Last summer’s Compass South was a surprise bestseller among younger readers, landing on the New York Times Best-Sellers list. Now, creators Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock are back with the sequel Knife’s Edge, which takes the adventure to another level.
In the 1860s, twins Cleo and Alex have an unexpected family reunion that sets them off on a high adventure across the seas, with pirates, swords, treasure and secrets aplenty.
Newsarama talked to Larson and Mock about the new book, which comes out this month from Macmillan’s Square Fish imprint.
Newsarama: Hope, Rebecca - how does it feel to have the second book in this series out?
Larson: It feels great!
We've been working on this project since, what, late 2010? 2011? A long, long time.
It's cathartic to finally see it out in the world.
Mock: I'm thrilled it's finally out!
We've been working together on both of these books for a few years, and I'm so proud of how they turned out.
Nrama: For those who haven't read the first book, tell us a bit about the story so far...and the set-up for this new volume.
Larson: It should be easy for folks who haven't read Compass South to jump into Knife's Edge.
As Knife's Edge begins, twin protagonists Alex and Cleopatra Dodge have been reunited with their father, and they're all preparing to sail off with Captain Tarboro and search for the treasure that is their birthright. It's a classic adventure story.
Nrama: What's your collaborative process on these books like?
Larson: I write an outline and share it with my editor. If it seems like the project is going to move forward, I share that outline with Rebecca, and she starts chewing on it. Then I write the script, and share it with her chapter-by-chapter. We've had a great exchange of sketches and script pages flowing back and forth, which helps both of us to develop the characters and the world in tandem.
Mock: Hope will send me new chapters and drafts as she writes, and I send her weekly updates of my sketches and development. I send the same weekly updates through sketching, inking and coloring too, and we keep the conversation going with new ideas and inspirations for each other through the whole process. Hope will send feedback, she has a great eye for comic layouts, making sure everything fits what she's envisioning and reads easily.
Nrama: In terms of both writing and art, what are some of the bigger challenges in depicting a story not only from the point-of-view of younger kids, but in an alternate past? What sort of research do you have to do?
Larson: We both do a ton of research. I read a lot of period travelogues and diaries, in particular, to get a sense of what ship life was like at that period. Books on the history of piracy, books on different parts of the world... I also spent a lot of time working on the voices of the characters, incorporating slang while also keeping the whole thing easy to read for kids today. Probably the biggest challenge was wrapping my head around how ships work; they're big, complicated machines with a ton of moving parts.
Mock: I was excited about this story from the beginning because I knew Icould connect with these kids, especially Cleo, a girl who disguises herself as a boy. I think period stories offer an escape for people, especially kids, who might feel a bit anachronistic - it's enjoyable for a lot of people to empathize with characters who think or act out of place in a historical setting. But depicting the historical details was a challenge - I did a lot of research on architecture from the early 1800s, on ship design, and of art from that period – you can learn a lot about a time period by looking at how people from that time draw and paint it.
Hope comes to me with a lot of research prepared, which is wonderful, I get a huge boost knowing what her inspirations are for the story, even for specific details.
Nrama: How extensively have you thought through this world and this family's history? The book ends with the points resolved, but there's the sense that another major story could be coming our way...
Mock: I don't want to give any details away, but through developing thecharacters and settings, Hope and I have talked a lot about the characters' origins and where they'll go next, so there a lot of story that's still waiting to be told.
Larson: We have lots of ideas for future stories, and I do hope we get to revisit these characters again. I can't answer this question without it being a spoiler, unfortunately!
Nrama: On that note, how long do you see this series running?
Larson: That's out of our hands, but we'd love to do more in the series.
Mock: If we get the chance to, we'd love to continue the series, but it's just two books for now.
Nrama: What's fun about writing Cleo and company?
Larson: Writing is supposed to be fun? [Laughs] My favorite part of writing Cleo was her struggle with the expectations places on her, as a girl in the 1860s, and how she rebels against them. Alex doesn't have as juicy of a role in this book, so if we got to write another one, I think he'd be in a more central role.
Mock: Hope writes some really beautiful character-driven dialogue for bothCleo and Alex, in both books. I love drawing the action sequences, but these conversations are the icing on the cake for me – all I want to do is let the words sing, and show the emotions the characters are feeling as they come to their respective insights.
Nrama: And what's fun about seafaring, treasure-hunting adventure stories in general? Admittedly, the question might seem to answer itself.
Mock: For me it might be the ships themselves - I learned to draw these shipsand in doing so, I fell in love with them - ships are wonderful settings for a story. They're complicated and full of odd little details, and depending on what's happening, they can completely transform - sailing unfurling, the deck rocking at odd angles, mysterious rooms and objects discovered buried deep in the cargo hold.
Larson: I grew up reading and loving those stories. They combine my love of travel, adventure, and historical research, and they let me (and readers) visit places and time periods I could never otherwise see.
Nrama: So big picture, what should people know about Knife's Edge.
Mock: This is a high-seas adventure series, with all the drama and action of classic sea-faring treasure-hunt stories, but at its core this is a story about family, trust, and love.
Larson: It's non-stop action disguising a thoughtful exploration of gender roles, and two protagonists means boys and girls are both represented.
Nrama: What are some other books/creators you're currently enjoying?
Mock: I just read Witchlight by Jessi Zarbarsky - gorgeous and sweet! - and Sorcerer of the Wildeeps by Kai Ashante Wilson - fascinating and lush. I'm on a witches and sorcerers kick lately! I'm also reading some books on the history of the salt and sugar trades for a project, but I can't reveal why... yet.
Larson: I just read a galley of Molly Ostertag's The Witch Boy. And I devoured Kim Gordon's memoir Girl in a Band on my last flight. She's brilliant.
Nrama: What's next for you?
Larson: Our next project together has been sold but not announced. It's a stand-alone graphic novel and it should be out in 2020. That's all I can say at the moment!
As for me, I'm still writing Batgirl for DC Comics. I have a graphic novel, All Summer Long, that's coming out next year. I'm plugging slowly away on my not-for-kids webcomic, Solo. I'm not currently writing Goldie Vance, but the series is rolling on without me. Beyond that, I'm working on projects in other media that are exciting, but I'm not able to discuss them at this time.
Mock: Hope and I are working on our next book! A wonderful new story, more details soon!
I also worked on concepts for an upcoming video game, Tacoma, and I'm working on a couple short comic projects that I'll self-publish, including a new issue of my ongoing comic series The Old Woman.