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At 50, Madeleine L'Engle's 'A Wrinkle In Time' gets the graphic-novel treatment

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Image from the new graphic novel version of "A Wrinkle In Time."
Hope Larson/via
Image from the new graphic novel version of "A Wrinkle In Time."

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the classic children’s novel, "A Wrinkle In Time." LA-based cartoonist Hope Larson adapted the book into a graphic novel.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the classic children’s novel, "A Wrinkle In Time." In her dark and complex work, author Madeleine L’Engle introduced young readers to Meg Murry and her brother, Charles Wallace.

The book follows the Murry kids through time and space as they seek to rescue their father, a government scientist held prisoner on another planet.

It was a dark and stormy night. In her attic bedroom, Margaret Murry, wrapped in an old patchwork quilt, sat on the foot of her bed and watched the trees tossing in the frenzied lashing of the wind.

I don’t remember if it was a dark and stormy night when I first picked up "A Wrinkle In Time" as a girl. But I know I felt a kinship with the people in it, the same way LA-based cartoonist Hope Larson says she did. Larson has adapted "A Wrinkle In Time" as a graphic novel.

“The Murrys are messy and, like, angry, and they just have issues,” Larson says.

Two dozen publishers rejected "A Wrinkle In Time" before it found its way to bookstores. In a recording made shortly before she died Madeleine L’Engle talked about why.

“[T]he general feeling was that it was much too hard for children,” L’Engle says, disdain audible in her voice. “Too many grownups tend to put themselves into little rooms with windows that don’t open.”

But millions of kids like me and Hope Larson, who soared on thoughts of time travel, and weren’t freaked out by quotes from Dante and references to Copernicus, were glad L’Engle wrote the book.

“I was definitely an introverted, awkward kid. And I, you know, I’m still that person,” she says.

L’Engle’s ugly-duckling heroine, Meg, has brown eyes behind thick glasses…is good at math and terrible at geography. Hope Larson loves Meg’s darkness.

“One of the big things about Meg that appeals to me so much is that she’s angry,” Larson says. (YES!) “She’s angry a lot of the time. She’s not comfortable with herself physically, or she’s worried about school. She’s bad at a lot of things.”

Larson consulted Sears catalogs from the period to give Meg bobbed hair and period-correct clothes. As she reread the story, she remembered that it takes off just after Meg gets into a fistfight with a boy at school.

“I never thought about the fact that she had a black eye until I had to draw this book,” she says.

As she got deeper into the project, Larson had to forget some things, too. One time her editor let slip L’Engle had never wanted "A Wrinkle In Time" illustrated. Larson was stunned.

“That was my big stumbling block. That I was going to be the person that was going to take this on and mess it up,” she says, adding that she didn’t say anything to her editor during lunch about it.

She used the information to steel herself for criticism she feared online. “There’s always this group of people who say, something’s going to be ruined when there’s a new interpretation of it. Which is a frustrating thing because if you’re the person doing the adaptation, you think, the original novel still exists and is perfect and I like to think I’m not tainting that.”

In fact, Larson’s best pages transcend L’Engle’s language. She says that’s an advantage of working in the comic book format.

“Where an image falls on a page, where a page falls on a spread, can really affect your story telling. The idea is basically that you turn the page and bam! The thing on the next page is going to blow your mind,” Larson says. “It’s almost like a movie. The physical act of turning a page is a really important part of comics.”

Take this excerpt of the book. (The audiobook is read by actress Hope Davis.) Late in the story, a creature named Aunt Beast is singing to a sick Meg Murry to prepare her for a final battle to save her family.

It was a music more tangible than form or sight. It had essence and structure. It seemed to travel with her, to sweep her aloft in the power of song.

Larson’s full-page illustration is more grounded, and yet reaches for the imagination in a wholly different way than L’Engle’s words do. A full panel, black and white, with blue accents, shows a weakened Meg in bed, a furry faceless creature bent over her. Above them, in a formless bubble, floats an imagined Meg. Larson has drawn her strong again, and happy.

“This part where Aunt Beast sings to Meg was an opportunity for me to do something really interesting because you cannot draw music,” she says.

Larson’s 392-page comic-style adaptation of "A Wrinkle In Time" is something of an outlier. A decade ago, graphic novels were booming; Larson had three books published as part of her first book deal. Now they’re sort of petering out.

Larson says she’s burned out on the form after adapting "A Wrinkle In Time," but she says she’d like to return to it in the future.

“One of the things I really love about comics is it’s like getting to see the person’s handwriting,” she says. “You learn something more about the creator than you would I think if you were reading a novel that’s typeset.”

Hope Larson will be signing copies of her graphic novel adaptation of "A Wrinkle In Time" tonight at 7 p.m. at Secret Headquarters on Sunset Boulevard in Silver Lake.

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