Graphic novelist and Asheville native Hope Larson launches Knife’s Edge, the sequel to her New York Times bestseller Compass South, at Spellbound Children’s Bookshop Tuesday, June 27, at 6 p.m. It will be her first book launch since moving back from Los Angeles earlier this year. It will also mark the completion of a process that began with her adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time, Madleine L’Engle’s juvenile science fiction classic.
“I was getting a lot of feedback from A Wrinkle in Time,” she says, “and hearing from parents who said that their kid had never read a book, and that was the first one. I wanted to do more books that were accessible to reluctant readers, and that were going to be really fun and filled with adventure.”
Larson encountered the Tintin comics on a childhood visit to France, and those books first sparked her love of the medium. Inspired by those works, she conceived of the swashbuckling tale that, with the release of Compass South, became the Four Points series — a story of orphans, pirates and high seas adventure set in the 19th century Caribbean and Pacific.
In addition to wanting to do a story on a grand scale, the Eisner Award-winner was hoping to make a shift in her career.
“I also knew I wanted to take a break from drawing,” she says. Bringing in another artist — the Brooklyn-based illustrator Rebecca Mock — liberated her to tell a story with a much wider scope . “If I was drawing this book, it would not be filled with ships, I can tell you that,” she says with a laugh.
More importantly, Larson’s previous large projects had become draining. She still draws: She does the serialized web comic Solo as a means of making art outside of the pressures of mainstream publishing. Nevertheless, Larson finds artwork much harder than writing. “If you’re writing, you can just go out to the coffee shop and be around other people,” she says. “But if you’re drawing a book — at least the way my process works — I’m pretty much in my studio all day. It’s a little tough on me, mentally.”
This is not the only time Larson has weighed her ambitions against the costs — in time, energy and missed opportunities — of a new step in her career. While in Los Angeles, Larson directed Bitter Orange, a short film, and the video for “Did We Live Too Fast” by the indie-rock duo Got a Girl. Asked now if she’s still interested in film, though, she allows that directing has “fallen to the bottom of the list of things I have time for.”
Fortunately, she’s fallen in love with comics again.
“It’s all really fun,” she says, of the Batgirl series she’s scripting for DC Comics — a series widely acclaimed for foregrounding Barbara Gordon’s struggle to define herself. “Twenty pages is not very much space to tell a story in, so you learn a lot about narrative economy,” Larson says.
She’s still committed to graphic novels as well. In fact, she and Mock hope to produce a third book in the Four Points series. Here again, though, Larson’s commitment arises from conscious artistic choice. Graphic novels offer their own rewards, she explains. There’s a greater measure of creative control, for one, and also a much larger space in which to tell a story. What’s more, in contrast to mainstream comics, where readers can have fairly rigid expectations of the genre, with graphic novels, “you’re making the thing you’re making. We’re here to make Compass South, we’re not here to make a product.”
A similar conscious decision lies behind her return to Asheville.
Los Angeles “was getting so expensive that it was forcing me to take on jobs I didn’t want to take on, creatively,” Larson says. It was a pressure she felt compelled to resist. “I think the most important thing that I’ve learned in the past couple of years is that you have to live life on your own terms, and take control of it, and not just get swept away in circumstances.”
The transition has proved easier than expected. Although the Asheville of Larson’s childhood was close enough to the mountains and with enough green space to form a connection to the natural world (a recurrent theme in her work), it wasn’t exactly cosmopolitan. Now, though, “it’s nice to come back and feel like some of the big city has come with me, or is here already. It’s been really easy to make friends and meet new people.”
She adds, “Coming back feels like getting to be who I am, to be around other people who are similar. I can be here now.”