Hope Larson has been in the comics business since 2005, best known for writing and drawing her own gorgeous graphic novels as well as the graphic novel adaptation of Madeline L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time. She’s a New York Times bestselling author, an Eisner award-winner, a director, an illustrator, a writer, and she’s so talented I’d believe anyone who says she can tap dance, too. I’ve been following her work since Salamander Dream, a fantastical coming-of-age graphic novel about a young girl and her salamander friend, told with very little text. More recently she’s been writing monthly serial comics, namely Goldie Vance and the upcoming Batgirl.
Larson was kind enough to speak to Panels about her new graphic novel Compass South, coming out June 28, what to expect from her first few issues of Batgirl, and why it’s so much fun to write for young readers.
Emma Lawson: What can readers expect from Compass South?
Hope Larson: Compass South is a rollicking adventure tale in the vein of Kidnapped or Treasure Island. Pirates! Treasure! Kids with missing and/or dead parents trying to find their own way in the world!
EL: Did you always envision this book as a historical comic? What about this time period interests you?
HL: I love historical stories. It’s like writing fantasy, minus the magic. It’s nice to tell a story where everyone isn’t glued to their phone all the time and where two 12-year-old kids could believably go on an adventure. I also enjoy research, so that’s a plus for me. I try to keep things fairly accurate, historically, but there weren’t really pirates left by the 1860s, so I took some liberties there.
EL: You worked with Rebecca Mock on Compass South. How did this collaboration come to be?
HL: I started looking for an artist by putting out a call on Twitter. Rebecca’s friend sent the tweet on to her, and she got in touch. It was as simple as that. I’m so lucky to have found her.
EL: You’ve written and illustrated your own graphic novels, you’re writing monthly comics for both BOOM! and DC, and you’ve written graphic novels illustrated by others. How does your process differ between these types of projects?
HL: Each of these processes is completely different. I come from a graphic novel tradition, so that sort of long-form storytelling comes most naturally to me. I’m just learning to write sequential books (Batgirl and Goldie Vance), and there are so many different things to keep in mind. They’re much more condensed, so I’m embracing whatever storytelling device gets me from A to B in the fewest number of panels. It’s hard, but it’s fun. It will be interesting to see what writing another graphic novel feels like after a year bashing out monthly comics.
EL: So much of your work is for young readers. What about young adult literature appeals to you?
HL: I find it easier to sympathize with young people than older ones, and I’m a sucker for stories about characters learning who they are. That’s not a process that ever stops, in my opinion, but it’s more believable when one’s writing about kids or teens.
EL: You went to film school, and you’ve started directing as well. How does your film work and comic work complement each other?
HL: I haven’t gotten to do any film work for a few years. It’s so much fun, but it’s expensive and time-consuming, and I felt my energy would best be put toward comics. I hope to write more screenplays in the near future, though, because they’re much like writing comics without the constraints of panels and pages.
EL: There’s a lot of action in Compass South. Can we expect the same in Batgirl?
HL: Yes. Tons of action. I really enjoy writing that stuff. Goldie Vance has a lot of action in it, too. There are so many cool things about writing an action scene: You’ve got characters acting out the things they’re dealing with emotionally in a big, bombastic way; you’ve got characters interacting with their environments. I love figuring out how to get the most out of a location.
EL: We’ve heard that Barbara goes to Asia in your first story arc for Batgirl. With the new Doctor Strange movie, there’s been a lot of discussion about appropriation of Asian culture lately. How are you trying to keep your Batgirl story away from appropriative or disrespectful territory?
HL: All I can say is I’m trying, and I understand why people are concerned. I selfishly hope to be given the benefit of the doubt, because I’ve put a lot of time, energy, and research into this book, and I have an endgame that I don’t think anyone will expect. There’s no way it’s going to be a perfect book or make everyone happy, though. Babs isn’t going to some kind of mystical Asia; she’s going to real places that I wish I could visit, too. It’s a superhero book, and elements are elevated because they have to be, but everything’s rooted in real issues, real science/technology, and the real world.
Thanks to Hope Larson for chatting with us. Compass South will be available from Farrar, Straus & Giroux on June 28 and Batgirl #1 (with Rafael Albuquerque) will be available from DC Comics on July 27.