Author Hope Larson and illustrator Rebecca Mock are bringing their Four Points graphic novel duology to a close this summer. In the first book, Compass South, a pair of twins took off to hunt for fortune and found more trouble than they bargained for. In Knife’s Edge, readers see Cleo and Alex fleeing pirates, conspiring with former enemies, and hunting for buried treasure that could change their lives forever. Bookish had the chance to catch up with Larson and Mock to talk about this thrilling series finale. Here, Larson and Mock chat about gender presentation, the prevalence of sexism in the modern world, and what they’d name their pirate ships.
Bookish: Secrets are revealed in this book, and we learn more about the backstories of a number of characters. Did you have all of this plotted out when you began the series, or did some of it reveal itself to you as you wrote the sequel?
Hope Larson: I had most of the book plotted. I had to write an outline for this book early on, because we sold Compass South and Knife’s Edge as a two-book series. Plenty of stuff changed in the writing, but most of the broad strokes are intact.
Bookish: How did you decide on the illustration style for this series?
Rebecca Mock: I started these books without much attachment to a style, and tried to think about how to blend my natural style with Hope’s fluid lines and expert compositions, as well as looked at some French comic artists, namely Christophe Blain and Kerascoet.
Bookish: In this installment, a lot of the action takes place on the ship. Did this change how you approached writing or plotting the story?
HL: Yes, definitely! Because a lot of the action is confined to one location, the Almira, I had to milk that location for every drop of potential. So, it was tricky from a plot perspective, but from a character perspective, being stuck in one place with a specific group of people is great for drama. When you can’t get away from someone, you have to confront your issues with them.
Bookish: If you were a captain sailing the high seas, what name would you give to your ship? And where would you bury your treasure?
RM: I’d name it for my childhood hometown (also a flower), so it would be the mighty ship Lantana. My treasure would be hidden in a secret tomb that one would need to go on a globetrotting journey full of clues to find.
HL: I have a longstanding obsession with monarch butterflies, so I would name my ship the Monarch. I’m not sure I’m the treasure-burying type, and like to think I’d divide it equitably amongst my crew.
Bookish: Alex and Cleo both grew and changed over the course of the first book. How did that impact the way you drew them in the sequel compared to when we first met them?
RM: The change is subtle, but Alex and Cleo grow up a bit over the course of the books and get a bit taller. Alex doesn’t change his look much except getting a bit tanner, but Cleo’s shift between Compass South and Knife’s Edge is more pronounced. When she first starts to dress as “Patrick” in Compass South, she smoothes her short hair back and buttons up her clothes—trying to appear tidy, and have some control over her crazy world. In Knife’s Edge, she’s coming out of her shell. So her hair is wilder, and she pops the collar of her shirt. She appears (and feels) more daring and windswept.
Bookish: Cleo is struggling to find her place in this world. She sees the opportunities her brother gets that she doesn’t, and the ways she is dismissed because of her gender. What are the challenges of writing a forward-thinking heroine for a modern audience in a historical novel?
HL: We have so many of the same problems with gender equality in today’s world that they did back in the 1860s; they’re just more covered up now. It’s not a stretch to write about Cleo wanting to do more, be more, take a more active role in her own life, and hear “NO” from some of the men around her. When I was (much) younger, I didn’t believe sexism was still with us to the degree it is, but with each passing year it’s more clear to me that it’s alive and well. If you’re female and you want to be the star of your own life, you need to be a Cleo—take risks, makes sacrifices, and don’t take no for an answer.
Bookish: Rebecca, you’ve talked about viewing the twins as gender-ambiguous, and we see Cleo continuing to wear her hair short and dress in trousers long after the need to be disguised is past. What influenced your portrayal of them?
RM: Cleo is a character very close to my heart! She is me at 13—short hair and boys’ clothes, refusing to conform to a gender presentation. Drawing her gestures and style was thus easy to do. Alex dresses less for presentation—he doesn’t have anything to prove by how he looks. But he isn’t much bigger or more boyish than his sister, which I think is cool.
Bookish: Combined, the twins’ knife and compass reveal the location of the buried treasure. If you were to code a secret message and hide it in two objects, what would they be?
HL: These questions are hard! I actually just came up with an idea, but it’s too good and I want to save it for future use. So, you get the bad idea: salt and pepper shaker.
RM: I’d like to hide a message in the pages of an old book, with the key to the code hidden in the details of a dusty old painting.
Bookish: Tarboro and Almira have this incredibly beautiful and tragic love story. Would you give them their own spinoff?
HL: Oh yeah, for sure. Rebecca has a lot of headcanons about them. I would love to write more about them, because I have no doubt they’ll get a happy ending down the line.
Bookish: I love the art on page 160 where Cleo recounts all of the horrors committed by Worley. Do you have a favorite panel or page in Knife’s Edge? Was there one that was particularly challenging?
RM: I have a few! On page 71 is a crazy bar brawl scene that was so much fun to draw. The scene on page 131 to 133 is another favorite. The mood is lush and comforting, and I really enjoyed drawing the characters and environment. But don’t skip ahead and spoil yourself if you haven’t read the book yet!
Bookish: I read you’re working together on another book called Salt Witch. Can you share anything about the project?
RM: All I can say is that it’s a new story, not related to the Four Points series. I’m working on designing the characters and settings now, and having a ball–this book is going to be so much fun!
HL: It’s my current favorite thing I’ve written. It won’t be out for years, and folks are probably thinking, “But I’m already tired of witch books!” You aren’t, though. Ours is special.
Bookish: Rebecca, what is your favorite part of working with Hope?
RM: I love having the privilege to work with Hope’s characters and scripts. She invents such poignant, tragic, and chilling scenarios for me to play with. And she’s always up to discuss the details, hash out a character, or hear an idea. I love being part of a strong team.
Bookish: Hope, what is your favorite part of working with Rebecca?
HL: What isn’t my favorite part of working with Rebecca Mock? She’s brilliant and I feel so lucky that I’ve gotten to work with her, and that I’m continuing to work with her.
Hope Larson is the author of Salamander Dream, Gray Horses, Chiggers, and Mercury. She won a 2007 Eisner Award. She lives in Los Angeles, California.
Rebecca Mock is an illustrator and comics artist. She illustrated the graphic novels Compass South and Knife’s Edge, both written by Hope Larson. Her work has also appeared in various publications, including the New York Times and the New Yorker. She is co-organizer of the Hana Doki Kira anthology.