Comics/Graphic Novels

Interview with Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock, KNIFE’S EDGE and COMPASS SOUTH Team

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Compass South and Knife’s Edge deliver swashbuckling pirates, strange creatures in far off places, and familial bonds. The two books chronicle the adventures of twins Cleo and Alex. Their father disappears, leaving them homeless. After surviving on the streets, they decide to seek their fortune by impersonating twin heirs. Things don’t go according to plan, however, especially when a pirate and a former gang leader come after the twins. Cleo and Alex have to survive while separated, reunite, and learn to live with each other. A rogue wants their compass and knife, trinkets their mother left the twins. When the twins find out why, they engage in an ocean-spanning race.

Rebecca Mock and Hope Larson have collaborated on the two books, to deliver the story they wanted to read as children. Rebecca does freelance illustration and has an ongoing comic The Old Woman. Hope has published Salamander Dream, a graphic novel about a changing friendship between a girl and an amphibian, and is currently writing Batgirl for DC Comics.  They decided to give an interview to Book Riot about their newest release.

Compass South cover

In an interview for Compass Edge, Hope mentions wanting to create an accessible book for reluctant readers. For both of you, what makes a book accessible, in terms of art and writing?

Hope: For me, a book is accessible when it’s exciting, fun, and gripping, with clear action. It’s a book that kids want to read, not one they feel they should read. Not to discount the merits of art, but it’s much more important to me that my work be entertaining, because that’s what hooks readers and gets them coming back. I was actually a late reader myself, and I’m pretty sure what finally got me reading was my desire for more stories. Once I started, I was unstoppable.

Rebecca: I’ve always been more drawn to books that have strong character relationships. A character who doesn’t engage with their environment or other characters, or a story that’s written as though completely inside one character’s point of view, is perfectly fine–but I love a team of characters working together. A story becomes engaging when cause and effect create a situation you didn’t expect. I love being surprised by the direction a story takes. In comics, we have the power to create a more immersive and inviting world, to transport the reader completely and allow them to connect with the characters, even if reading the dialogue is tricky–they can follow the story through context clues, which helps not only build reading skills but visual literacy, such an important skill in our age.

Compass South twins talking

Compass South talks about sibling relationships and loyalty, while Knife’s Edge discusses parenthood, what people will do for love, and gender roles. In the book, what did you want to explore within these themes of parenthood, especially as the twins learn they were adopted?

Hope: I believe that one’s “real” family is the family one chooses, not necessarily the family one is born into. I love my family, for example, but I’ve spent most of my life living far away from home, and the relationships I’ve built with my friends are just as important. At the same time, although I’m not adopted myself, I think the desire to understand one’s roots, where one comes from, is a relatable one. It can be an important part of understanding oneself.

Rebecca: For me, having brought all these wonderful characters to life, I became invested in showing how much they cared for each other. I wanted to show how the crew of the Almira is a family, how all of Cleo and Alex’s mentors and friends are family, how each of these people has their own feelings and relationship to each other, and how that all comes together in the end. Even the “villains” have people they care for, don’t they?

Knife's Edge cover adventure

Cleo has a very different character arc from her brother, in that she has to struggle with being placed back in the girl role again. What was it like, writing about her change in roles?

Hope: Unfortunately, it was not a stretch to write those segments. All women hear a lot of “no,” even in 2017. It was cathartic for me, writing her arc.

Rebecca: Cleo’s journey really hit close to home for me. I wanted to draw her story for myself at her age–a girl coming into her teens wanting, desperately, to be seen as a whole person rather than categorized as one gender. Drawing Cleo was really cathartic. I think kids at this age can inherently sense the hypocrisy of assigning social roles to gender, right at that age before they become numb to it. I want to see more characters in stories face the challenge of building their identity for themselves and become stronger for it, rather than by giving in to expectations.

Knife's Edge excerpt

Why is Alex so irascible about Cleo learning to fence, when he could also ask for lessons if he wished?

Hope: Ultimately, it’s because when Cleo learns to fence, she’s taking herself out of a feminine/subservient role in her family. She’s standing up for herself, ignoring what she’s told to do, and becoming a more active, unpredictable, uncontrollable person, and that’s not something Alex and her dad are used to.

Rebecca: Alex is feeling a lot of things in that scene. I think his annoyance about her breaking out of the “girl” role is only part of it. He hasn’t spent much time with Cleo since their adventures in Compass South. He’s barely gotten used to the new tomboy Cleo he meets in San Francisco, who’s gone off on her own adventure and changed so much. I think he feels protective of her (as well as protective of his “version” of her), as much as annoyed that his sibling is doing something cool on her own. He wants to be the one to protect her, but she’s kind of taking that away from him. Change can be scary, but they’re family, and they will work it out.

 Knife's Edge page excerpt

What are your thoughts on Luther, who switches roles rapidly from reluctant mentor, to antagonist, and eventual ally?

Hope: I love Luther, and I love a heel-face turn–when a bad guy becomes a good guy. Luther’s a kid, like the others, and he’s had a rough go of things. I’m not sure I would ever say Luther was a mentor to the twins, though; it’s more like he was their jerk boss. They were only useful to him if they could get him what he wanted.

Rebecca: I enjoy a reformed bad guy story–Luther represents that people can change and that a kid from a tough situation can sometimes be the most resilient and open-minded. Luthor’s made mistakes and treated Cleo and Alex badly, but his “maturity” comes from understanding and admitting that–and learning to be better. I was a bit worried for Cleo in Compass South, when Luthor taunted her about cutting her hair, but he shows his growth by not commenting on it in Knife’s Edge. He supports Cleo, and I think that’s wonderful.

Knife's Edge excerpt ship

If you write and draw a third book, what details can you tell us about it? What story do you hope to tell?

Hope: Whether or not we get to do another book depends on how well these two volumes sell, but hopefully we’ll get the chance!

Rebecca: We don’t know if we’ll get to do a third book, it really depends on how well these first two do. But I will just say that a lot of the character’s stories are yet to be told. We have a lot of ideas. Edwin and Silas from Compass South are particular favorite characters of mine, and I’d love to draw them again.

Knife's Edge excerpt ghosts

What should readers look out for in 2017 and 2018?

Hope: I’m continuing my run writing Batgirl for DC Comics, and next year I’ve got another graphic novel coming out, All Summer Long. This is one I both wrote and drew. Rebecca and I are also working on another graphic novel together, but we can’t release any details about that yet!

Rebecca: In addition to the release of Knife’s Edge, I’ll be continuing my self-published comic series The Old Woman and working on new animated gifs and illustrations. I would like to make a little fanzine for the Four Points books, too! Check out the upcoming release of the video game Tacoma for which I did some concept art and the banner art.

Batgirl cover Hope Larson

The Old Woman by Rebecca Mock

Take the time to read Compass South and Knife’s Edge. Knife’s Edge came out on June 27th, and it promises a grand adventure. Hold your family tight and hang on for the ride.