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“Salamander Dream” is a young girl’s coming of age journey within a magical forest. As she gets older she finds herself a little further from home and a little further from her adolescence, but is drawn back to the secret friend she had in a more whimsical time. “Salamander Dream” marks the first full-length graphic novel from Hope (“Flight,” “You Ain’t No Dancer,” “True Porn 2”) Larson. Originally serialized on the Secret Friend Society Webpage and now hitting stores in print today courtesy of AdHouse Books. CBR News spoke with Larson about her debut book.
While “Salamander Dream” seems inspired by the wonders of youth, when childhood let you be more perceptive to such things as magic and nature, we wondered if the characters drew any inspiration from specific sources? “I spent a lot of time playing in the creek when I was a kid,” Larson told CBR News. “I’d hunt for crayfish and caddis cases, but salamanders were harder to find (and catch), so they were extra special. I imagined that the king of the salamanders lived in an underground palace with quartz walls, and Sal evolved from that idea. The original working title for ‘Salamander Dream’ was ‘Salamander King.'” Nature plays an integral part of “Salamander Dream” and Larson paid close attention to the accuracy and detail of the elements involved in the story. “I knew early on what plants, insects and birds I wanted to spotlight, they’re all species I’ve seen many times during my life. I did use photo reference for them, though.”
Larson is the type of creator who doesn’t just draw in the reader with her stories, but is also the type who finds herself drawn in as well while creating the story. “If I’m sitting down to draw in February, it’s psychologically easier for me to plow through a page of leafy trees than something which resembles my current situation (i.e. an urban winter).”
Larson’s art also has a natural fluidity which comes from a strong fore sense of how the pages will flow. “I spend a while working out my layouts in thumbnails,” explained Larson. “When I first started, I tried to keep McCloudian principles in mind, but now I let myself do whatever I want as long as I hit all my beats. I try to keep it playful and enjoy myself.” With a background in printmaking, it’s not just the story that draws close attention to detail from this creator, but also the complete and finished product “The overall design and feel of a project is one of the first things I consider. Picking out paper stocks and spot colors is the most fun part of the process. Unfortunately, I didn’t know about things like inside page margins when I formatted ‘Salamander Dream,’ or that the printer must specifically be told to overprint spot colors. The result isn’t exactly as I envisioned it, but it’s close, and I’ve learned so much that my mistakes were worth it.”
Larson’s work seems perfectly suited for an all-ages book market– she even added the fun detail to the print version of “Salamander Dream” of the back cover doubling as a ruler– so can we look forward to more work from her in the bookstores? “I’d love to work with a book publisher eventually, but for now I’m going to sit back and watch how the graphic novel boom plays out. I’m incubating an idea for a series, so after I finish my book with Oni Press (“Gray Horses”) I may give self-publishing a shot.” In the meantime, however, Larson still finds time for the odd piece here and there outside of comics. “I don’t make a huge effort to pick up illustration work, but when it finds me I’m happy to take it on. The occasional spot illustration or tattoo design takes up a fraction of my time relative to comics and pays significantly better.”
When it comes to self-publishing, you may often find the experience that an editorial presence can bring lacking, but Larson has actually set up her computer to warn her of forthcoming deadlines. “In indy comics there are few penalties for blowing your deadline, even though you’re making problems for your letterer, your designer, your editor, and your publisher. That’s a shame. I feel really lucky to be doing this professionally, so the least I can do is act like a professional and get my work in on time.”
It also helps that Larson’s husband, Bryan Lee O’Malley, is also her studio mate as the two consistently drive each other, a quick glance at some of their works will reveal that each has the tendency to create sequential love letters that are clearly inspired by one another. “It’s definitely a motivator to see Mal tearing through pages a couple feet away! We share studio space, but creatively we try to stay out of each other’s way.” And with Mal’s [Bryan Lee O’Malley] work seeing such an inspiration from music, Larson draws off that as well. “I usually like to have something playing to get me out of my head. We listen to a lot of music and a lot of audiobooks or NPR; right now it’s Susan Casey’s ‘The Devil’s Teeth,’ a nonfiction book about scientists studying great white sharks off the coast of California.”
“Salamander Dream” arrives in stores today, September 14th from AdHouse Books and Larson will be celebrating the release of the book at the Baltimore Comic Con on September 17th (which is also her birthday) and at the Small Press Expo during the weekend of the 23rd & 24th. For more on Larson, visit HopeLarson.com.