'A WRINKLE IN TIME' AND THE JOURNEY OF HOPE LARSON

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The 2012 San Diego Comic-Con wrapped up way back in July, but Film Critic Hulk — the gamma-irradiated film theorist who served as EW’s Special Comic-Con Correspondent — isn’t quite finished with the biggest event of the geek year. Read on below for Hulk’s examination of the work of graphic novelist Hope Larson, and check back here tomorrow for Hulk’s final piece of Comic-Con coverage: An in-depth look at Rian Johnson’s Looper.

WHEN HULK WAS PUTTING TOGETHER PLANS FOR COMIC-CON COVERAGE, HULK IMPLICITLY KNEW THAT HULK WAS GOING TO WRITE ABOUT COMICS.  OH, A MILLION IDEAS WENT THROUGH HULK’S HEAD. THE STATE OF DC’S REBOOT. THE RECENT TRACK OF MARVEL. THE DOMINANCE OF IMAGE. THE RE-EMERGENCE OF VALIANT. EVEN SOMETHING ON THE NOSE ABOUT THE HISTORY OF HULK COMICS. BUT IN THE END, NONE OF THEM CAPTURED WHAT HULK FINDS TO BE REMARKABLE ABOUT COMICS. AND SO HULK SOUGHT OUT TO FIND SOMETHING SMALLER THAT COULD PERHAPS SPEAK TO SOMETHING BIGGER. A MICRO AS MACRO EXPLORATION OF THE THINGS THAT MAKE THE MEDIUM UNIQUE. AND WITH THAT, IT SUDDENLY MADE SENSE TO SIMPLY WRITE ABOUT A COMIC BOOK AUTHOR WHOSE WORK EXEMPLIFIES THAT VERY NOTION.

AND LUCKILY, THERE IS HOPE LARSON.

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LARSON IS ONE OF THE BEST COMIC BOOK WRITERS/ARTISTS ON THE PLANET. THIS IS AN OPINION, BUT LIKE ALL THE OPINIONS THE ONE EXPRESSING THE SENTIMENT BELIEVES IT IS DESERVED. AND THIS OPINION IS FAR FROM A LONELY ONE, AS MANY OTHERS SHARE THE VERY SAME BELIEF. LARSON IS AN EISNER AWARD WINNER (IF YOU’RE UNFAMILIAR WITH THE AWARDS, THEY ARE KIND OF A BIG DEAL) AND SHE HAS FOUR HIGHLY-ACCLAIMED GRAPHIC NOVELS TO HER CREDIT. AND THIS FALL, SHE WILL BE RELEASING A NEW GRAPHIC NOVEL VERSION OF MADELEINE D’ENGLE’S A WRINKLE IN TIME, WHICH HULK HAS TO MUST ADMIT IS ONE OF HULK’S FAVORITE YOUNG ADULT BOOKS EVER (“YOUNG ADULT.” PSSSSH. A REDUCTIVE TERM IF THERE EVER WAS ONE). WHAT MAKES THE BOOK SO SPECIAL? AT ITS CORE IT IS SIMPLY A STORY ABOUT FAMILY AND THE DISTANCES WE WILL GO IN LIFE FOR THEM, BUT THEMATICALLY-SPEAKING IT IS REALLY ABOUT THE PURPOSE OF SCIENCE, PHILOSOPHY, ART, AND EVEN LOVE. IT’S LOFTY STUFF INDEED, BUT IT ALL WORKS BECAUSE IT IS COMPLETELY GROUNDED IN THE INDELIBLE SPIRIT OF SELF-ACTUALIZATION… IT JUST HAPPENS TO BE SELF-ACTUALIZATION  IN A JOURNEY THROUGH THE COSMOS. IT’S TRULY A GREAT BOOK AND THE SUBJECT MATTER MAKES PERFECT SENSE FOR LARSON.

IT IS ALSO HER FIRST ADAPTATION, WHICH IS DIFFICULT CONSIDERING THE BOOK CONTAINS SOME SURPRISINGLY DENSE STORYTELLING. LOOKING BACK ON LARSON’S EARLIER WORK, WHICH WAS SO FULL OF LOOSE, ILLUSTRATIVE GLEE, IT MAY ACTUALLY SEEM COUNTER-INTUITIVE THAT SHE WOULD ENGAGE IN SOMETHING SO COMPACT AND DIALOGUE-DRIVEN. BUT REALLY THIS ADAPTATION IS NOTHING BUT THE NEXT LOGICAL STEP IN A LONG AND FRUITFUL JOURNEY THAT HOPE LARSON HAS BEEN ON FOR SOMETIME NOW.

