The story of Meg, Charles Wallace and the gregarious cast of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time has fascinated readers for five decades, and on the occasion of its 50th anniversary its publisher Farrar, Straus & Giroux asked Eisner-winning cartoonist Hope Larson to take this story where tessering never could: graphic novels.
Hope Larson took the vivid prose of L’Engle and transformed it through her own eyes and fingers into a stirring and stunning journey that captures everything from the winsome charm of Charles Wallace to the fearsome nothingness of the Black Thing. As the first adaptation she’d ever done, A Wrinkle In Time was a challenging departure for Larson and in many ways changed how she looks at comics.
Newsarama spoke with Larson about the adaptation of this seminal science fiction novel, how she tackled drawing some of the more nebulous concepts of the book, and how it changed her as an author.Newsarama: Let’s ease into this one, Hope – what are you working on today?
Hope Larson: I have a few projects on the go, in various stages, but today I'm working on the rom-com screenplay I'm writing with my friend Amy Spalding, a YA novelist whose first book, The Reece Malcolm List, will be out next year. It's my first time co-writing something, and it's been a blast.
Nrama: What I’ve got you here today to talk about his your graphic novel adaptation of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle In Time, one of the most popular science fiction books of all time. No pressure, huh? How’d you come to do this project?
Larson: I got an e-mail out of the blue from my future editor on A Wrinkle in Time, Margaret Ferguson, asking if I would be interested in taking on this project. As a lifelong fan of L'Engle's work, I was thrilled to be asked. I was also terrified of messing it up.Nrama: That’s understandable. What about A Wrinkle In Time made it a good candidate for being re-told as a comic?
Larson: In my opinion, if you know what you're doing just about any story is a good candidate for a comic. But it does help that the main character Meg doesn't spend a lot of time in her own head over the course of the book. Introspection is a difficult thing to convey in a comic.
Nrama: This book seems quite the challenge for you, as it’s quite different in that you’re adapting someone else’s work – and it’s a very popular novel. How did you come to terms with this project to be able to do it effectively?
Larson: I work from a full script with my own books, so that part of the process was no different than drawing something I'd written. I was pretty nervous at first about doing a good job adapting a book so many people (including me) adore and grew up with, but once you get rolling it becomes less about, "I hope I'm doing a good job!" and more about, "This is a massive project, and I hope I can get through it without dropping the ball." It's a job. A great job, but still a job. Originally I was concerned that the estate would cause problems–I was answerable to both my editor and L'Engle's estate–but they were lovely and excited about the project.Nrama: With adaptations, some seem to one to simply translate it do a new format while others want to provide their own take on it. How did you approach this adaptation?
Larson: I remained as faithful to the original text as possible, but I put my own spin on things. I picked which moments to elevate and which to push back. My main concern was giving the story enough space to spool itself up in an unhurried manner, which is why we ended up with such a long book.
Nrama: Did you get much direction from the publisher on how faithful – or imaginative – you were to be with the adaptation?
Larson: There was a reasonable amount of give and take, as there is with any project, original or otherwise.Nrama: How’d you go about figuring what the characters would look like given you’re adapting a non-visual prose story?
Larson: L'Engle describes what the characters look like. The book was published in 1962, making my adaptation a period piece, so I bought a few old Sears catalogs from the late 50s and early 60s to get an idea of hairstyles and clothing that were typical of the time.
Nrama: The Black Thing – I have to ask about your rendition of the Black Thing. How’d you wrap your mind around the Black Thing visually, not just in drawing it but fitting it in a sequential narrative?
Larson: Figuring out the design for the Black Thing was difficult. It's supposed to be this amorphous, creeping darkness that inspires utter hopelessness in those who look upon it. It's impossible to draw that. I went through a few character designs before settling on the approach in the book. I started out with something more anthropomorphized, but it didn't feel right to anyone, so I scaled it back and let the text do more of the heavy lifting in those sequences.Nrama: There were a lot of things that you had to figure out visually that in the original novel L’Engle left up to the reader’s imagination, like tessering – the way people can transport themselves through space in the book. Can you explain how you figured out how to draw the act of tessering?
Larson: Tessering is described as the absence of any physicality. You're conscious, but separated from your body, adrift in nothingness–like in a sensory deprivation tank. Doing line drawings and inverting them to white-on-black was the most elegant way of conveying this I could come up with.
Nrama: Now that you’re all done and we’re just weeks away from its release, what’s your perspective on the completed project and how it changes you in its creation?
Larson: I'm proud of the book. I did my best. I survived. I don't want to draw another 400-page book, or draw anymore, period. This book isn't the only thing pushed my desire to draw into hibernation, but it did make clear to me where my interests lie. I don't want to sit hunched over a drafting table day after day, waiting for my tendonitis to flare or my loneliness to consume me. I would rather be writing, which is a much more engaging pursuit for me, and allows me to venture out to a coffee shop if I feel like being around people. It's been a soul-searchy couple of years.