Interview: Hope Larson On Adapting ‘A Wrinkle In Time’

This October, First Second releases probably the most anticipated graphic novel of the year, writer/artist Hope Larson’s adaptation of Madeline L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time.” Having read the book, I can happily say it delivers, capturing the magic of the novel, while remaining firmly Larson’s own. I also got a chance to chat with Larson over e-mail about the process of making the book, how she balanced Larson’s “AWIT” with L’Engle’s, and why Charles Wallace’s eyes are so big:

MTV Geek: This is probably well-trod territory, but how’d you end up on this project? And what was your experience with “A Wrinkle In Time” before you tackled the graphic novel?

Hope Larson: I got one of those magical, out-of-the-blue e-mails from Margaret Ferguson, who ended up being my editor on the book. I’m a lifelong L’Engle fan, and the book is one of the big ones for me, as a writer, so I remember reading that e-mail several times, sure there was some mistake. That I was reading it wrong. Then I freaked out.

Geek: One of the things that, I imagine, must make AWIT difficult to adapt is how talky it is. The book is a lot about logic versus heart, so there’s a lot of logic in there… How did you approach this, from a graphic perspective?

HL: I tried to trim the dialogue for space wherever possible, but most of the time it wasn’t. The dialogue carries the burden of almost everything that happens in this book. What saved me was doing final lettering as part of my thumbnail step, so I was sure there’d be room for everything before I put pencil to paper. There are a few panels where the characters are being crushed under a ton of text, but those are infrequent. By making the book nearly 400 pages long, I was able to air it out some.

Geek: How about the character designs? When you’re designing a family, what kind of thought is put towards making it a cohesive look?

HL: I was conscious of making Meg and her parents look alike, but the cool thing about Charles Wallace is that he’s not supposed to look like the rest of the family, so I was off the hook on that one!

Geek: Speaking of Charles Wallace, he’s probably the most exaggerated of the bunch, in a good way… What was your thought process with him?

HL: He has these enormous eyes. One of the big notes I got after doing the thumbnail pass on the book was that he didn’t look young enough–he’s just a little kid–so when I went to final I made his eyes bigger and shifted the proportions of his face. I thought of him as a putti–a little Renaissance cherub.

Geek: There’s also a number of esoteric concepts here, particularly tessering… What was your approach to them? And was there something that was more or less difficult than you expected?

HL: Everyone wants to know how I approached tessering, but it was one of the least challenging parts of the book. When you’re tessering, you’re in a void, with no body, just your disembodied mind. Ghostly white outline illustrations on a black ground was the obvious way to go. It’s simple, it’s visually striking, and it stands out from the rest of the book because there’s so much black. I also tilted the panels to give an off-kilter feel to those scenes.

The Dark Thing was tough from a character design perspective, but I knew that would be tough going in. Camazotz in general was frustrating. It’s not a fun place in the story, it wasn’t a fun place to draw, and the book spends a lot of time there. I remember when I had to “go back” to Camazotz for the climactic scene, and I was just like, “Ugh!”

Geek: When you’re living with a book like this for so long, I imagine you must discover a number of new themes in the process. Anything that surprised you?

HL: It was lovely having the time to appreciate the delicacy and thematic consistency of L’Engle’s writing. The biggest surprise when I reread it was the realization that Meg has a black eye for the whole book. She gets it, and it’s never really addressed afterward. The physical presence of the black eye and the removal of the black eye toward the end is one place–maybe the only place–where I felt like I was bringing something to the book that was both canon and new.

Geek: Similarly, what do you see your job as? You clearly have ideas as an artist, and a perspective on the book, which may or may not conflict with the author’s ideas. How much of this is making it “Hope Larson’s A Wrinkle In Time,” versus Madeline L’Engles?

HL: I had a lot of conversations with other artists about the nature of adaptations. I was worried about making it faithful, and I was also worried about being hampered by faithfulness… Being beholden to the story. I talked to people who said, “This is Hope Larson’s adaptation of “A Wrinkle in Time,” and you should do what you need to do to make it yours.” I talked to people who basically told me to burn it to the ground and rebuild, because anything less than that would result in a subpar book. Ultimately I treated the book as a script or a play, and tried to deepen what was already there, layer in emotion. I think it worked out.

Geek: There’s, of course, four more books in the series. Do you think you’d want to tackle them too, or is it too soon to talk about that?

HL: I can’t see myself doing another adaptation. I talked to friends about this adaptation being like grad school–I got my Masters in L’Engle, and now I’m done. I’m done drawing comics, period, for the time being. I felt similarly after completing Mercury, and took a year off drawing, which was the same amount of time it took me to draw that book. Maybe I need to be off drawing for two years, since that was how long it took me to draw Wrinkle. I’ll reevaluate things next September.

Geek: Any final thoughts? Things to tell fans who may be reticent to jump into a graphic novel adaptation of a scifi novel?

HL: It’s just a fantastic story. I was at the National Book Festival over the weekend, and during the audience questions period after the Wrinkle in Time panel I was on, a guy got up and said that he didn’t feel Wrinkle should be considered a children’s book, because L’Engle is one of the great sci-fi writers. I razzed him a little bit, which is my duty as a YA writer–”Are you saying that because it’s too GOOD to be a children’s book?”–but ultimately I get what he was saying, and he’s right. L’Engle is one of the greats.

As far as why my adaptation, this isn’t a cash grab; it’s a labor of love. Everyone involved did it for love. It didn’t come cheap or easy for any of us, and that comes through on every page.

“A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel” hits bookstores everywhere on October 2nd from FSG BYR.