A FEW BLOCKS NORTH OF THE CONVENTION CENTER, FAR FROM THE THRONGS OF COMIC-CON GOERS, SHE AND HULK GATHERED AT A CASUAL WINE BAR TO TALK ABOUT THAT JOURNEY; ONE THAT KEEPS GOING TO SURPRISING NEW PLACES, AND POSSIBLY FAR BEYOND THE REALM OF COMICS THEMSELVES.

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HULK FIRST ENCOUNTERED HOPE LARSON’S WORK AS MANY DID, WITH 2005′S SALAMANDER DREAM. THE BOOK HAD AN IMMEDIATE IMPACT. IT WAS FULL OF GORGEOUS, INORNATE ILLUSTRATION. SPARSE DIALOGUE. RESONANT IDEAS. THE NOVEL IS THE STORY OF A YOUNG GIRL NAMED HAILEY AND HER DEVELOPING RELATIONSHIP WITH MAGICAL CREATURE NAMED “SALAMANDER,” WHO SHE DISCOVERS IN THE WOODLANDS NEAR HER HOUSE. WHAT MAY PERHAPS SOUND LIKE A FAMILIAR TROPE TO SOME OF YOU IS ACTUALLY EXPLORED IN THE MOST ATYPICAL MANNER POSSIBLE. THEIR STORY SPANS YEARS. IT DELVES INTO THE BREAKS AND BOUNDARIES OF NATURE ITSELF AND ITS RELATIONSHIP TO SCIENCE. IT IS A LOFTY, STARK, AND DEEPLY HONEST BOOK ABOUT OUR RELATIONSHIP TO THE LAND AROUND US AND THE WAYS WE FALL IN AND OUT OF ADORATION WITH ITS SENSE OF WONDER. SO CLEAR IS THE BOOK TO ITS PURPOSE, THAT EVERY SINGLE TIME HULK CONVINCES SOMEONE TO READ IT THEY ALL COME BACK ECHOING THE SAME KINDS SUPERLATIVES. THE BOOK IS, QUITE SIMPLY, ONE OF THOSE OBVIOUSLY-PERFECT THINGS.

WHEN HULK EXPRESSES THIS SENTIMENT LARSON QUICKLY TOSSES BACK THE COMPLIMENT LIKE IT WAS A LIVE HAND-GRENADE AND THEN SETTLES INTO THE EXPLANATION THAT THE ENTIRE STORY WAS ROOTED IN A DEEP SENSE OF NOSTALGIA.  SHE TALKS ABOUT GROWING UP IN NORTH CAROLINA AND HER TANGIBLE FONDNESS FOR THE SUN, THE TREES, AND THE OVERWHELMING GREEN. WHILE THE ADOLESCENT PULL OF ADULTHOOD MADE HER LEAVE FOR ADVENTURES UP NORTH, IT WASN’T UNTIL SHE COULD TRULY LOOK BACK ON IT THAT SHE UNDERSTOOD WHAT NORTH CAROLINA ACTUALLY MEANT TO HER. THAT IT’S THE KIND OF PLACE THAT NATURALLY FEEL LIKE HOME FOR THE REST OF HER LIFE. THIS SORT OF NARRATIVE IS FAMILIAR STORY TO MOST OF US, BUT WHEN YOU READ SALAMANDER THERE IS SUCH A CLEAR ARTICULATION OF THE PAINS ABOUT ABOUT BEING SEPARATED FROM NATURE, THAT IT SO READILY WORKS WITH NORMAL PAINS OF GROWING UP. REALLY, THE RELATIONSHIP IS SYNONYMOUS TO THE PUSH-PULL OF OUR CHILD-LIKE INCLINATIONS. AND ALL THESE THEMES CRYSTALLIZE IN THE BOOK’S RESONANT FINAL LINE ABOUT THE KINDS OF WONDERFUL PLACES IN LIFE THAT “make it easier for us to believe in magic.”

AND AS THE CONVERSATION CONTINUES, LARSON GOES ON TO CLARIFY THAT NOSTALGIA IS SUCH A DRIVING FORCE BEHIND NOT ONLY THAT BOOK, BUT FOR ALL OF HER WORK.

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LARSON FOLLOWED WITH 2006′S GRAY HORSES. LIKE SALAMANDER, THE BOOK USED THE SAME MASSIVE EMPHASIS ON VISUAL METHODS OF STORYTELLING AND SPARSE USE OF LANGUAGE. IN FACT, THE STYLE ON DISPLAY IN BOTH BOOKS IS SO FULLY FORMED THAT IT IS EASY TO SAY THAT LARSON HAS AN OBVIOUS AND REMARKABLE TALENT FOR IT. ACTIONS, SOUNDS, AND BEHAVIORS TAKE DECIDEDLY VISUAL FORMS, PANELS SWEEP TOGETHER WITH CAREFUL-YET-GRACEFUL FLOW, AS THE STORIES MERELY UNFOLD THEMSELVES IN THE MOST DELICATE OF WAYS. THE EFFECT IS REMARKABLE. THERE ALWAYS SEEMS TO BE THIS TANGIBLE SENSE OF ENVIRONMENT AND MOOD IN LARSON’S WORK. AND PART OF WHAT MAKES IT WORK IN TERMS OF NARRATIVE SO WELL IS THAT THE ACTUAL STORY OF HORSES CONCERNS THE EVER-ROMANTIC UNIVERSE OF A FOREIGN EXCHANGE STUDENT.

