Hope Larson on ‘Bitter Orange’ film, ‘Four Points’ with Rebecca Mock

Aug. 20, 2013 | 7:53 p.m.
Hope Larson. (Farrar Straus Giroux)

Hope Larson. (Farrar, Strau  and Giroux)

It’s been a busy year for Hope Larson.

In the spring, the accomplished graphic novelist released her first superhero story, “Who is AC?,” about a teenage girl named Lin who’s zapped by her cellphone and left with magical powers. Weeks later, Larson posted her first short film, “Bitter Orange,” online. The entertaining 1920s-set tale stars actress Brie Larson (no relation) as an enterprising woman hoping to climb the professional ladder in Hollywood, but whose life takes a surprising detour on a run to pick up some gin for her boss.

And in July, she was on stage in San Diego accepting her second Eisner Award at Comic-Con International for her 2012 graphic novel adaptation of Madeline L’Engle’s literary touchstone “A Wrinkle in Time,” which clocked in at nearly 400 pages and was rendered in shades of black and white and blue. (She was previously honored in 2007 for “special recognition,” a prize given to talented newcomers, but was living in Nova Scotia and did not attend the ceremony.)

A page from "A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel," adapted and illustrated by Hope Larson. (Farrar Straus Giroux / Margaret Ferguson Books)

A page from “A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel,” adapted and illustrated by Hope Larson. (Farrar, Straus and Giroux / Margaret Ferguson Books)

Now, Larson, previously best known for her middle-grade graphic novels “Mercury,” “Chiggers” and “Salamander Dream,” is turning her attention to other creative pursuits, namely a new graphic novel titled “Four Points,” an adventure story set in 1860 that will be told in two volumes and illustrated by New York-based artist Rebecca Mock, a graduate of the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore who recently drew the cover for Boom! Studios’ “Adventure Time: Candy Capers” No. 1. The tale, however, is in its infancy; a release date hasn’t been set.

There’s another project as well, a screenplay for a feature film that Larson hopes to direct, though she’s staying largely mum on the movie for now. It’s too early in the process to elaborate, she says.

In separate conversations, Hero Complex recently chatted with Larson and Mock about their aspirations for “Four Points,” their shared artistic inspirations for the project and their individual creative approaches.

Hero Complex: Hope, what was the inspiration for “Four Points”?

Hope Larson: I really wanted to do an adventure story with male and female protagonists for kids, because when “Wrinkle in Time” came out in October, I started getting tons and tons of email and meeting all these people who would tell things to me like, “Oh, my kid is 7 and he or she has never read a book on their own before. This is the first book that they’ve actually sat down and they’ve read the whole thing.” That was huge for me. I don’t usually get that kind of feedback. I don’t usually hear from my readers very much. I would read these emails and basically cry. I thought it would be great if I could do another book along these lines that would be fun and engaging and accessible for kids who are reluctant readers… It came together really fast. I wrote the outline while I was on my little book tour for “Wrinkle in Time.” Within a week I outlined it and then basically went right out and started pitching it.

HC: It’s interesting that you chose to set it in 1860.

HL: I love historical fiction, period pieces, that’s very much my thing. I wanted to write something action-packed and full of adventure. It’s basically about these twins who end up traveling from New York to San Francisco and having a bunch of adventures along the way. It’s going to be two books. Book one, there are pirates, but it’s peripherally for a lot of the book, and then book two is going to delve more into pirate adventure.

Alex and Cleo are the protagonists of Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock's new project, "Four Points." (Courtesy of Rebecca Mock)

Alex and Cleo are the protagonists of Hope Larson and Rebecca Mock’s new project, “Four Points.” (From Rebecca Mock)

HC: Rebecca, how did you come to collaborate with Hope on “Four Points”?

RM: Hope put out a call for artists to potentially collaborate on a project. I contacted her and we started talking over email. I was a big fan of her early graphic novels. I picked up her books at Small Press Expo, that was in college, when I was still studying. Her work was poignant, it was poetic. I really responded to the storytelling… As we talked she had certain comic influences that she wanted to share with me. They matched up with the aesthetic that I really liked. I think there was a good meeting of the minds.

