The next few weeks will see writer/artist Hope Larson‘s 2016 get even bigger when her run on DC Comics‘ “Batgirl” begins in earnest with artist Rafael Alburqueque, only a few weeks removed from the launch of her First Second graphic novel “Compass South'” drawn by Rebecca Mock. This follows in the footsteps of Larson’s “Goldie Vance” — the much acclaimed mystery series with artist Brittney Williams — which debuted in March.
Throughout, the one thing that’s been at the forefront is how strong and singular her voice as a writer has become. You know when you’re reading a Hope Larson comic, no matter which critically acclaimed story it is, or which publisher is releasing it.
With everything she’s been working on in 2016, it didn’t seem right for us to just look at one project and ignore the rest, so we spoke with Larson about everything. In our expansive interview, Larson talks about her various projects in 2016, finding the proper balance between work-for-hire and creator-driven books, changing up her style from project to project, and telling as wide and diverse a range of stories as possible.
CBR News: It’s easy to trace a connection between the conceit of “Batgirl” — young girl becomes inspirational hero — and the themes of your creator-owned works. Is it important to you that you keep what feels like a singular voice?
Hope Larson: Keeping a recognizable voice is something I think about often. I’ve been working for over a decade at this point, and have tackled a variety of different projects, starting from ultra-indie comics like “Salamander Dream” and continuing on to YA and middle-grade graphic novels (“Mercury”; “Compass South”), an adaptation ” (A Wrinkle in Time”), and now serialized comics (“Goldie Vance” at BOOM!, which I co-created with Brittney Williams; “Batgirl”).
It’s hard for me to say if my voice is particularly recognizable across all of these projects, but I forgive myself for having a less-than-cohesive body of work because I started publishing comics in my early 20s and am still finding myself as a writer.
Is it difficult to balance creator-driven and work for hire projects simultaneously? How do you navigate across the industry?
Yeah, it’s hard. The fact is that my passion projects fall on the less-commercial side of things, and I need to do more commercial work and take work-for-hire gigs to stay financially afloat. I enjoy all of it, though, and pushing outside of my comfort zone is good for me as a writer.
I’m excited to return to writing another personal project after a year writing monthly comics; I can already see that I’ve learned a lot. My only complaint is that I’d like to slow down and work on fewer projects at the same time.
Although you have written more adult works like “Solo,” many of your comics return to the world of coming-of-age and adventure stories for young girls. Would you say one of your active goals has been to inspire and encourage girls to try and read comics, and perhaps follow in your footsteps?
Hm! I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m writing for girls at this point. Some of my books fall more on the “girl books” side of things than others. “Compass South” is intentionally designed as a book that will appeal to girls and boys, and features dual male/female protagonists. “Batgirl” isn’t really a girl book. Is “Goldie Vance” a girl book? It stars a girl, but I don’t think it’s particularly girly.
I would love for more girls to read and make more comics, but I think the outreach to that particular audience has already been done.
What spoke to you about “Batgirl” that made the comic one you wanted to work on?
I read the Stewart/Fletcher/Tarr run and loved it, so when I was invited to pitch on the book, I jumped at the chance. She’s such a fun, relatable character, and I love the supporting cast and her whole world.
When taking on something which has been so defined by the previous creative team, is your approach to attempt to match that spirit, or take the concept in a new direction of your own?
My approach is to match the spirit as much as possible. If it ain’t broke, right? But Rafael Albuquerque and I are doing our own thing, and we have our own voices, so inevitably it’s not going to be quite the same.
Do you feel like working as an artist as well as a writer gives you a different perspective on the comics industry as a whole? Do you feel you approach things differently, having experienced the other side of the collaborative process?
Yeah, I do. I know what I’m asking of my collaborators: writing is hard, but drawing is way harder. I write as specifically as possible, and then I try to get out of the way and appreciate what each artist brings to the process. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to work with Rebecca Mock, Rafael Albuquerque and Brittney Williams, each of whom has their own unique voice.
What do you look for in a creative collaboration when writing a comic?
I look for someone who’s going to make me look good!
Honestly, what I look for is someone who can capture the spirit and flow of the writing, and who isn’t afraid to bring their own flair to it.
What’s your scripting style like? Do you tend to look to give the artist freedom to experiment and interpret your work, or do you prefer to have quite a detailed script for them to work from?
I actually don’t know how much more or less-detailed my style is than other comics writers. I keep my directions brief. I provide a lot of visual reference when I submit my scripts. I try to give the clearest possible idea of how I “see” the page; sometimes that’s visuals, and sometimes it’s emotional beats. Everything is open to interpretation and experimentation.
One thing which stands out about “Compass South” is your vested interested in maintaining an authenticity about the time period whilst developing the story onwards and outwards. Does sitting down and researching the context for your stories play a heavy role in your creative process, personally?
Oh yeah, that’s huge. I do a lot of research, whether I’m writing about 1860 or 2016. I have a hard time knowing what a story is about unless I understand the setting well. For example, if I were writing sci-fi or speculative fiction or fantasy, I would need to know the “rules” of the world before I could write within it. All other fiction works the same way.
On a smaller scale, I can’t write an action scene unless I know where it’s set; otherwise, how do I know what physical elements I can play with?
“Batgirl” is this contemporary superhero story, whilst “Goldie Vance” is a detective series, and “Compass South” is an adventure out on the seas. What interests you most in switching style, switching genre, looking for different tone and perspective in your projects?
I love playing with different settings and time periods. I love language and slang. I love learning how different types of stories work.
“Compass South” is an adventure story, so I got to play with those tropes. “Batgirl” is a superhero story, and I’m learning what makes a good superhero story. “Goldie Vance” is a mystery series, and while I wish I could say I’ve learned what makes a good mystery, that one requires me to grit my teeth and just get through it. I have an incredibly difficult time outlining mysteries, but fortunately I have a clear sense of all the characters so by the time I get to the scripting phase, the rest is pretty easy.
You can learn a lot from playing by the rules, like knowing when to break them.
You’ve worked throughout the industry, in anthologies, on webcomics, for big superhero comics and on all-ages graphic novels and miniseries. What is it that keeps comics fresh, and exciting, and interesting for you? Forgetting what you mean to comics for a moment — what do you feel comics mean to you?
I’ve had my ups and downs with the medium. At this point in my career, I love comics for their flexibility and freedom, but also for the challenges they provide me as a writer. No two projects are alike, and my role is always changing.
Sometimes I keep a firmer hand on things and act as more of a director; sometimes I leave it wide open. Sometimes I’m an artist, and other times I’m more of a craftsman. I’m always trying to make the best possible comic for the format I’m working with at that moment, and I’m always trying to say something true.
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