20 July 2009

Author Monday:: Interview with cartoonist Hope Larson

This entry marks the 5th installment of my Author Mondays, where I shall endeavor to post something “author-esque” each Monday. Whether it's an interview or a one-shot question, here is a chance for various authors to have their say.

I started reading Hope Larson's award-winning graphic novels when I was only suspecting I'd be a teen librarian. I remember picking up Gray Horses from the adult comics section of the Central Library in San Antonio. I was so completely mesmerized by Noemie's expressive features and familiarity that I wrote my first book review on it.

I couldn't find her debut Salamander Dream in San Antonio so I went through Interlibrary Loan. By the end of it, Larson had accomplished something unprecedented. I'd never reacted so emotionally to someone's entire oeuvre (she only had these two titles out at the time). Even now, reading her books this morning, I can’t help but feel she has a gorgeous way of storytelling that is unique to her.

Hope Larson was a total sweetheart by letting me interview her briefly over a year ago. The only reason why I hadn't posted it earlier was because I was waiting to interview more authors so I could post them up in a consecutive series, like I’m doing now. On an evening in June last year, I interviewed both Hope and her husband Bryan Lee O’Malley—that interview is coming next week—and I’m happy to say they were my firsts. In retrospect, I should have asked her more about Chiggers, which hadn't come out yet, and her contribution to Comic Book Tattoo. Still, this was one of the coolest things I’ve done and I’m thankful to both cartoonists for their generosity and patience.

And now, please sit back as this blog proudly presents that interview a year ago:


VG: Did you have a Eureka moment or did you just gradually make the decision to create graphic novels?

HL: I think I was kind of bullied into making them [*chuckle*] by the comics community. When I started drawing comics for the first time, it didn't click with me. It didn't seem like something that I was going to be any good at or something that I would want to have for a career. I moved to Toronto and started living with Mal [husband Bryan Lee O'Malley] and got more in touch with the comics community, I guess. There's a really good comics store, The Beguiling in Toronto, and I started reading a lot more different types of comics and I just felt like I could fit in. And then I just drew a book. And I can't really imagine doing much else at this point.

VG: Cool. Did your style start off from the very beginning? You have a very... very... [my husband slips me the answer] distinctive, yeah, distinctive style.

HL: Well, it's really evolving. It's changed a lot since the first book. Salamander Dream and Gray Horses-- I was really inspired by the artist Seth and by Charles Burns. They both have really slick inking. And I kind of wound up doing primarily vector work in the W Illustrator. So that was the style I was comfortable with-- like, really clean flowing lines.

VG: In my mind, both Salamander Dream and Gray Horses deal with innocence and isolation. Are these aspects that you're familiar with in your life?

HL: Yeah, definitely, especially isolation. They're both primarily nostalgia books. I was living in Canada and, you know, I missed the US, I missed the South. By the time I got around to writing Gray Horses, I missed Chicago too, a little bit, even though it wasn't the city for me. I missed things about it. As far as innocence... I don't really know. I guess I don't have anything to say about that.

VG: For me, the first one, that's what really touched me about it. Going back to childhood, seeing all the things one abandons as one grows older... It just... It touched me very much.

HL: Thanks. I think now [with Chiggers] I'm dealing more with the down and dirty version of childhood. I'm moving more in that direction.

VG: Right, right. Of all the stories you've done, this is for your youngest audience then, right?

HL: Yeah.

VG: I guess you didn't really choose that.

HL: Yeah. I just wrote the story. My agent and publisher figured out who it was going to be for.

VG: In Gray Horses, your main character is French. Was there a reason for this, as opposed to Italian or Russian?

HL: I have a lot of fondness for France 'cause I lived there for a year when I was a kid. And I sort of remember how it felt. When I moved to France, I didn't speak any French. My parents just kind of took me and chucked me in the local village school and I had to pick it up on the go. So I wanted to translate that to a slightly older character.

VG: Two more questions. Do you have a purpose for your stories other than storytelling?

HL: I don't know. That's a hard question. I don't know what else I would do with my life if I wasn't doing this. All my thoughts run into storytelling, you know? That's what inspires me. It's what interests me. It's really the only thing, so...

VG: That's awesome. It's something I don't know that I could do, so it's very admirable. Um, okay, I lied. Two more questions. [Laughter, on both sides, not just me!] Do you have advice for up and coming [cartoonists]?

HL: Draw a lot. Write a lot. Put your work on the web-- it's really important. Try and make friends in the comics community. People are really friendly and they love to help up and comers. And be patient 'cause it takes time.

VG: And the cookies question. If you could bake homemade cookies for up to three fictional characters, who would you choose and what kind of cookies would you make?

HL: I guess I should think who first, and then figure out a cookie. Okay, I'm gonna say Meg from A Wrinkle in Time. She's one of my favorites. And... for the cookies? Hmmm. Maybe just oatmeal cookies, 'cause it gets cold up in Maine or wherever it is she lives. [Laughter]

VG: That works. Thank you very much.

HL: No problem.


As I understand it, Hope’s new book Mercury is coming out next year and she’s hard at work on something new. Also, checkci out her lovable work on Geektastic: Stories from the Nerd Herd as edited by Holly Black and Cecil Castelluci. If you want to follow Hope on Twitter, her handle is @hopelarson. If you are lucky enough to be at the San Diego Comic-Con, then you might see her around, too. And you will be a very, very lucky person, ha ha.