HC: Were there specific graphic novels or adventure stories that served as inspiration?

RM: One of the artists that I think we both really like is Christophe Blain, who’s a French artist. Christophe Blain has done a few [graphic novels] that are about ships and pirates. Hope sent me one called “Isaac the Pirate” that I ended up really liking, I hadn’t read it before. He’s done “The Speed Abater.” There’s a graphic novel called “Conan: Queen of the Black Coast” that has a great aesthetic and a cool story. There’s a series called “Miss Don’t Touch Me” … that has great color and has a really interesting female protagonist. That’s been a big influence lately. There’s a lot of books in my room right now.

HC: Hope, when you’re writing stories for and about young women, do you feel a responsibility to create characters in a particular way? Do you feel that it’s important to give young readers characters who are relatable but also who are positive examples in a way, in that they’re smart and resourceful?

HL: I think it’s probably something that I think about more, now that I have a few stories under my belt, I’m more interested in writing assertive female characters and take-charge female characters. It’s easy to fall into a passive role in general as a writer. Most writers are introverted and sort of shy. It’s really easy to write yourself and from now on I want to be writing characters who are going out and really driving their own story a bit more.

HC: How have the characters in “Four Points” evolved thus far? How has your collaboration impacted their evolution?

RM: There was a very clear picture starting out of who each of the characters were. Through drawing them, I’ve added on my own interpretation of what’s happened to them and taken some of the events that have happened throughout the story and used them, or tried to draw them into the characters. As far as the way they look, I feel very close to them but they’re definitely an equal collaboration.

HL: Working with Rebecca has been really wonderful because she brings so much to the project. She’s not just a machine who’s executing all the art. She’s brought her own research to specific characters, who we’ve completely re-envisioned based on ideas that she’s had. When we were working on these character designs, she’ll send me rough designs and then we’ll talk about them and tweak the designs. It’s so much better than anything I could ever make on my own. My last book, “Who is AC?,” I did with Tintin Pantoja, who drew it. She was in Asia so it wasn’t really very easy to collaborate in the same way that Rebecca and I can just because of the time difference.

Rebecca Mock's work has been featured in the New York Times. (Rebecca Mock/New York Times)

Rebecca Mock’s work has been featured in the New York Times. (Rebecca Mock / New York Times)

HC: Rebecca, your illustrations are really subtle and evocative. Are you utilizing that same eye for mood in drawing “Four Points”?

RM: I do have an interest in scenes, in creating a space, and so far drawing the book has been for me a lot about not just drawing the characters but drawing them in the environments and thinking about all the details and the transitions that those environments go through as well. There’s a lot of atmosphere to the script as it is now and I hope that I can carry that through in the drawing.

HL: It’s such an important part of historical fiction, the environment, the settings and the places that these kids are going. They’re characters as much as the actual characters are.

HC: Hope, the short film you directed, “Bitter Orange,” debuted online earlier this summer, and you also mentioned that you’ve directed an as-yet-unreleased video for Got a Girl, Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s band with hip-hop producer Dan the Automator. How did those experiences compare to making comics?

Hope Larson's short film "Bitter Orange" stars Brie Larson, Brendan Hines and James Urbaniak.

Hope Larson’s short film “Bitter Orange” stars Brie Larson, Brendan Hines and James Urbaniak. (HopeLarson.com)

HL: I love being on set. I didn’t know I was going to love it so much. It was incredibly intense, incredibly rewarding and fulfilling, and I love being with all those other people and making something, collaborating. I always felt like there was something that wasn’t quite there for me with comics. It’s really solitary and it’s really slow, and I always felt like I didn’t quite have the passion that I wanted to have for making comics. I definitely feel like I have that for film. I’m hoping to keep doing that.

HC: So, are you looking to ultimately leave comics behind and work in film full-time?

HL: The ideal situation would be to have parallel careers going on. I’m moving away from drawing comics into writing comics, and that means that I have a lot more free time. I actually went to film school; it’s something I’m passionate about. Rochester Institute of Technology, just for a year, and then I switched into illustration. It makes sense to move into another visual storytelling medium for me.

– Gina McIntyre

Follow us on Twitter: @LATHeroComplex

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