin, who did the poster's gorgeous title lettering. We spent a languid six months in preproduction and shot in early June. Eventually the short will be online. Watch my twitter for updates.
It's been an overwhelming and wonderful experience, and I've loved every minute of it. It's a little bit like making comics and a little bit like writing, with a lot of other things I didn't expect piled on top. If I hadn't spent all those years drawing and writing I would have been completely at sea. I had to find myself as an artist before I was ready to tackle this. I can't wait to do it all again.