For shy, bookish kids, it can be hard to find a hero who feels right. Few scars actually portend secret powers, and swords are too heavy to pull from stone. But since 1962, Meg Murry, the awkward and angry protagonist of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, has proven that the familiar can still inspire. To celebrate the Newbery Medal winner’s 50th anniversary, graphic novelist Hope Larson reimagines Meg’s intergalactic journey to rescue her father in a comic-book version sanctioned by publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Larson first encountered A Wrinkle in Time while growing up in Asheville, North Carolina. Her parents bought the sci-fi book for her little brother, but after hearing him talk about how weird it was, Larson couldn’t resist. (The novel’s weirdness had famously led 26 publishers to turn it down before John C. Farrar himself directed FSG to run with it.)
“I loved Meg and found the story exciting,” says Larson, who graduated from the School of the Art Institute in 2004. “When you read about a protagonist who feels like crap about herself yet is still the hero, it makes you think, Well, maybe I’m not perfect, and maybe I’m not great in school, and maybe I’m not the prettiest, but I can still do great things. I am still important.”
Until recently, Larson had only seen Meg as an influence for herself and her own protagonists. Her characters—whose flaws, like Meg’s, appeal to a YA audience—helped earned Larson a 2007 Eisner Award (akin to a Pulitzer in the comics world). However, a year before the FSG commission, a librarian asked Larson if she would ever consider adapting another author’s work. “My answer was no—but I did say I would consider A Wrinkle in Time,” she recalls. When Larson opened an e-mail with the offer to adapt the book, she says, “I just stared at it and thought, I can’t really be reading this.”
The graphic novel took “two long, lonely years” to complete in Los Angeles, where Larson lives with her husband, Scott Pilgrim cartoonist Bryan Lee O’Malley. To start, Larson bought a “cheapo” paperback edition, cut off the spine, and used a marker to divide the text. Each section corresponded to one page of the adaptation, which runs 392 pages, about 200 longer than most printings of the novel.
Despite the added length, the adaptation actually cut small amounts of the original’s dialogue, so overly large speech bubbles don’t obscure certain scenes. The only piece of L’Engle’s narration that survived is her iconic opening line: “It was a dark and stormy night.” Larson added it at her editor’s bequest, although she admits, “It would not have felt like the book if it hadn’t been there.”
In her illustrations, Larson draws attention to emotion by focusing on expression and gesture. The shape of an eye can betray innocence or malevolence. The duotone pages, meanwhile, are colored entirely in shades of blue and black, a choice Larson made because “it can suggest shadow and nighttime.”
The most compelling images are those that depict “tessering,” the method by which Meg and her companions travel across time and space. In these sequences, Meg gets reduced to an outline, stretching and disappearing in a series of irregularly cut panels. As she reaches her destination, her image rematerializes. While Larson acknowledges that she was worried about how to portray such an abstract scene, she says, “I just went with my gut.”
Overall, Larson remains faithful to the original. When friends ask her if they should read her version or the novel first, she always tells them to go with L’Engle’s prose. However, she hopes that her visualization of Meg’s journey will “embolden kids who are intimidated by prose to go read the original version later.”
Hope Larson’s A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel (FSG, $20) tessers into bookstores October 2.