NOEMIE IS A FRENCH STUDENT WHO HAS COME TO CHICAGO TO STUDY AND IN DOING SO SHE EXPERIENCES THE BARRIERS OF LANGUAGE, THE POWER OF CRUSHES, BEAUTIFUL DREAM-SCAPES, AND THE TIMELESSNESS OF PHOTOGRAPHY. WHILE IT CLARIFIES EMOTIONS THAT ARE SEEMINGLY UNIQUE TO A ULTRA-SPECIFIC EXPERIENCE, THE EMOTIONS ARE ACTUALLY UNIVERSAL TO ANY TRANSITIVE EXPERIENCE. LARSON AFFECTIONATELY REFERS TO HORSES AS HER “CHICAGO BOOK” (AND A BIT OF A LOVE-LETTER TO HER TIME THERE) BUT THE CHOICE OF EXPLORING IT THROUGH THE EYES OF AN EXCHANGE STUDENT ACTUALLY MAKES SO MUCH SENSE. OUTSIDERS ARE ALWAYS THE ONES WHO HAVE THE FRESHEST EYES. THE ONES WHO CAN SENSE WHATEVER IS TRULY UNCANNY ABOUT A PLACE. AND EVEN IF LARSON CAME AS AN AMERICAN, NOEMIE’S EXPERIENCE IS LARGELY INFORMED BY LARSON’S OWN TIME AS A STUDENT IN FRANCE. WITH THAT REVELATION, WE CAN CONNECT THE DOTS AND UNDERSTAND HOW SHE TELLS THE STORY. TIME PASSES BY AS WOULD OUR SENSE OF MEMORY. ALL THE CHAPTERS GOING BY AS LITTLE ROLLS OF FILM. ULTIMATELY, THE BOOK ITSELF ALMOST FEELS LIKE IT’S OWN SIGNPOST.

IT IS ALSO IN GRAY HORSES THAT LARSON ESTABLISHED A TONE AND TREATMENT THAT HULK CONSIDERS TO BE A RATHER IMPORTANT ONE… LOOK… IT IS NOT QUITE A STRETCH TO SAY THAT THE MEDIUM OF COMICS, WHEN LOOKED AT AS A WHOLE, HAVE PROBLEMS WITH THE EXPRESSION OF FEMALE CHARACTERS AND SEXUALITY. THE BIG BOYS IN THE SUPERHERO WORLD RARELY HAVE SOMETHING THAT DOESN’T READ AS EXPLOITATIVE OR OUTRIGHT AWFUL (THE NEW DC REBOOT IS A PARTICULAR OFFENDER IN THIS ARENA), BUT EVEN THE “INDIE COMICS” WORLD IS RIFE WITH THE SAME KIND OF PROBLEMS OF A MALE DOMINATED INDUSTRY. NOW, OF COURSE THERE ARE A VAST NUMBER OF BRILLIANT COMIC BOOK ARTISTS, MALE AND FEMALE ALIKE, WHO ARE DOING GREAT WORK THAT INCLUDES AN EXPLORATION OF GENDER THAT IS INTERESTING, TEXTURED, AND HUMANE, BUT TO HULK THIS WHOLE DYNAMIC CAN’T BE REDUCED TO SOME UGLY “WE HAVE OUR WAY / THEY HAVE THEIR WAY” SOLUTION. THERE IS NO EXCUSE FOR THIS BEING “JUST HOW COMICS ARE” BECAUSE QUITE FRANKLY, IT’S NOT HOW PEOPLE ARE. IN FACT, THE ALTERNATIVE ONLY SEEMS THAT WAY TO MEN WHO ARE EMBRACING THEIR WORST POSSIBLE SELVES. SO REALLY, THIS ENTIRE VIEWPOINT OF HULK’S IS REALLY ABOUT FIGHTING FOR AN ARTICULATE EXPRESSION OF GENDER IN THE MEDIUM AS A WHOLE. AND IN THAT RESPECT, EVERY BOOK THAT HAS A BASIC RESPECT FOR GENDER IS A BOOK THAT MATTERS MORE THAN EVER. AND THAT’S WHY THE TONE OF LARSON’S WORK IS SO REFRESHING.

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